Acclaimed ‘UNDERGROUND’ returns to Kauffman Center
Contact: Jeremiah Enna
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Kansas City’s own Störling Dance Theater to bring history alive for sixth year to a growing audience, influence
Kansas City, Mo. — After being dubbed one of the Top 10 performances of the decade by The Kansas City Star (2000-2009) and gaining a large local following, Störling Dance Theater’s “UNDERGROUND” will return to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. February 2. This year, however, there’s even more to the story.
•Störling will present two school performances at the Kauffman Center taking place at 9:30 a.m. January 31 and February 1. •With Donna Davis and Marie McCarther, both education professors at University of Missouri-Kansas City, Störling created the Underground Curriculum Guide. It was selected by the American Educational Research Association in Washington, D.C., as one of the premiere examples of arts and education working together in the nation. Every teacher who brings their class to one of the school performances will receive a copy of the curriculum. •KCPT, which recently started filming interviews on the background story of “UNDERGROUND,” will film the entire production this year for a feature segment to air at a later date. •Following the 9:30 a.m. January 31 school performance, a group of pastors will gather for a luncheon to discuss the foster care crisis in Kansas City.
In its sixth year, the influence of “UNDERGROUND” is spreading beyond the stage, said Jeremiah Enna, executive director of The Culture House, where Störling is based.
“Störling’s “UNDERGROUND” is touching so many lives because the story is relevant to every American and is a meaningful beacon redirecting us to become a community that supports one another and finds common ground not in the color of our skin, but in our humanity,” Enna said.
In conjunction with Black History Month, the production — created by Störling Dance Theater Artistic Director Mona Störling-Enna and choreographer Tobin James — tells how two women’s lives intersect on the road to freedom and righteousness.
“It’s one of the best presentations of the struggle of African Americans from slavery to the present I’ve seen,” said Charles Briscoe, long-time pastor at Paseo Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. “As the story ended, it showed African Americans moving on and becoming teachers, doctors and other professional people.”
The story of “UNDERGROUND” is based on actual people and events prior to the Civil War. Focused around the character, Victoria — a slave in the south whose degradation has only been exceeded by her desire to be free — we follow her, her companions and the white abolitionists who stand by her side. Elise, the slave owner’s daughter, has grown up with Victoria and increasingly sees the disparity between valuing whites over blacks. Their relationship launches the tension that propels Victoria onto the Underground Railroad.
Along the way, Victoria encounters the series of white and black abolitionists who mysteriously make up the Underground Railroad. Driven by their Biblical conviction that all men are equal and valued by God, these men and women risk all to overcome the evil of their day. What we find is a blue print for our own era, where evil takes on different forms and how we respond matters. Will we bow to the popular appeasement of evil, or will we lay our convictions on the line to push back the darkness?
“We all have the capacity for either good or evil,” Störling-Enna said. “Everyday affords us the choice to do either. There is no neutral ground. Had all the people on the sidelines against slavery spoken up, instead of just a few, slavery would have been abolished much sooner.”
Collaborating with long time friend and choreographer James was a natural, Störling-Enna said. Having danced and worked together for years, it was long overdue that these consummate professionals work together on a significant project. A black woman and white woman aside, these are two women who see the choices that life brings to them each day.
“This is not just black history,” Störling-Enna said. “It is one of many dark moments in the history of mankind. We have to look back, we have to remember and then prepare ourselves and teach our children to value the life of a person who is different because they, too, are created by God. Many people want to ask God about the atrocities in the world. What will we say when He asks, ‘What did you do about it?’”
Having partnered with his wife for many of Störling’s productions like “The Prodigal Daughter,” “Butterfly” and “Suspended Grace,” Jeremiah Enna originally played the role of instigator for “UNDERGROUND.”
“History recalls how evil men have crafted great destruction, and good ones have overcome them,” said Enna, executive director of The Culture House in Olathe, Kan., where Störling Dance Theater is based. “The Underground Railroad is a shining example of how good will always triumph over evil regardless of having a human leader or not. God has set in the hearts of good men and women the value of all of life that resists evil.”
Jeremiah Enna initiated “UNDERGROUND” in 2000, when he started to see the current debate digressing back to a “white vs. black” tone. His inspiration continued as national leaders like Bill Cosby and Juan Williams began to speak a new word of hope into our disintegrating situation.
A power team of artists and producers was assembled to pull this very complex project together. With Mona Störling-Enna at the helm, composer Jay Pfeifer was commissioned to write a score that intelligently and inspirationally binds the sounds of the various cultures together to project one story.
James brings her fresh approach to choreography having graduated from the Martha Graham School of Dance in New York, danced with Philadanco and choreographed for national tours of gospel concerts.
Störling-Enna, famous for her costume designs, created the costumes for “UNDERGROUND.”
“In this modern age it is disheartening to see so many injustices continuing all around us,” said Kipton Blue, executive producer. “It is encouraging to look back at these inspiring stories of how individuals can make a difference and change history. Underground will truly inspire all of us to not only learn from the past, but actively participate in the future.”
Tickets are $70, $35 and $20, and are available by calling (913) 393-3141.
Launched in 1996, Störling Dance Theater is Kansas City’s emerging neo-classical dance company. In addition to its local performances, the group has toured the United States, Canada and Central Asia. Störling Dance Theater is in residence at The Culture House, one of Kansas City’s premiere arts centers located in Olathe, Kan.
For information or to set up an interview, call Jeremiah Enna at The Culture House at (913) 393-3141 or visit www.storlingdance.org.
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