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Paul Taylor Dance Comes To Wilmington As Folded Flag Foundation Seeks Gold Star Families

Modern dance and Memorial Day remembrances might not sound like natural bedfellows.  But this year, Paul Taylor Dance Company is working to raise the profile of Folded Flag Foundation, a nonprofit that helps military families grappling with loss.  

American Spirit, a military-inspired dance performance, comes to the Cape Fear region just as Paul Taylor names a successor. 

Think past the backyard barbecues and the retail sales events that have shaped the long weekend into a shopping extravaganza.  The meaning behind Memorial Day:  honoring the men and women who have given their lives so that others could enjoy a freer one and pursue their version of the American Dream. 

"And I think that’s where the cultural arts really come in.  Because we have such an amazing amount of beautiful performing artists in this country that are able to do what they do because of the sacrifices that have been made."

That’s Tim Robinson, Director of Touring Engagements for Paul Taylor Dance Company.  He’s hoping the company’s May 24th show at The Wilson Center at Cape Fear Community College will help the nonprofit Folded Flag Foundation find more Gold Star families. 

Partnering with him is Tom Rankin, Operations Manager for Folded Flag – which launched in 2014.  Their mission? 

"To help out surviving members of those killed in combat or combat-related incidents by, really, the foundation of education."

That means Folded Flag will pay for a surviving spouse to get an education, further a career.  The nonprofit might pay for children in K-12 to go to private school and enhance their ability to get into college.  A scholarship could cover college expenses or going to a trade school.  The possibilities are broad.

"…Whatever suits them best to give them a foundation to build upon with their life going forward as they have to reinvent their life after a terrible loss. "

While Folded Flag is only about four years old, the organization grew from giving out about 14 scholarships that first year to disbursing 160 last year – amounting to about $1.1 million.  Again, Tom Rankin:

"This year, we’ll do $2 million in scholarships and we would like to get 300 scholarships out this year."

But there is not a built-in overlap among the families that Folded Flag Foundation is looking to serve and the audience of Paul Taylor Dance Company fans.  The head of the eponymous organization, Paul Taylor himself, recently named his successor.  Michael Novak is now Artistic Director-designate of the 64-year old company.

Even though people in Thursday’s audience may have never seen a dance performance before, Tim Robinson says the company is bringing what he calls two of their closer pieces – the best-known and most-often requested works from around the world. 

"The first piece is Company B, and it’s actually a period piece of music of the Andrews Sisters, and it’s kind of set in the stylistic period of World War Two, which is, of course, very significant for our nation’s history and also the military history.

"And the second piece we’re going to do also an iconic work called Promethean Fire.  It was actually created just after the attacks in New York on September 11, 2001."

Shane Fernando, Director of The Wilson Center, says there’s no need for an understanding of dance.  There’s nothing to figure out. 

"It is the first form of human communication – before there was spoken language, before there was the written word, people communicated through movement.  And whether we realize it or not, we speak in dance and communicate through dance all day long from morning through night."

This unlikely collaboration between Paul Taylor and Folded Flag is something of a test run for future partnerships.  West Point Military Academy has plans to bring the same program to its Eisenhower Theater in October. 

Folded Flag Foundation expects to open its next enrollment period this fall.

Paul Taylor Dance Company performs American Spirit Thursday, May 24th at Cape Fear Community College’s Wilson Center. 

Find tickets here: http://cfcc.edu/capefearstage/tickets-and-events/

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.