The harrowing effects of war are seen throughout the societies it touches. But families, especially mothers, often bear the burdens of loss and grief. This Friday and Saturday, the physically integrated company Karen Peterson and Dancers, in collaboration with visual artist Maria Lino and Warmamas oral history project creator Patricia Figueroa Sowers, will premiere Warmamas: A Performance at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse.
“In wars, the women always pick up the pieces,” says Lino, who curated and assembled the video installations throughout the 55-minute dance performance. “Basically, we have been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years, and who talks about it, really? Within my own family and friends, we don’t think about the war. We are at war and we’ve been at war and our soldiers are in danger... [Women] keep the community going... not only after the war but during the war.”
This performance of Warmamas grew out of Sowers’ original nonprofit oral history project of the same name, which is housed at the University of Miami library in the StoryCorps/Warmamas Community Archive. “I started [Warmamas] six years ago,” Sowers says. “It came out of personal experience. [My son] was sent to the Middle East for over six years, part of the time in Afghanistan. He went over as a diplomat, and I missed him and I was nervous that something would happen to him. And then I thought of other women whose children are in the Middle East who are in the military. If I had a story, then they really had a story. I went to group meetings and did some quilting, but it was not what I was looking for. I wanted to hear their stories, and I’ve been doing interviews [with mothers of soldiers who serve in the military during war] ever since.”
Sowers recorded hours of video interviews with mothers of soldiers, which inspired Karen Peterson Corash, the founder and artistic director of Karen Peterson and Dancers, to create a dance performance for six dancers, two of whom use wheelchairs. Peterson and her dancers listened to Sowers' selected stories and wrote personal narratives that explored themes such as “power and control, battle and military, love and support with women... the idea of the envelope that holds good and bad news," Peterson explains. "Then I improvised with the dancers and generated movement."
Warmamas: A Performance is structured by vignettes with choreography that interacts with multilayered video and voice audio. "Each vignette communicates a specific movement idea, which is supported and developed and enhanced by the video,” Peterson explains. Lino, the project's visual artist, attended nearly every rehearsal and then curated the video projection and coordinated it with the music and dance. She used components of Sowers’ original Warmamas oral history project for some of the video and audio seen in the performance.
Sowers, who had developed relationships with the mothers of soldiers when she began the oral history project, says it was an emotional process to see the original interviews transformed into a dance performance. “I had a bit of difficulty at the beginning because I was so attached to all the mothers that I interviewed. I had to give them up to other people so they can interpret in their own way what is being said... This is an oral history project, so it's nonpolitical, though we’re dealing with a very political issue, which is war," Sowers says. "The stories chosen and interpreted by dancers, Karen, and Maria were really balanced. I came away from my perspective really understanding sacrifice and the difficulties that mothers have when their children are deployed. We are giving voice to mothers who have been ignored in the national dialogue.”
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Warmamas does not posit a partisan interpretation of war. Says Lino: “[Warmamas] is not for or against the war. It’s about the mothers. Everyone wants the soldiers to come home regardless of their political position for war.” Nevertheless, the collaborators agree that dance and artistic expression have the potential to inspire critical conversation and change.
“I think dance can be a great communication tool for social issues and social change and to bring awareness to discussions not necessarily in the forefront,” Peterson says.
Adds Sowers: “This performance and the way it’s set up and evolved is a perfect example of how art and dance can translate into something larger in society. At first, I didn’t know how they could represent this situation that exists for most mothers with children: When do we let go? When do we pull back? And how hard it is. With war, what do we do when a child comes home with PTSD? There are many other parts of this phenomenon of being a mother of a solider that is expressed so beautifully in dance. It’s easy to identify even though it’s abstract. Art can represent larger social issues like war.”
Warmamas: A Performance world premiere. 8 p.m. Friday, May 4, and Saturday, May 5, at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26th St., Miami; 305-298-5879; karenpetersondancers.org. Tickets cost $20 for general admission and $15 for students, seniors, and people with disabilities.