I wanted to capture the essence of the violence. In fact, the dancers and I informally call one piece in the work “stark violence.”
I have thought a lot about how, if you slow down a battle, it is incredibly intimate. If you get really, really close, are people making love or are they trying to strangle each other?
I wanted to show the tension in the bodies. I started to slow movement way down. I saw people fighting in this slow motion way, which is so intimate. People are so profoundly connected in that type of battle. And then I saw in my mind’s eye, in my imagination, this invisible webbing that was just over everyone. And in the stillness on a stage-space, this webbing, like a fabric, would start to rise and separate with all these suspended bodies like spiders on a web, but connected to the same webbing. That image doesn’t appear in the performance, but it was the inspiration to use bodies like a wall of carnage.
~ Robin Becker, Artistic Director
(From her interview with Seven Pillars, which can be read in its entirety here.)
From Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author David Maraniss
My Full-throated Endorsement of Into Sunlight:
From the moment I heard that Robin Becker wanted to create a modern dance inspired by my book on Vietnam (They Marched Into Sunlight), I knew that it would be beautiful and interesting, like anything Robin undertakes. But it was not until I saw a workshop performance of parts of her dance, Into Sunlight, at a studio at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan on the Friday evening of November 12, that I fully understood the power of what she is doing. Before that night, I wondered how she would connect her choreography to the storylines of the book and how deeply I would feel a connection to what I wrote about and what I would see in the movements on stage. That question dissolved as soon as her wonderful dancers began. From their first piece, I was utterly absorbed, feeling my book in a way that I never had before, and that sensation stayed with me until the night was done.
My book is about war and peace. It is a nonfiction account of two days in October 1967 when war was raging in Vietnam and the antiwar movement was raging in America. It is about two simultaneous events, a battle and a protest. They involved two very different worlds that were nonetheless about the same thing. In Vietnam, on the morning of October 17, a battalion of young American soldiers walked out into the jungle on what was known as a “search and destroy” mission and got destroyed themselves in an ambush set up by the Viet Cong; sixty men killed and sixty wounded in a few hours of fighting. Back in the U.S., at about the same time, students at the University of Wisconsin in Madison were protesting the presence on campus of job recruiters from Dow Chemical Co., the makers of napalm and Agent Orange, two of the horrific weapons of war. The protest turned into the first violent confrontation on a college campus during the war when local police waded into the sit-down protest and bashed heads with their billy clubs.
Those are the specifics of the story, but the themes are what drive the book, and what energize Robin’s amazing dance. As different as the young soldiers and the young protesters might seem on the surface, more bound them together than separated them, and it is the commonality of the human experience that Robin evokes – the fears, the questions, heading off to the unknown, young vs. old, brother vs. brother, love and hate, the meaning of loyalty and patriotism and the eternal sorrow of war. There is a scene at the beginning of her dance that evokes the first chapter of my book, of young soldiers on a ship sailing from the West Coast of the U.S. to the port of Vung Tau in Vietnam where they will march ashore – into sunlight, into war, many never to return. Watching her dancers move en masse in elegant slow motion across the stage, with one dancer standing above them, walking on their backs, hooked me completely, it was so simple, dramatic, symbolic, and real, and I was taken by the performance from that moment on.
Her work is powerful, and the themes are always relevant, alas. When my book came out in 2003, I said it was about a time when young American men were fighting and dying in a place where they didn’t know the language or the culture, where they didn’t know who was a friend and who was an enemy, fighting in a war that started under questionable circumstances and that no one seemed to know how to end, when there were serious questions about the meaning of patriotism and the role of dissent in American life. It was about Vietnam, but it had a familiar ring seven years ago, as it does still today. But it is one thing to hit on a timeless theme, it is quite another to bring true art to the stage. That is what Robin and the dancers are doing. This is a major work that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible on the largest possible stages. I have no stake in this other than pride and astonishment in what Robin and her troop are doing, and my deep hope that they get the support and acknowledgment they deserve.
Read more about Robin Becker and her dance piece, Into Sunlight:
- An Exclusive Seven Pillars Interview with Robin Becker: The inside story of her powerful dance piece Into Sunlight, and a list of upcoming performances
- From Battlefield to Stage: Inspirations for Robin Becker Dance’s Into Sunlight
- A Moving, Heartfelt Video Interview with the Dancers of Robin Becker Dance Company
Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author of They Marched Into Sunlight, David Maraniss writes: From the moment I heard that Robin Becker wanted to create a modern dance inspired by my book on Vietnam, I knew that it would be beautiful and interesting, like anything Robin undertakes. However, I wondered how she would connect her choreography to the storylines of the book and how deeply I would feel a connection to what I wrote about and what I would see in the movements on stage. That question dissolved as soon as her wonderful dancers began. From their first piece, I was utterly absorbed, feeling my book in a way that I never had before, and that sensation stayed with me until the night was done.
An evocative gallery of images from the performance