Choreographer goes to the hungry poor for her inspiration

April 21, 1994|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Sun Staff Writer

When Nancy Wanich-Romita was asked to create a dance for an evening of entertainment to benefit the Maryland Food Committee, she wanted to know more about the nonprofit organization's work.

"I asked them if I could go in and do some workshops," recalls the local dancer/choreographer. "It has just been this incredible experience to share one-on-one with these women."

In late winter, she began leading movement workshops for small groups of women participating in the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), at the Mount Zion Baptist Church on East Belvedere Avenue.

What she heard and felt from these mothers, who are struggling in difficult circumstances to feed their children, grew into "Star throwers." The Moving Company, a dance troupe Ms. Wanich-Romita started last September, will premiere the work Saturday at Empty Bowls '94, the second annual benefit for the food committee.

The work includes a narrated text by local writer Binnie Ritchie-Holum and also uses projected slides of food committee programs. Seven dancers from the Towson State University Children's Dance Division join seven dancers of the Moving Company in the three-section work.

"I was awed," says Linda Eisenberg, food committee executive director, who saw a rehearsal of "Star throwers" last week. "The performing arts have such an ability to deliver a message powerfully and to have an impact in a way almost nothing else can."

In the work, performed to recorded music by the group Ancient Future, dancers in salmon-colored, tattered costumes convey the frustrations and stress of the homeless, who must secure food and shelter through dehumanizing bureaucratic programs.

"Get on, get off. Get on, get off . . . Lottery, Lotto, bingo, dope. Get on, get off, get on, get off . . . " goes Ms. Ritchie-Holum's driving text as the piece opens and the dancers literally run in circles.

A middle section introduces a more personal story and the child dancers.

"This is our daughter. Her name is Krista. She was born in August. Sometimes it's hard to watch her lying there. She's not resting. There is no peace in her body," intones the narration as all the dancers tend to hungry children.

The story conveys a sense of deep despair. Yet, the final section introduces hope as the dancers abstractly portray a fable about a family rescuing starfish stranded on a beach.

"Silly people. You act in vain. How can you possibly think you're making a difference?" says one voice. Replies the mother, as she reaches down, "I made a difference to that one."

"She really captured it -- the stress that people feel when they're in this situation . . . [and] that making a difference for one person is making a difference," says Ms. Eisenberg.

Ms. Wanich-Romita, a part-time dance instructor at Towson State, says: "Dance separated out at the proscenium isn't enough for me. For me, dance through the ages has really been about community and community storytelling."

Her experience with the WIC mothers gave her the idea "to

present the cycle that's so frustrating, about the way we've legislated handling this issue that just doesn't work and needs to change," she says.

"I have a 5- and a 7-year-old, and these women have the exact same hopes and wishes for their children that I do, yet their circumstances are just so different."

Empty Bowls '94 will also include live and silent auctions of donated artwork, live dance music by Mambo Combo and food specialties donated by restaurants and caterers.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

What: "Empty Bowls '94," a benefit for the Maryland Food Committee

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Boumi Temple, 4900 N. Charles St.

Tickets: $100

$ Call: (410) 366-0600

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