Terre Jones drove across the United States four years ago and stopped at 88 national parks along the way. The president and CEO of Wolf Trap was looking for the next national park to feature in his Face of America series. He decided on the four national parks in South Florida: Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park and Everglades National Park. On September 8, Wolf Trap will celebrate the cultural and natural landscapes of these parks in the Spirit of South Florida.
The seventh performance in the series includes a multimedia presentation with live contemporary dance from the Parsons Dance Company, set to the music of Cuban American band Tiempo Libre and indie/folk musician Andrew Bird. Jones chose choreographer David Parsons and his dance company because Parsons had connections to South Florida and seemed like a natural fit.
“David has an understanding of both the geography and culture of South Florida,” Jones said. “He has an incredible flourish. There’s one segment that replicates the movement of alligators in and out of the water.”
Jones chooses site-specific work for each installment of the series in which he asks the dancers to perform amidst the wildlife. In South Florida, the dancers actually went into the swamp and danced in the water.
“Now we tried to make sure there were no alligators nearby when we were filming because we didn’t want to lose any dancers,” Jones joked. “But there’s a certain sort of excitement and anticipation. You’ll see dancers who are doing work in the environment that takes you there – it takes you right into it.”
The Face of America™ crew filmed eight sites in 10 days. In the past six installments, related artistic segments were selected and presented individually. But in The Spirit of South Florida, Jones and his team created a full-scale production from start to finish.
“We’ve choreographed the entire evening so that you’re seeing an artistic whole from beginning to end,” he said.
The performance emphasizes the most important elements of each national park, including preservation of the wildlife and ecosystem. Jones said it’s easy to miss the beauty and significance of the parks, even to state residents with access to them.
“It’s critical to the population in South Florida that the water remains healthy and to remember that it’s all part of the same ecosystem,” he said. “If that system develops a problem, it affects the entire country if not the world because it changes patterns in weather and so forth.”
Face of America has received critical acclaim and broad exposure, garnering national attention from the PBS series Great Performance, mention on CBS Sunday Morning, and even a cover story in Smithsonian Magazine.
Past installments have included aerial dancers performing thousands of feet in the air on the cliffs of Yosemite Falls, an entire performance filmed underground in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave and hula dancers performing at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
The Spirit of South Florida is the first of three installments in the Face of America centennial series, created in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service in 2016. The second installment in 2014 will feature the majestic parks of the Pacific Northwest and the final installment in 2016 will combine highlights from the previous eight Face of America performances and integrate them into a single production with a grand finale choral piece saluting the national parks.
Whether you’re a lover of national parks or a fan of world-renowned dance companies, Jones said there’s nothing like seeing the first of a new work on opening night.
“The big thing is [that] you’re going to see this spectacular multimedia event,” he said. “[It’s] the very first time a new piece of art will be put on stage. For me, I get goose bumps just thinking about it because it’s such an exciting time. That experience is something I think is very special for people.”
See The Face of America: Spirit of South Florida on Saturday, September 8 at 8 p.m. at Filene Center at Wolf Trap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; 703-255-1900; www.wolftrap.org. Purchase tickets at www.wolftrap.org, $40 in-house and $15 on the lawn.