When Baltimore choreographer and dancer Juliet Forrest los her father and, shortly after, a close friend, who died of AIDS, she found herself in the midst of a personal crisis. Then, more than a dozen friends and former teachers succumbed to the incurable disease. Forrest found her way out of her despair by thrusting herself into the local effort to combat AIDS.
A sabbatical from Goucher College, where Forrest is an assistant professor of dance, allowed her to focus on AIDS-related work as well as her art. As director of the Forrest Collection dance company, she has spent the past year preparing a dance concert that confirms her spiritual awakening as well as that of others suffering the AIDS scourge. Tonight and tomorrow's performance, as well as panel discussions on AIDS, will benefit PWA (People With Aids) Coalition and AIDS Action Baltimore.
Of her war against AIDS' rampant spread, Forrest says, "It's no longer altruism, it's a necessity."
With a grant from the Meet the Composer Fund, Forrest commissioned a piece from Peabody Institute composer Tom Benjamin to accompany a poem by the 16th century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross. The poem, "Noche Oscura" ("The Dark Night") is a sensual account of a man's search for spiritual enlightenment under trying conditions.
"The poem in itself is just so resonant," Forrest says. Among veterans of the AIDS struggle, there is "a lot of talk about how you can come through a lot of emotional and physical suffering and pain, and the spiritual growth [one] goes through. Because of the crisis, there is a whole new level of spiritual awareness."
Just as AIDS has effected a "tremendous stretch of everybody's compassion," Forrest says "The Dark Night" is about "incredibly pure love."
Forrest built the dance around the poem for four company members. At a recent rehearsal in a Goucher studio, the dancers work their way through Benjamin's arrhythmic score and the searching tones of Randal Woodfield's baritone accompanied by Lisa Goldman Weiss on the clavinova.
The dancers concentrate on maintaining a fluid line and correct timing to Benjamin's stark music, which will be performed live at the concert. "It's a risk and a chance all of it will come together," Forrest says.
But this is the kind of challenge the seven members of the Forrest Collection, who are dedicated to experimental dance and new music, expect.
Forrest, who turns 37 today, will also reconstruct two earlier works for the concert.
Coupling the dance concert with a panel discussion will serve to educate her audience, Forrest says. The panelists consist of 10 AIDS activists involved in local organizations and funding drives, including Bill Urban, founding editor of "The Alternative," to whom both performances are dedicated.
The Forrest Collection dance company performs at 8 tonight and tomorrow in Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College.
Admission is $15.
Tonight and tomorrow, panel discussions take place at 7 p.m. in the Rosenberg Gallery at Goucher College.
For more information, call the Kraushaar Auditorium box office at 337-6333.