A perfect example occurred at the annual night-before-Thanksgiving dance that my band, Balfa Toujours, shares with Geno Delafose every year. It was a night of Creole and Cajun music in which turkeys and guinea hens were given away as door prizes. While Geno was playing, I went to look for my friend Beverly Spell of Ballet Acadiana ' a world-renowned ballet teacher and choreographer ' only to be told that she was out on the floor doing zydeco moves with a world-renowned performer and teacher of Irish traditional dance. Do such things happen everywhere? Not a chance.
Beverly is a local artist who continually exhibits a humble and productive dedication to art. She creates on many levels. Her original choreography explores the emotional depths of the art form, her ballet barres, created from an original design and handcrafted in Milton, can be found in studios and schools around the world, and her teaching skills have landed her positions in New York and other dance meccas. But her dedication to the creative spirit is perhaps best exhibited in the work she does with young people. Her Leap 'N Learn program, which focuses on creativity, self-expression, and fundamental movement skills in children, is used by more than 400 dance studios throughout the world and has just been adopted by Lafayette Parish public schools. I'm collaborating on this program with Beverly and Annie Spell, through the addition of original "warm-up" and "cool-down" music that features local sounds like accordions, fiddles, triangles and zydeco-style electric guitars.
After working with Beverly on this and other projects, including an upcoming original ballet centered on Louisiana's wetlands, we discussed the idea of my participation in Ballet Acadiana's annual holiday celebration this December. She asked me to submit musical material to pair with original choreography for the performance. I immediately thought of a personal recording I had made a few years before of Christmas music on fretless banjo.
In the mid-1990s, I was working on a documentary film covering early Irish immigrants to the Appalachian Mountains. While doing research on my roots in the area, I learned of a fiddle belonging to a distant cousin which was assumed to have traveled to Virginia with my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather in the 1700s. Thinking only of what might make for a strong scene in the documentary, I made a call to the owner of the fiddle, whom I'd never met, and suggested that I bring the crew over to film me playing the instrument. In a response that still makes me smile at my presumptuousness, my 82-year-old cousin Alfred replied, "Now hold on a minute. You've got to get in on the ground floor!"
His words made me realize that I was acting in opposition to the principles of family and heritage that I had been hoping to illustrate for the film. I'd wanted to come to his home and get some quick footage of "the moment" before ever having met him. If the ties I was hoping to emphasize were so important, why was I prepared to relegate them to secondary status? Why was I more concerned with the image of family than with family itself? His lesson resonated with me then, as it does today, and I soon made plans to go visit him and his wife, Mary, without a film crew or an agenda. After a few visits we became close and I spent time with them every time I was in that corner of Virginia.
About a year later I came home one day near Christmas and found a large box on my porch. Inside were two handmade fretless banjos that Alfred had carved for me himself. They were decorated with horses and my name had been written on one by the bridge. I was so moved by his generosity that I immediately went inside and recorded an album's worth of Christmas music on the instruments. I sent a copy of this recording to him the next day and, surprisingly, he seemed as delighted with my gift as I had been with his.
I dubbed the recording A Fret-Free Christmas and began giving it to a few friends and family each winter. The performances seemed to have an extra depth and innocence because they were made with no motivation other than reflecting and furthering the spirit of generosity shown in the original creation of the instruments. While giving for the sake of giving is what we all want Christmas to be about, we often end up distracted by details and expectations. A Fret-Free Christmas was intended to follow Alfred's lead in returning the focus to what really matters.
Ballet Acadiana's Assistant Director Esther Burley responded to these feelings in the music and created powerful original choreography for five of the pieces as a suite. This brand new work features the Senior Company of Ballet Acadiana and live performances of the music on the original fretless banjos. The instruments have rarely been on stage, due to their delicate nature, and these interpretations of traditional Christmas pieces have never been performed in public. A limited release of the recording, including 18 Christmas pieces, will be available at these performances only, with a portion of the proceeds going directly to Ballet Acadiana. In addition to A Fret-Free Christmas, several other works will be performed, including the original ballet The Littlest Angel.
I'm proud to live in a community where art is intertwined with everyday life. In some ways we may take it for granted, but perhaps that's not as bad as it sounds. It has been granted to us, like a blessing, and we live in the thick of it, without separation. We rarely take a break and view it from the outside, but why should we? We're too busy doing it to step away. Beverly Spell and Ballet Acadiana are some of the busiest and most dedicated of the highly talented artists in this area. It's my hope that you'll join us to celebrate our many blessings during this holiday season.
To hear Dirk Powell perform holiday music on the banjo, visit www.theind.com/extra/powell.
A Holiday Celebration featuring The Littlest Angel Friday will take place at UL Lafayette's Angelle Hall on Friday, Dec. 7, 2007 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 8, 2007, at 3 p.m. Admission is $10.
The board hopes to recover all fees paid, plus one-half, along with what could amount to hundreds of thousands in additional penalties.
Oh, the irony... or something like that.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
St. Patty's Day crafts
The former star of Saturday Night Live throws in his 2 cents on the Big Oil lawsuit.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday, March 10, 2014:
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
The Cane Fire Film Series screens “MaidenTrip” on Monday, March 10, at the AcA.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The vibe of the tribe done modern
The Louisiana Workforce Commission said Friday that initial claims rose to 2,125 from the previous week's total of 1,964. There were 2,887 initial claims during the comparable week in 2013.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
She’s the daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, but she’s been a gifted artist in her own right for three decades, and she’s coming to Lafayette.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.