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A & E

NIU students to dance to and recite Civil War letter

NIU students to dance to and recite Civil War soldier’s letter

Northern Illinois University dance students Amaris White (from left), Jordan Murphy and George Curtis, along with theater student Brendan Sapp (not pictured) will give three performances of "Your Excellency" at the NIU Art Museum.
Northern Illinois University dance students Amaris White (from left), Jordan Murphy and George Curtis, along with theater student Brendan Sapp (not pictured) will give three performances of "Your Excellency" at the NIU Art Museum.

DeKALB – Paula Frasz, professor of dance at Northern Illinois University, and four of her students will honor Veterans Day with a unique presentation.

After about three months of preparation, Frasz and her students will perform a dance using a letter written to President Abraham Lincoln by an African-American Union soldier during the Civil War. The production is called “Your Excellency.”

There will be three performances, which are free and open to the public. They will be at 1 p.m. Sunday, 12:30 p.m. Tuesday and 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at the NIU Art Museum in Altgeld Hall, 595 College Ave., DeKalb.

NIU dance majors George Curtis, Amaris White and Jordan Murphy will dance, while theater major Brendan Sapp will read the letter.

Cpl. James Henry Gooding, the soldier who wrote the letter to Lincoln, was requesting equal pay for the African-American soldiers. Gooding was enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, according to Time Magazine.

Frasz said the letter inspired her.

“I heard the letter read in public at a poetry reading and even through it was a letter written in the 1860s, it was so moving, and poetic and the words are musical when they’re read aloud,” she said. “I decided to use that as the accompaniment.”

Frasz said once she heard the letter in the spring, she had to mull over the idea for a while.

“We started working on it in August,” she said.

Frasz said she and the students rehearsed the production and then she talked to Jo Burke, director of the NIU Art Museum, about putting on the show at the museum. She said the production worked well with the art museum’s exhibition, “Exploring Aspects of War In and Through the Visual Arts.”

Frasz said with only three dancers, the production could be done in a gallery setting.

“At the art gallery, we’ll have people standing, almost encircling the dancers as they perform,” she said.

Frasz said the small performance space evokes the feeling of the African-American soldiers who must have felt stuck when they were fighting for the Union in the Civil War.

“No matter the fact they’re willing to lay down their lives for their country,” she said. “They’re trapped by the racism and attitude of the country around them.”

Frasz said the performance area is about 10 feet by 10 feet.

“It’ll be really exciting to do it in this intimate setting,” she said.

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