The dance world is filled with all kinds of characters, and I’ve seen my fair share (Baroque-dance reenactors in full regalia, Cuban drill sergeants who pepper their class with philosophical musings), but I can safely say that I have never met anyone in the dance world quite like Jenny Broe, the executive director of Dancefx Charleston.
One of my friends refers to her as a real-life superhero, and I have to agree. I’ve known Jenny Broe since the fall of 2009, when I was a cast member of the Charleston Dance Project for a season, and I am truly amazed at what she has done for the dance scene in Charleston through her seven years at the helm of Dancefx. She lost her mother to cancer in 2009, has suffered debilitating back injuries for the last few years, and has had to deal with the ups and downs of running a studio—yet she manages to remain upbeat, positive, warm, and welcoming to everybody who walks through the studio doors.
“It’s a family,” Broe says, and she ensures that the studio and Charleston Dance Project exude that vibe.
I took a break from dancing at Dancefx from 2010 until last summer, and going back to the family has helped me through a pretty challenging year. I’m excited to see the Charleston Dance Project debut, Poe: A Play in the Dark at the Sottile Theatre on April 17 and 18, and after taking Broe’s contemporary flow class on Tuesday night, she and I sat in the parking lot and she gave me the run down on the show.
The idea came when Broe and Sara Cart Sumner, the artistic director of the Charleston Dance Project, were brainstorming ideas for a Halloween concert.
“We thought about doing Edgar Allan Poe poems set to classical music but when we ran it by our Music Farm audience, we decided it was too sophisticated for the sexy Halloween show,” Broe says. Broe and Sumner held on to the idea, and Broe ran it by her co-collaborator Andrew Walker, director of Entropy Arts.
Walker loved the idea and wanted to write the music and a script.
“Instead of it just being dance rep, it’ll be a through-line of something conceptual told through dance,” Broe says.
The plot line is essentially what Poe had to go through to create his most famous work, "The Raven."
“It’s what he has to go through in his mind to get to that work,” Broe says.”It’s Poe, in his study, writing ‘The Raven,’ and then this Dark World enters. It’s a collision of his dream world and the real world, and at the end he comes out of his dream world…or maybe he doesn’t…with his masterpiece.”
Jon-Michael Perry plays Poe, Crystal Wellman plays his dying wife, Virginia, and Starla Kurtz embodies the character of the Raven.
“We watched a lot of documentaries and read a lot of biographies. I listened to audiobooks of all of Poe’s works,” Broe says. “We’ve been researching this thing for a year.”
Broe didn’t want to give away too much about the production, but what she wants is for the audience to truly enter the world of Poe that she, her choreographers, her costume curator, Laura Bland, and Walker have created.
“I want the audience to come ready for a night of transportation. A different time, a different world. Just forget your worries for 45 minutes.”
Although the movement is modern, contemporary, jazz, and some balletic influences, Broe stresses that the theatrical value will appeal to non-dancers. It’s not like sitting through three hours of Swan Lake. Walker’s original score, which he will be building live onstage (“He’s basically a DJ with a piano”), the avant-garde, Fashion Week–esque costumes that Bland is creating from scratch, and the narration of lines from “The Raven” throughout the concert will make it an experience that anybody can enjoy.
Broe wants her dancers to surrender to the show, ignite the stage, and create a truly memorable piece for the audience.
“We get trippy at times, and really beautiful. Yes, as dark as he [Poe] is, the work is beautiful.”
Tickets are available at DancefxCharleston.com