An Urban Adventure: A Light In The Dark, The Story Of Helen Keller And Anne Sullivan (Thodos Dance Chicago)

Photo by Todd Rosenberg for Cheryl Mann Photography

Photo by Todd Rosenberg for Cheryl Mann Photography

Soft lighting and black back drop. Two dancers in middle of the stage, one male one female, dressed in late 19th century clothes. They twirl, leap, run, hold, reach, bend, twist, point and flex. Brother and sister, left in an asylum, away from society. Sister will always take care of her brother. Brother dies. End scene. I look over to see Henna twisting the ends of her blue snow hat, thoughts swirling and emotions pounding.

Henna and I were here today at the Harris Theater enjoying Thodos Dance Chicago’s production of A Light in the Dark, The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan mainly because of Henna’s interest in this amazing story. She already knew this tale, as most people do, of the wild little girl who fights her teacher Anne with the sheer stubbornness of a child locked in the quiet and the dark. Watching these events unfold through dance was quite compelling. Each time, Helen threw her body in the air to escape her tormentors, my heart leapt into my throat. Each pained expression of sadness that was danced from Helens parents, as she was dragged away to the “cottage” for teaching, made me brush away a tear. Henna asked questions, repositioned her body in her chair and at times plugged her ears in anticipation of the next move onstage. And as each dance scene propelled the story forward, expressing beautifully with movement the early life of Helen and Anne, the anguish and the triumph, I could feel Henna growing. I believe children learn so much through their experiences, real and artful. They help build the framework of their beliefs in life, assist in making the connections to their world and the one around them and create a sponge to be added to with each new experience.

As parents, these are moments that we strive for. The moments when our child is enraptured by something in which open them up to learning about themselves, society, and possibly how they fit into it all. Not to become too preachy, but in this technological age we need the arts more than ever for their ability to reach deep into someone’s world and rattle their foundation. With Henna, I am helping build that foundation. A foundation that I hope will be compassionate to those who have less or are different from her, one that knows that people are not always what they seem, and that if you scratch just a bit you may be surprised. As teaching moments with Henna become more difficult to find these days, I welcome the unscheduled teaching moments. Watching Henna expand with feelings and thoughts that are forming her judgments and views is a priceless feeling.

Through this thoughtful and creative work of art, the story of Helen and Anne touched both Henna and I. Henna knows that the children I work with as a speech therapist have those same “aha” moments that Helen found with help from Anne Sullivan. I live for those special moments when the key is discovered and the moment that language and meaning make that long waited for connection. It’s a moving thing. I think that Henna, who just recently asked what her first word was, maybe understood her mama a bit better today. When Henna was a baby, I borrowed Helen Keller’s sign she used for her mother when she was still locked inside. So today when Henna saw Helen sign “mama” on stage, she sat up and almost shouted, “Mom that was my sign for you!” I knew a moment of clarity and growth were found today.

Thodos Dance Chicago performs regularly at the Harris Theatre and the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie on a regular basis. Ticket prices vary, but are always reasonable. For more information visit:

Photo by Todd Rosenberg for Cheryl Mann Photography

Photo by Todd Rosenberg for Cheryl Mann Photography

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