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PREVIEW / INTERVIEW: MetroWest Daily News

Dancers celebrate Longfellow's Wayside Inn 300th with free performances July 24

By Natasha Geffen/Daily News Correspondent

MetroWest Daily News

July 17, 2016

History lessons don't exclusively come in textbook form.On Sunday, July 24, learn about Longfellow's Wayside Inn through a medium that has the power to convey pure emotion and narrative: Dance. The Luminarium Dance Company will perform at the Sudbury inn, in celebration of the historic landmark's 300th anniversary.The company will give three 40-minute performances, at noon, 1:30 and 3 p.m.

Every year, Luminarium brings its dance to a different local landmark, including Arlington's water tower in 2014. That performance was one of just three projects to win the Massachusetts Cultural Council's 2015 Gold Star Award, chosen from 5,000 entries.

Luminarium's performance at the Wayside Inn will tell stories of the inn's past, including history culled from old journal entries and tales of important visitors, such as George Washington, who passed through over the years. "We wanted to create something that feels like it's ever-moving," said Merli V. Guerra, Luminarium's co-founder and artistic director. Over the years, the inn has served as a tavern, an American history museum, and a gathering place for artists, actors and poets. Since the 18th century it's been a place where people commonly stop on their way to and from New York and Western Massachusetts. Originally named Howe Tavern after its founder David Howe, the inn was later renamed after poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who visited in October 1862. Longfellow described the inn and the innkeeper in his wildly popular 1863 collection of poems, "Tales of a Wayside Inn," leading people to begin referring to the property as Longfellow's Wayside Inn.

The first part of Luminarium Dance's performance will include a short history lesson, which will be both comedic and kid-friendly. Second, a 15-minute piece will consist of dancers roaming around the Wayside Inn, exploring its beautiful grounds and grist mill, which was commissioned by Henry Ford. One thing about the inn's property that guests often described in their journal entries were the flowers. "Even if awful things were happening - warfare, fires or trouble overseas - they would always talk about the flowers," said Guerra, who extensively researched the inn's history while creating the performance.

Luminarium's final piece, which Guerra described as "gut-wrenching," starts off structured with the dancers wearing old-fashioned hoop skirts. Then the dance transitions to more '40s-style movements and attire, eventually loosening up and becoming more modern. This part of the performance will be 10 minutes long and will delve into the idea that people and places are constantly changing. Composer Mali Sastri, who was inspired by the landmark's history to mix themes such as joy, loss and despair into the melody, will sing vocals while musician Jonah Sacks plays cello. In addition, between the live dances, there will be a screening of a video of a dance performed in slow motion that uses flour to symbolize the grist mill. The word "luminarium" has two meanings: to physically shed light on something, and to enlighten mankind. The company's dances almost always reflect the word in one way or another, Guerra said. "This performance is meant to choreographically enlighten mankind," said Guerra, "Hopefully, it will make people look at dance in a different way and see the story of the inn unfolding." The performance is free, and attendees are encouraged to bring picnic blankets.

The project was funded in part by a grant from the Sudbury Cultural Council. Schedule changes can be found on Luminarium's website.

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