Using Stories to Tell for the American Experience

Open Dance Project uses diverse storytelling to depict the sense between individualism and community in America.

By Sarah Douglass February 15, 2016

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Image: Lynn Lane

Annie Arnoult has much to say about the American experience with her upcoming ensemble-driven performance, Stories to Tell.

“We are not trying to provide answers, but we’re certainly asking some tough questions and trying to figure out as human beings, what is our immediate personal, historical connections to these current events,” Arnoult said. 

Stories to Tell is inspired by the loss of Arnoult’s family farm in Midland, North Carolina. Being built by her great-great grandfather in the early 20th century, the family farm remained a place of strength and substance throughout the Great Depression.

“There are multiple reasons I am repeatedly drawn to that space, but right now, for the first time ever this year, it is empty,” Arnoult said. “To watch all of the farms around them slowly start to disappear and the rural land slowly start to be developed, you watch the disintegration of the American family farm. It literally kind of fell down around them.”

Stories to tell amiw1 by lynn lane mjlmam

Image: Lynn Lane

By using the body, voice narrative and props, more traditionally connected to theater, this dance company hopes to spark conversation on America’s many elements—the despair, the turmoil, the hope and the celebration.

Arnoult considers the opening piece to be a personal mediation and way to pay homage to those memories, the family history and the loss of the people of that generation. The powerful and impactful place and time period will be remembered as pact with story and emotion.

“Pretty Boy,” a piece set to the political ballads of American singer-songwriter, Woody Guthrie, will be accompanied by the University of Houston American Roots Ensemble.

“The social issues that Guthrie dealt with are so unbelievably relevant right this minute in our world,” Arnoult said. “One of the first pieces of music that we use is called Deportee, and it’s about deporting refuges.”

The musical inspiration for this piece provided opportunity for the dance company to tell their immigration stories, which include a dancer’s mother coming from Trinidad, a father escaping the civil war in El Salvador, Jewish ancestors escaping the Holocaust and many more.

“These current events are so easy for us to shut the door on and say, ‘Oh, that’s someone else’s story,’ and I think part of what we are saying is no, we actually have our stories too and they are not that different from the stories that we are hearing right now,” Anroult said.

The final piece, “American/Me/I/We,” is a fast, furious, and fun investigation of the American obsession with the individual.

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Image: Lynn Lane

“Looking at some of the stories are really hard, there is the loss of a farm, and there are people running from civil war and us struggling to bring them in,” Arnoult acknowledged. “But we have this crazy sense of possibility, imagination and invention. There is this really proud sense of individualism and there’s something so delicious and great about it. It is part of it what gives us the power to accept, excel and succeed.”

By playing back and forth between the sense of American individualism and community, the piece shows the obsession with the individual and the falseness about it. The final installment highlights beauty in the fact that even though you are an individual, you are always part of a community.

“We know so well as dancers that even when you think you’re up there dancing on the stage by yourself you’re not, you are apart of an ensemble,” Arnoult said of the message. “You’re actually always a part of a community. No one can act in isolation completely.”

Feb 19 & 20 at 8. Feb 21 at 2. $25; $15, students. MATCH, 3400 Main St. 713-521-4533.


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