"I never could have foreseen that one of my books would sort of transmogrify into a modern dance," marvels author and Pulitzer laureate David Maraniss.
New York choreographer Robin Becker approached Maraniss a few years ago. She had read They Marched Into Sunlight. Moved by its juxtaposition of the Vietnam conflict with the antiwar movement on the UW-Madison campus, she proposed an original dance based on his book.
The result will debut in March, when - in collaboration with UW-Madison dance department chair Jin-Wen Yu - Into Sunlight premieres here as the centerpiece of a symposium addressing war, violence and tectonic cultural shifts. Maraniss will deliver the keynote for the event, which is part of UW-Madison's Year of the Arts program.
Yu hopes to choreograph portions of the book set on the UW-Madison campus, investigating social and political themes in his own style while incorporating video. "I don't want to address war very literally," he explains. "I want to bring the emotional response."
Perhaps the greatest challenge, Yu says, will be merging his contributions with Becker's distinctive movement vocabulary. "She will come here in winter break," Yu explains. "Then in March she will come here a week before the concert and we'll continue working."
Now expecting his third grandchild, Maraniss likens his role in this project to grandparenthood. "It's all joy, not as much responsibility," he says. "It's not mine - but maybe it couldn't exist without me."
He does, however, expect to be moved by the experience. Noting the profound psychological and emotional toll of researching and writing They Marched Into Sunlight, he observes that "I might experience it on an even deeper level through dance."
For now, Maraniss is preoccupied with other things. He is "sort of the dramaturge and part of the creative team" for the Broadway-bound play based on his biography of Vince Lombardi. His book on the 1960 Rome Olympics has drawn him into a cascade of 50th-anniversary reunions for athletes from those games. And he is working on a biography of President Barack Obama.
He expects the dance to resonate in the context of contemporary military conflicts. "I think the issues that will be raised in the dance are eternal," he explains. "The issues of what is patriotism, what is the role of dissent in American life, how do you end a war, how is a war started. All of those issues have echoes of Vietnam."