What starts as an open wound of sorrow often spirals into aching grief and depression for children coping with the loss of a loved one. The hollow a cherished family member leaves behind sometimes triggers an unending flow of emotional anguish.
In this stage of the grieving process, into this stream of emotion, Bodiography Contemporary Ballet artistic director Maria Caruso dips her choreographic cup to collect what she calls "the sacred gestures" that inspired her new work, "Whispers of Light," which will premiere Friday and Saturday at Byham Theater, Downtown.
Ms. Caruso worked with nine grieving families and the Highmark Caring Place of Pittsburgh to create the 70-minute piece that celebrates the expression, inspiration and healing of the mourning process. She allowed the choreography to flow out of the relationships between 17 of her dancers and 14 children from the Caring Place, a community service center dedicated to supporting grieving children.
"The kids became the choreographers. The gestures they came up with were a deep expression of who they are, and how their lost loved one has changed their life and impacted them," she said.
The gestures were then fleshed out by the company dancers with Bodiography's signature fusion of ballet and contemporary dance. The movements represent an amalgamation of anger, anxiety and confusion, coupled with the families' experiences with healing.
"It was just an amazing thing to watch the kids come up with their gestures. It was extraordinary to see their sullen faces transformed by bright light because they understood the art of creating something bigger than themselves," Ms. Caruso said.
For this choreographer, the process usually includes multiple interviews. "Most choreographers choreograph the dance first, and add on a gesture afterward. I do the opposite," she said. "For this show, I took the gesture sadness and built the dance around it."
The company's past performances have carried a hopeful medical theme, but Ms. Caruso decided to leap in a new direction with "Whispers of Light" by homing in on a darker subject matter.
"Watching children in a state of grief was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to watch in my entire life," she said. "The things that I focused on before were hopeful, but in this show I felt I had no words to express that."
This performance carries a personal note for Ms. Caruso, who recently dealt with a family death.
"It was a rough year, and during that time, I felt so alone. But there were all these people who were not my blood relatives supporting me and that felt necessary in my own healing process," she said. "In doing this research at the Caring Place, I really connected to what these children were feeling about grief."
The performance does, however, carry a silver lining as the families look toward transformation and healing. The choreographic process proved to be a positive experience for the children who contributed movements. At the end of the Caring Place's 10-week support program, each child was given a quilt patch to memorialize their loved ones. All of the patches are put together as a symbol that they are not alone in their struggle. Ms. Caruso hopes "Whispers of Light" reflects that same sentiment of community.
The two-act ballet will include a musical score performed by the Pittsburgh Festival Orchestra.
Noel Um: email@example.com