Dancers Anna Godwin and Mark Krieger rehearse for 'Under the Radar' on Friday at the Imperial Centre. The dance drama tells the story of a young woman caught up in a violent relationship.

Telegram photo / Emma Tannenbaum

Dancers Anna Godwin and Mark Krieger rehearse for 'Under the Radar' on Friday at the Imperial Centre. The dance drama tells the story of a young woman caught up in a violent relationship.

Dance tells dramatic story

By Laura McFarland

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You don’t always need words to tell a story.

Rocky Mount-based Signature Dance Ensemble will premiere a new dance drama today that tells a story of love, pain, betrayal and abuse without speaking a word, said Cindy Mancini, artistic director. The performance of “Under the Radar” will be at 7:30 p.m. in the Dunn Center for the Performing Arts.

The drama shows a series of scenes in the life of a young woman, played by principal dancer Anna Godwin, caught in a violent relationship, Mancini said. As the story unfolds, the girl struggles with fear and indecision about leaving or staying as she suffers abuse at the hands of her boyfriend, played by Mark Krieger. Krieger, a visiting performer, is a dancer with the Columbia City Ballet in Columbia, S.C.

For Mancini, who choreographed the dance with Godwin, the project has become intensely personal. Between volunteering at a battered women’s shelter when she lived in New Jersey and doing research and interviews with survivors for the show, it would be impossible for it not to have become personal, she said.

“It seems like it has almost gone to a place that is more important than the ballet itself because of the support and the women who have told me how much it means to them that we have chosen to go down this road. They thought that it was brave of us to do so,” Mancini said.

Emotions can become intense during rehearsals, said Krieger, who is used to playing classical roles. In creating his volatile character, he has learned more about domestic violence and hopes the contemporary performance will give audience members a greater understanding of the problem.

“I liked the idea of the piece doing something more than just dancing. It is not selfish. Ballet can easily be a very selfish art. It is hard for dance to give back, and I think that is something this is doing,” Krieger said.

What started as only a dance performance quickly grew, Mancini said. The evening will include performances by four singers and a pianist and a speech by special guest Tanisha Bagley, a domestic violence survivor and author of the book “The Price of Love.” Bagley and counselors from My Sister’s House will be in the lobby after the show to answer questions.

Also in the lobby will be an exhibit of artwork on the theme of domestic violence and abuse, Mancini said. The exhibit started as a call for a few local artists to submit works and consider donating part of the proceeds from their sales. Word spread, and now the exhibit will include pieces from artists nationwide and one in India.

Most of the artwork has been donated and proceeds from their sale will be split between My Sister’s House and the Under the Radar project, which would bring the show to other communities, Godwin said.

Between the art show and the performance, organizers are hoping to change some people’s perspectives tonight, she said.e_SClB“Hopefully, there will be dialogue about it. Hopefully, whether you like it not, whether you can do something or not, people will talk about it. We have already seen this in people ... They will just start opening up about stories or people they knew in a situation. You had no idea because it is not something we talk about in our society,” Godwin said.

When people don’t talk about domestic violence, situations can become deadly, said Meredith Holland, executive director of My Sister’s House. From January to April, My Sister’s House sheltered 52 new women and children, assisted 39 new victims of sexual assault, helped 238 new victims of domestic violence and fielded 761 crisis calls. The shooting death Saturday of Teresa Radford in Whitakers was the 19th domestic violence-related murder in 2011 in North Carolina.

“As long as society turns a blind eye to this, it will continue,” Holland said.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at 985-5197 or at etix.com.