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Modern dance company turns military pain, stories into art

By Rose Schneider

A California dance company this week worked with military families to interpret their resilience through modern dance.

Joe Goode Dance Company performed Wednesday night at Kansas State University’s Nichols Theatre. The performance, “Human Kind: What Does it Mean to be Resilient?” was put together during a week-long residency at K-State. It was part of the dance company’s two-year traveling project, “Human Kind.”

“The idea behind our work is to get down to the nitty-gritty of human beings,” said the company’s artistic director, Joe Goode. “We thought the topic of resiliency would be interesting to work with because of issues like post traumatic stress disorder, wounded warriors, dislocation and separation, which are all huge life issues. The Army actually uses resilience as a term for returning veterans and the impact their injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder has on their families.”

Previous shows have highlighted other controversial issues relevant to towns the group has performed in. However, never before had the group tackled the topic of the military and issues surrounding its members’ service and discharge.

Before coming to Manhattan, Goode’s company worked with Briana Nelson Goff, director of the Institute for Health and Security of Military Families and professor of family studies and human services at K-State. With her assistance, the company interacted with diverse military families, caregivers and civilian employees who have been affected by war-related illnesses, injuries and other life-changing events while being resilient in one way or another.

From the conversations Goode had with these people, he choreographed the resilience-themed performance, which integrated speech, music, song and dance to share their experiences with the audience. The piece revolved around speaking word-for-word from the contributors’ life experiences.

“The word resilience. . . ‘How do you bounce back from something really tragic — a difficult circumstance?’ and ‘Can you really heal from those situations?’ were questions we asked,” Goode said. “I got to speak to some really interesting people who were very frank and open about what it has been like to have someone with PTSD in the family and what it has been like to take care of a wounded veteran for 30 years.”

Most of the conversations took place through email or Skype; however, Goode was able to meet with some of the people his dance company would be representing in person.

“Some people would say, ‘That is too much for me right now,’ or ‘I don’t want to talk about that; I’m not ready yet,’ which I thought was really wise to know that it wasn’t within their comfort level at that time,” Goode said.

One of the stories enacted in the performance came from 19-year-old K-State freshman, Courtney Hall, who lived with her father’s two-year battle with depression and attempted suicide after he returned from his second tour in Iraq.

“I’ve heard my dad say that speech so many times at suicide prevention conferences and in interviews and didn’t think I still had an emotional attachment to the story,” Hall said. “Seeing the company do the movements with his words brought it meaning — all the meaning it had before and then some.”

For Hall and her parents, who had dealt with the risk of suicide on a daily basis, the healing process was difficult. She believes performances like this one could benefit people like her father by helping them understand the emotional challenges they’re enduring as a result of their service time.

“This is a problem many people with PTSD are having, and it needs to be talked about. . . If it wasn’t brought up to my dad, he wouldn’t be alive today,” Hall said.

Carolyn Tolliver-Lee also talked about how her experiences inspired the resiliency performance. Tolliver-Lee’s husband, Earnest, suffered a severe traumatic brain injury just after the Gulf War in 1993.

His injury came after 18 years of service and just four years before his planned retirement while he was serving at Fort Riley. His injuries left him totally and permanently disabled, changing Tolliver-Lee’s life and marriage forever.

“It has been a tough journey for me and my children who are all

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