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Headlong Dance Theater will perform its award-winning production Ulysses: Sly Uses of a Book by James Joyce at 8 p.m. Friday, January 28, at Lafayette College’s Williams Center for the Arts. There will be a talk in Williams Center room 108 one hour before the performance by University of Pennsylvania professor Vicki Mahaffey, a Joyce scholar who served as advisor to Headlong during the creation of the work. Tickets are $12 and may be purchased by calling the Williams Center box office at 610-330-5009. The performance contains adult themes, as suggested by Joyce, and audience discretion is advised.

A full-evening work inspired by Joyce’s masterpiece, Headlong’s Ulysses drew critical acclaim last summer at the Dance Critics conference in Philadelphia and garnered a “Bessie” award for its off-Broadway presentation last spring at New York’s Dance Theater Workshop. The “Bessie” is given for distinguished accomplishments in the arts in alternative performance venues. “Headlong’s signature strategies become aligned with Joyce’s radically deconstructive literary methods, an honorable artistic ancestry for this hip and questing group,” wrote the The Philadelphia Inquirer, whose reviewer called a Headlong performance one of “the tenderest, most affecting dances I’ve seen all year.”

Headlong’s Ulysses takes liberties with Joyce’s work, just as the Irish author recreated Homer’s ancient Greek epic The Odyssey. The new setting is Philadelphia at the end of the 20th century. Headlong preserves Joyce’s sense of stylistic changes by structuring the dance as a succession of skits, each of which dramatizes a different aspect of Ulysses as it might be experienced now. The company wrote in June, 1999: “Like jazz musicians, we choreograph as we go along, repeating structures that are practiced and familiar, but always open to innovation and expression. We fill the gaps in the moment, playing out temporary truths. Improvisation opens those Joycean gaps between what we experience and what we expect to experience, between a physical event and what we perceive of that event, between what we’re doing and what we say we’re doing.”

Ulysses: Sly Uses of a Book by James Joyce was commissioned by Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum, the repository of Joyce’s manuscript. It is a continuation of Lafayette College’s 1999-2000 Roethke Humanities Festival, titled “Modern Appropriations of Homer’s Odyssey,” celebrating the epic that was this summer’s common reading assignment for the Class of 2003. Held every two years, the Roethke Festival is named for Theodore Roethke (1908-63), a former Lafayette faculty member and noted poet of the 1940s and ’50s. Roethke published several critically acclaimed volumes of poetry, including The Waking, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1954.

Founded in 1993, the Philadelphia-based Headlong Dance Theater is a collaboration of David Brick, Andrew Simonet, and Amy Smith. All three dance and choreograph. Last year, Headlong added dancers Nichole Canuso, Christy Lee, and Heather Murphy. Along with Ulysses, the group has crafted interpretations of Star Wars and E.M. Forester’s Story of a Panic.

The 1999-2000 Performance Series at Lafayette College is sponsored, in part, by grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Mid Atlantic Foundation for the Arts.

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