Arts & Culture

Sean Dorsey Dance delivers powerful love letter to AIDS survivors in ADF debut

Sean Dorsey Dance debuts “The Missing Generation” at the American Dance Festival, ahead of a 20-city tour.
Sean Dorsey Dance debuts “The Missing Generation” at the American Dance Festival, ahead of a 20-city tour. Ivy Maiorino

The American Dance Festival debut of Sean Dorsey Dance in “The Missing Generation” delivers the kind of powerful performance that comes from pouring heart, body and soul into something – in this case Dorsey’s love letter to the generation of AIDS survivors society had turned its back on.

Dorsey set out to right that wrong in this evening-length work that seamlessly blends movement, original music and a selection from Dorsey’s taped recordings of 25 interviews with survivors who had witnessed and experienced the loss of part of an entire generation to AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s.

The two-day performance ends tonight, July 6, and then Dorsey takes it on a 20-city tour of the work.

Early on, we hear Dorsey’s recorded voice as he encourages those survivors to break their silence. “I ask you to tell me your story. It is too much for one person to hold. Let it pour out …”

While the survivors talk, Dorsey and his dancers – Brian Fisher, ArVejon Jones and Nol Simonse – put everything they have, physically and emotionally, into their performance.

Throughout “The Missing Generation,” the dancers repeatedly demonstrate their support of each other. They cluster together, in a tight embrace, faces turned toward each other. A single dancer carries, on his back, another dancer, body limp, feet dangling close to the stage floor. In other moves, either singly or as a group, they lift another dancer up,

On tape, survivors recall those terrifying early days when the disease was yet to be diagnosed and then, later, diagnosed but without treatment. In one account, a male survivor recalls a doctor informing him he was HIV-positive and giving him a prescription of Demaraol because there was no treatment at the time: “He thought I was going to swallow the bottle [of pills) and die. I was 25.”

“Nobody seemed to care because it was a gay community,” another survivor says. “We couldn’t understand why nobody was pumping up research.”

A woman speaks of the time when people first started showing symptoms of the disease. “My brother, Jeff, was living in San Francisco. Gay men were getting sick and dying … It was terrifying.”

While the survivors express this litany of loss, the four dancers respond by repeatedly jumping flat-footed.

At the end, Dorsey, in a recorded message, apologizes to this long-ignored generation of survivors:

“So, we left you swallowed up by grief, we left you to wonder how the heart can heal again after it has been completely broken.”

Then as the dancers clustered together, arms wrapped around each other, he says:

“Tell me your story. Let it pour out. We’ll sit side by side and we’ll hear it. We’ll hear all of it.

“Welcome hurt, welcome grief, welcome rage. Welcome heartbreak. Welcome curiosity. Welcome beauty. Welcome love …”


What: “The Missing Generation,” an American Dance Festival debut by Sean Dorsey Dance.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, July 6

Where: Reynolds Industries Theater, Duke University.

Tickets: 919-684-4444 or