Apr 18, 2014
07:17 AM
Arts & Entertainment

Iraq Veteran, Ballet Dancer Roman Baca Brings Fallujah to West Hartford

Iraq Veteran, Ballet Dancer Roman Baca Brings Fallujah to West Hartford

Roman Baca in his first ballet, "Habibi Hhaloua."

By now, the story of the ballet dancer who became a Marine and war zone veteran is well known, but Roman Baca continues to surprise as he takes his military experience in Iraq and turns it into art. (You can see some of the results live in a special performance May 3 in West Hartford; details on that toward the end.)

Baca enlisted in the United States Marine Corps after training to be a professional ballet dancer at the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts in Torrington. Since returning from his deployment in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006, where he served as a machine-gunner and fire-team leader, Baca has used his combat experience as inspiration for works to be performed by his dance company, Exit 12.

Baca's choreography communicates true military experience and also comments on the disconnect between the U.S. and the Middle East.

Exit 12 has performed on stages in New York and Connecticut, aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid aircraft carrier (rightand conducted workshops at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“Art saved my life. It was my way to reconnect. You hear about veterans having trouble reconnecting with civilian life,” says Baca. “That was the thing that brought me back – to dance again, to create again.”

Read the New Haven Register's series on Baca's experience.

He returned to Iraq in 2012 as part of The Mission Continues, an organization dedicated to helping veterans transition back into civilian life, and the New York-based Battery Dance Company, which travels to at-risk communities to teach youth how to dance using their personal experiences as inspiration.

Baca worked with Iraqi youth for five days in April 2012, creating a dance number that expressed who they were as young people, how they felt about their country, what they thought the U.S. thought of them and how they wanted to live in a safer Iraq. (Baca leading class, above.)

“We led them using the movement that they knew,” says Baca. “We were teaching them how to create, not how to dance.”

What resulted was a deeply personal 10-minute piece called "Yarjuun" that not only touched and changed the students but also Baca himself.

“There are parts of this dance that I couldn’t believe were created by Iraqi youth who have never danced in their lives,” says Baca.

Watch Baca explain the experience during his TED Talk in San Antonio last year:

Now he has brought "Yarjuun" back to America – to the Ballet Theatre Company in West Hartford, where he is the artistic director. The students will dance the piece alongside video of the originators performing in Iraq as part of a 16th Annual Spring Repertory Production on May 3.

West Hartford’s I Giovani Solisti chamber orchestra will accompany the dancers during "Yarjuun."

But that’s just a small piece of what the Ballet Theatre Company dancers will offer during their showcase. “We’re doing a couple of interesting things,” says Baca.

That includes the debut of "Sleeping Beauty," a narrated one-act version that will “make the kids excited about what’s happening on stage.”

There will also be excerpts from the vibrant ballet La Bayadère that will feature dancers balancing water jugs on their heads and expertly using drums and scarves. (Dancer Lisa Fitzgerald in La Bayadère, above.)

A performance of the new contemporary ballet "Double Jeu" by Marie Lorene Fichaux will round out the show.

The showcase will be held May 3 at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford. Tickets are available at Ballet Theatre Company's website

Contact me by email at khartman@connecticutmag.com and follow me on Twitter, and connect with Connecticut Magazine on Twitter, onFacebook and on Google +

Iraq Veteran, Ballet Dancer Roman Baca Brings Fallujah to West Hartford

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