Digest>Archives> September 2002

Herstory of History

Dance Project Spotlights Women of the Lighthouses

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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The “First Lady of Light,” Connie Small, with ...
Photo by: Jeremy D'Entremont

First performed this spring in Boston, Massachusetts and Oakland, California, the dance performance “Herstory of History” features work by Boston’s FlipSide Dance Theatre and San Francisco’s Vertigo Dance Company. Vertigo Dance Company’s portion of the program focuses on the impact of World War II on women, while Flipside’s portion focuses on women lighthouse keepers.

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Left to right: Dancers Lauren Nagel and Jenny ...

For their original work “Women Who Kept the Lights,” FlipSide’s Artistic Director Christine Reynolds and her collaborators Jenny Carlson and Lauren Nagel spent a year researching the lives of female lighthouse keepers in their effort to portray “a female keeper’s perseverance, strength, solitude and mortality” through “movement, narration, quiet energy and athleticism.”

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Left to right: Christine Reynolds, Lauren Nagel ...

Reynolds explains that her interest in lighthouse keepers began when she vacationed near Maine’s famous Cape Neddick “Nubble” Light as a child “The idea of living on a remote piece of land, one foot away from society, one foot in the thrusts of nature was something I admired and envied,” she says. “Year after year I would peer through the binoculars to the rock that held the lighthouse. And as I grew older, once the lighthouse was automated, I still peered through the same binoculars, hoping to see a shadow of someone or a flicker of light to remind me there were people lucky enough and brave enough to shed light to those who needed guidance out at sea. I think I share these thoughts with many thousands of people, who hold a sweet appreciation for these buildings.”

Over time Reynolds developed the idea of incorporating her love for lighthouses and keepers into a dance performance. “I had a general idea that I wanted to focus on these wonderful women who overcame many obstacles during their stays in various lighthouses,” she says.

The work was inspired in large part by 101-year-old Connie Small of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, author of the book The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife, who is affectionately known as the “First Lady of Light.” “It wasn’t until I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Ms. Connie Small,” says Reynolds, “that the project took shape. Her humble words for such a unique life experience inspired the 40-minute performance and gave life to many of the dances.” Recordings of Connie Small’s voice recounting events from her life at several light stations provide a backdrop for parts of the performance.

Reynolds and the dancers journeyed to Race Point Lighthouse at the tip of Cape Cod for publicity photos, and they toured Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in New Hampshire. The visits made the project a valuable learning experience for all involved. Dancer Jenny Carlson says, “If traveling to Race Point Light in the dead of winter was any indication of the type of conditions these women put up with, I can’t help but have an immense amount of respect for the type of laborious work they encountered in their daily routine! I enjoy bringing to life on stage the thoughts and feelings these women must have had in such a lonely and sometimes scary place. And then there is the other side of the spectrum — the wonderful feelings they had saving lives and carrying out a job so important. Most women in that time period weren’t lucky enough to enjoy self worth on such a physical level. Society looked down on women for that. And some of these women were being praised for their bravery!”

Dancer Lauren Nagel adds, “The appeal to this project for me is the popularity of lighthouses. They are romantic. They are brave. They are stoic. Translating these emotions into dance is passionate and fun. And being women, it only seems natural for us to research the lives of women lighthouse keepers. We want to relate to them.”

Reynolds sums up her feelings by saying, “I hope through this Lighthouse Dance Project that I am able to share my love of these buildings and the people that kept them. The most beautiful things I’ve encountered, through research and contacts and interviews, are the humble things. The humble people who are willing to go above and beyond for this project simply because they share the same interest, and the humble lighthouses made of simple materials, painted white and showing their age and toil — still standing humbly and admirably after all these years.”

FlipSide Dance Theatre is offering the performance of “Women Who Kept the Lights” to interested groups. For more information, contact: Christine Reynolds at 617-510-4292.

This story appeared in the September 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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