Poet Kwame Dawes provided the words for HOPE & Wisteria, two back-to-back performance pieces that explore different aspects of the black experience. But his contribution, vital as it is, is only one part of the puzzle. Each production is a multimedia piece using music, images and Dawes' poetry.
The musicians and singers, performing alongside Dawes on stage, contribute immensely to the power of the production, as do the photographers whose work is projected on a large screen behind the performers.
The first piece, HOPE: Living & Loving With HIV in Jamaica, is a poignant reflection on the people Dawes met while working on a magazine article about HIV and AIDS in the country where he grew up.
Through poems and songs, the piece tells the stories of people trying to maintain their dignity while dealing with illness. Some are wistful, some defiant, some resigned to their fate.
Throughout, the words are accompanied by evocative photographs showing the faces of those afflicted and both the beauty and the squalor of where they live.
The music comes from a group of singers, including Dawes and music director Kevin Simmonds, as well as classical musicians and a duo of a guitarist and percussionist.
The performances were splendid, Thursday's show marred only slightly by a few technical glitches, such as a buzzing speaker that proved distracting during the quieter passages.
The second half of the show, after a short intermission, is Wisteria, another examination of dignity in the face of adversity, this one focused on black women in the segregated South of the early 20th century. That piece was accompanied by photographs from Columbia, S.C., in the 1920s and '30s.
HOPE & Wisteria will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday at Hanes Auditorium. For tickets, $25, go by the box office at the Benton Convention Center.