Illuminating the fascinating life of jazz great Billy Strayhorn, award-winning choreographer David Roussève’s newest work comes to the Moss Arts Center stage on Saturday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m.

Performed by Roussève’s dance/theatre company REALITY, “Halfway to Dawn” blends dance, music, video, text, theatre, and visual design to tell Strayhorn’s story.

The performance will be held in the center’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall.

Relatively unknown, Strayhorn (1915-1967) was Duke Ellington’s main arranger and writing partner and played an instrumental role in the creation of a vastly important body of work in American music history. He was responsible for writing such famous hits as "Take the A Train," "Satin Doll," "Chelsea Bridge," and "Lush Life." Strayhorn was also a passionate activist involved in civil rights causes and a committed friend of Martin Luther King Jr.

Gay, out, and living in Harlem in the 1940s-60s, Strayhorn chose to lead a remarkably private life, allowing Ellington to take the spotlight and much of the credit for their joint works.

"Halfway to Dawn" seeks to capture the "truths" of the elusive artist’s life by layering video-projected text conveying the biographical facts of Strayhorn’s life, projected abstract video art exploring the emotional undercurrents of his journey, and expressionistic physical theatre expanding the political urgency of his narrative.

Strayhorn’s music serves at the core of the performance, interpreted through a dynamic dance vocabulary melding jazz, modern/postmodern, and social dance forms. Moveable screens show historical footage that grounds the work in the Strayhorn era, while lighting design moves the piece fluidly between past, present, and fantasy. A score of Strayhorn songs allows the famously private artist to emerge and “speak for himself” through his music. The songs are immersed within a larger sound design that – like the video element – references historical material, but ultimately creates a contemporary, abstract, and wholly original digital tapestry.

A choreographer, writer, director, and performer, Roussève is a Guggenheim Fellow and professor of choreography with UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance. His dance/theatre company REALITY has performed throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, South America, and the U.S., including three commissions for the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival. Other commissions include Houston Ballet, Ballet Hispanico, Cleo Parker Robinson, Dancing Wheels, Atlanta Ballet, and Ilkhom Theater of Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Roussève has created three short films, the most recent screening at festivals in 11 countries and receiving 10 awards, including four for “Best Film.”

Related events

Prior to the performance of “Halfway to Dawn” on March 30, join the talk, “Negotiating Public and Private Lives: Connecting Bodies and Identities.” Led by Luis Garay, director of Virginia Tech’s LGBTQ+ Resource Center, the talk will explore the relationship between bodies, lives, and identities through a historical lens centering on narratives of queer people of color. Beginning at 6 p.m. in the Moss Arts Center Cube, the free event is first come, first served. To guarantee a seat, register online.

Immediately following the performance, speak with with members of David Roussève/ REALITY during a public discussion and question-and-answer session moderated by Devair Jeffries, Presidential Pathways teaching fellow in Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts. The free event will be held in the Cube and is first come, first served. Register to attend the event online.

In addition, Roussève will present the talk, “Creating Socially Engaged Art: Can Dance Change the World?” The choreographer and artistic director will discuss how he was inspired by Strayhorn’s dedication to direct activism in the civil rights movement and tracked the political themes within his own work and the evolution of his own choreographic focus on “the artist as activist.” The free event will be held in the Cube on March 28 at 6 p.m. Register online to guarantee a seat.

This program was made possible in part by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

This engagement of David Roussève/REALITY is made possible through the ArtsCONNECT program of Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation with support from the National Endowment of the Arts.

Tickets

Tickets are $25-55 for general public and $10 for students and youth 18 and under. Tickets can be purchased online; at the Moss Arts Center's box office, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; or by calling 540-231-5300 during box office hours.

While Virginia Tech students can always attend any Moss Arts Center performance for only $10, the center also offers free last-minute rush tickets for students who sign up for text notifications. To receive these notifications, text “arts” to 31996. Availability of rush tickets varies by performance and tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last in the box office. Virginia Tech ID will be required for admission.

Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Limited street parking is also available. Parking on Alumni Mall is free on weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Kacy McAllister at 540-231-5300 or email kmcallis@vt.edu during regular business hours at least 10 business days prior to an event.