“The magnitude of this project seems almost overwhelming at times, especially while being in the middle of the whole experience, and I feel like this is just the beginning of something that will affect the rest of my life.”
That is how SUU dance student Jenny Smith sums up her role in the forthcoming production of "The Dream of Helen" with China’s Hubei Opera and Dance Drama Theatre.
Smith and her fellow thirteen SUU dance students are featured in the production, set to open on July 23. The Dream of Helen, a dance drama inspired by the life and achievements of Utah native, Helen Foster Snow, is a collaboration between Southern Utah University’s College of Performing and Visual Arts and the renowned Hubei performance troupe. The dance drama will be performed at the Wuhan’s Qui Tai Grand Theatre in China’s Hubei Province.
A vital part of this epic stage spectacle, produced by Hubei Opera and Dance Drama Theatre, is the participation of Southern Utah University students and faculty members in the production, which depicts critical events in the life of Snow, who was born and raised in Cedar City. This unique creative partnership is a major creative collaboration -- and the first for any Utah university with China.
The impact of performing such challenging roles as Helen Foster Snow and her husband, Edgar, is not lost on the SUU students in those roles.
Bethany Hess, who undertakes the exhausting role of Helen, explains, “playing the role of Helen Foster Snow has been a life-changing experience. Not only has it challenged me technically by working with the Chinese choreographers, it has helped me develop my emotional voice as an artist.”
SUU’s Payden Adams, who plays Edgar Snow, has a natural enthusiasm for his performing experience.
“I have loved having the opportunity to develop a role and character as passionate and driven as Edgar Snow. What a blessing to work with the choreographers to discover and develop movement that captures his aura and true nature, as well as his fun, loving and intimate relationship with Helen. It’s a blessing that Bethany and I are such good friends, our existing friendship only feeds into the relationship our characters have, and it’s a truly magical feeling.”
The rehearsal process has been a remarkable learning process for SUU's students.
An SUU member of the performance ensemble, Alexis Smith, has come to comprehend Helen Foster Snow’s dedication and commitment to the Chinese people.
“At the start of this project, I could not understand how a woman of Helen's age and standing could come to a country, rife with the unknown, and stay for 10 years and be extremely happy. Well now I know. I understand and can completely relate. The Chinese are some of the best, kind people. I am sincerely honored to be a part of continuing this remarkable woman's legacy. Moreover, I am so pleased that we are creating this bond through an artistic and cultural collaboration. Dance is a universal language and it is most definitely being used to speak not only to those who watch the show but to myself and my new Chinese friends.”
The fourteen SUU dance students continue their rehearsals as members of the production’s company which features nearly one hundred dancers.
Joining the students and collaborating on the production is SUU’s Shauna Mendini, Dean of the College of the Performing and Visual Arts, who is co-directing the production with Chang Sheng Mei of the Hubei Opera and Dance Drama Theatre.
Mendini observes, “The Dream of Helen has been an enormous task, but I seem to be channeling energy from the flow of a city of over eight million people. We are working in a six-story facility consisting of dance studios, orchestra rehearsal halls, theatre space, scene shops, dormitory for students, and numerous offices for employees. There is a constant buzz of activity of people engaged in some aspect of this project. Yesterday, I walked past the scene shop and saw designer Zhiquang Fu creating what will be a southern Utah mountain range. Over the next three weeks the collective work of performance and production elements will begin to come together … I can hardly contain my excitement.”
Kay Andersen, SUU dance chair, is contributing original choreography to the dance drama.
Another of The Dream of Helen’s principal collaborators is SUU Department of Music chair Dr. Keith Bradshaw who is contributing original music to the production’s score. Bradshaw has composed music that reflects the Utah sections of the production and Helen’s life in Cedar City. The production will be music directed and performances will be conducted by Xun Sun, SUU associate professor of music and director of orchestral activities.
Bradshaw and Sun are soon to be joined by six SUU music students, accompanied by the Department of Music’s Dr. Lynn Vartan, who will begin rehearsals with the Hubei Symphony Orchestra, joining the orchestra’s 90 musicians that make up the instrumental performance.
Helen Foster Snow (1907-1997) was a native of Cedar City, Utah, who was an instrumental bridge builder of U.S./China relations. Known as the mother of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives and through her efforts as a writer, she received two Nobel Peace Prize nominations and was the second American to be awarded the title of “Friendship Ambassador,” the highest honor bestowed by the Chinese People’s Association for friendship with foreign countries. She is considered a heroine by the Chinese people. Snow’s mother, Hannah Davis Foster, taught at the Branch Normal School, now Southern Utah University.
The Dream of Helen will be performed at Wuhan’s Qui Tai Grand Theatre in China’s Hubei Province on July 23, 24 and 25, 2011. SUU staff, state and local officials are planning to be in attendance for the production.