Maya Would Have Loved It!

A full house applauds Bliss Dance Company’s interpretation of Angelou

by Shirley Gilbert

Kathy Garfinkle welcomes the audience and the dancers to the stage.

Kathy Garfinkle welcomes the audience and the dancers to the stage.

Pouring rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the audience or hinder the turnout for A Celebration of Maya Angelou: Phenomenal Woman. There was a full house of about 150 applauding, stamping and appreciative fans for the Bliss Dance Company’s performance at the Niles Elementary School on Friday, February 6 from 7 to 8:00 p.m.

However rain did dampen the stage a bit as the dance ensemble rehearsed earlier in the evening. Bliss dancers, real troupers, just dried the stage and gave a dazzling performance all the same.

Before the dancers did their magic, One Book, One Community Read committee member Kathy Garfinkle gave a brief history of the program. She then reminded the audience what presentations had taken place with regard to the Maya Angelou selection this year.

Cross-section of the full house audience at the Niles Elementary School auditorium.

Cross-section of the full house audience at the Niles Elementary School auditorium.

The vision of the dancers was to interpret Angelou’s powerful poetry and prose with their unique style of performance dance. They recited and danced to And Still I Rise, Phenomenal Woman and some of Angelou’s other works — and the audience loved it.

Bliss dancers’ hearts and minds were fully committed to interpreting in dance the beauty and boldness of Angelou’s poetic words. “Angelou’s work,” said Bliss dancer Anna Weideman in an interview before the performance, “is bold and honest. Maya was truly a phenomenal woman of great courage and it’s our privilege to convert her words into the creativity of movement.”

The company recited several of Angelou’s powerful poems and in one number, they danced to the voice of Maya Angelou as she recited Still I Rise to musical accompaniment. They opened with a striking number culled from Angelou’s autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and flitted across the stage like imprisoned, fluttering birds.

Bliss dancers dramatize in dance Angelou's tormented concept of the caged birds.

Bliss dancers dramatize in dance Angelou’s tormented concept of the caged birds.

The theme of a powerful woman sharing her creativity with the world fits perfectly with the Bliss Dance Company’s mission which is to express women’s issues through the fusion of diverse disciplines of performance dance. Their mission of illuminating women’s issues is also the mission of the American Association of University Women.

The dance company feels it empowers women through their creativity. Bliss often deals, through modern dance, with controversial issues like rape. Bliss dancer Amit Patel believes that dance is a safe environment in which to deal with difficult women’s dilemmas.

After the 30-minute performance the dancers sat on the stage and AAUW Fremont Branch members asked questions of the audience who came back with spirited and thoughtful replies about Maya Angelou’s intentions in her poetry and her thoughts about her much-loved mother. The dancers, too, chimed in to give their interpretation of Maya’s poetic journey through life.

Kathy gives flowers after a fantastic performance to the whole ensemble.

Kathy gives flowers after a fantastic performance to the whole ensemble.

Kathy Garfinkle ended the evening by giving roses to each dancer and a bouquet to the troupe’s director Cassie Begley. She thanked the OBOC team, the Bliss dance company, and the appreciative audience. The idea for the Bliss Dance Company performance was the brainchild of Kathy. She saw the dance troupe perform and knew they would be perfect for the Maya Angelou theme.

Bliss's leader Cassie Begley recites Angelou's poem And Still I Rise.

Bliss’s leader Cassie Begley recites Angelou’s poem And Still I Rise.

The Bliss Company came to be because of the inspiration and dedication of its director, Cassie. She dreamed of starting a dance company when she was still a student. Cassie gathered a troupe of like-minded, aspiring dancers and the group first performed in an art gallery in San Francisco. Along with performing, Bliss offered dance classes at Ohlone College but is now an independent company.

Maya Angelou, author, poet, dancer, actress and singer, who passed away May 28, 2014, is the subject of AAUW Fremont Branch’s One book, One Community Read project for 2014/2015. During this period, we are offering a series of yearlong projects that the Branch has brought to the community of Fremont.

The next presentation will take place at the Fremont Main Library on May 4 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. It will feature an evening of poetry readings and writings, inspired by Maya Angelou’s collected works And Still I Rise. Mark your calendars so you won’t miss this next impressive program.