A living memorial honors military veterans through modern dance
The Black Box Dance Company presents "Patriot” this Sunday, March 6 at the Cary Arts Center.
The troupe calls the performance a “living memorial” to military veterans and their families through movement, dance and storytelling.
Dancers perform real life experiences of going to war, leaving families behind, returning home, and contemplating suicide.
“We don’t dance about things. We dance because of them,” said director Michelle Pearson.
Since 2019, Black Box has performed Patriot under Pearson's direction. The show has gone to Greenville, Goldsboro, Asheville and other communities in North Carolina.
“We call ourselves nonfiction dancers," Pearson said. "(We) do some writing, and then all of a sudden, the movement comes out of it. Sometimes there's some tears and people are crying in there. This is dance therapy.”
Pearson was inspired after watching Army veteran Alfredo Hurtado take up dancing. Hurtado initially was a musician for the dance company. One day, he began to dance to help a boy who was struggling during a workshop for kids.
“We paired up, and it was amazing," Hurtado said. He credits that day as the start of his dance career with Black Box.
Dancing also helped with his own battle with depression and post traumatic stress from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pearson came up with an idea to incorporate Hurtado’s struggles into a performance. She then realized she could add more stories involving other people connected to the military.
"None of us knew what to do with Alfredo’s story, and we realized that it's not just about Alfredo," Pearson said. "If it were just his story, then it's just Alfredo who gets to tell it… it's all of our stories. And so we ended up creating this piece.”
One scene from “Patriot” — titled Orange Skies — tells of the conflict between two brothers. One is in the Army, and the other opposes the military.
The non-military brother, Steven Rodriguez, performs the autobiographical scene. He said “Patriot” helped him grow as a person.
“It has put me in the place where I can allow myself to listen more and judge less," he said.
Pearson said she is proud and humbled that Patriot has been wonderfully received by people throughout North Carolina.
“Whether you like it or not," Pearson said. "If you are American, then I believe you have a responsibility to hear the stories of those who are serving you."