“It was my teacher’s genius, her quick sympathy, her loving tact which made the first years of my education so beautiful,” wrote Helen Keller of her visually-impaired and empowering teacher Anne Sullivan. “All the best of me belongs to her—there is not a talent, or an aspiration or a joy in me that has not been awakened by her loving touch.”
Sullivan’s innovative and understanding instruction helped Keller achieve unprecedented success. As the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree in the U.S., Keller went on to become an advocate for people with disabilities, an anti-war activist, a suffragette supporting women’s rights including birth control, and one of this country’s greatest role models.
She wrote a dozen published books, including the autobiography “Light in My Darkness,” which has since inspired Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC). Now, more than 80 years later, audiences can see the contemporary ballet “A Light in the Dark: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan” choreographed by TDC Artistic Director Melissa Thodos and Broadway veteran Ann Reinking, the same team who created the critically-acclaimed “The White City: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893” in 2011.
With their more recent effort, the artistic duo reimagine the challenges and triumphs of Keller and Sullivan via the movement of 12 dancers and music by Bruce Wolosoff. The work features TDC ensemble member Jessica Miller Tomlinson, who originated the role of Helen when it debuted here in Chicago in 2012. In the new production, Melissa Panetta will also play Helen in rotating performances while TDC ensemble members Abby Ellison and Shelby Moran will alternate as Anne Sullivan.
“We so look forward to this collaboration with Thodos Dance Chicago, our first ever with a dance company,” says Jacqueline Russell, artistic director and co-founder of Chicago Children’s Theatre (CCT), which will present the family-friendly piece to young audiences this October. “Just think, hundreds of Chicago children, parents, students and teachers will experience the story of Helen Keller in a whole new way,”continues Russell. “Many will be exposed to modern dance and conversations about disabilities for the first time.”
To help young audiences understand how Keller rose above her disabilities to become one of the 20th century’s great humanitarians, CCT will also offer TDC’s “Connections” on select weekday mornings throughout the show’s run. The disability awareness and educational outreach program includes selections from “A Light in the Dark” and interactive demonstrations for students.
Recommended for ages six and up, the one-hour production of “A Light in the Dark” performs October 15-16 and during Access Weekend, October 22-23, at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. For tickets ($10-$39), visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org or call (872) 222-9555.
To learn more about Access Weekend, which includes performances with live open captioning for the hearing impaired and a pre-show Touch Tour for the visually impaired, visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org/access. For details on TDC, visit thodosdancechicago.org.
(Photos courtesy of Thodos Dance Chicago.)