Dance celebrates ‘Grapes of Wrath’

Steinbeck novel is Big Read selection

MILFORD – About three-quarters of the way through John Steinbeck’s novel "The Grapes of Wrath," the Joad family and other downtrodden migrants organize a country dance at which they get some relief from their situation as they do-si-do and smile and laugh and feel a little less desper­ate.

On Friday, dancers and musicians will fill the Mil­ford Town Hall auditori­um for a traditional New England contra dance as a way to re-create the spirit of the Nobel Prize-winning book.

Contra dancing is a folk dance with murky origins. The word "contra" comes from the parallel lines of dancers who stand oppo­site – or contra to – their partners. There is a regu­lar contra dance on most fourth Fridays at Milford Town Hall.

This Friday night, the dance will be part of The Big Read – the National Endowment for the Arts program that celebrates books and tries to connect people to their spirit.

"The Grapes of Wrath" is about one struggling family forced out of Okla­homa by the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. On Friday night, Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki on fiddle and Jim Pendergast on guitar will play the mu­sic of the 1930s.

"Not everyone in a com­munity will read the book, but they can still connect with the book through the film" or through "music and dance from the era," Blanche Milligan, execu­tive director of the non­profit Fireseed Alliance, said in an email.

The Fireseed Alliance is one of 77 not-for-profit organizations to receive a grant to host the NEA Big Read this year. In the Souhegan Valley, it is joined by the Chamber of Commerce, Crotched Mountain and New Hamp­shire Humanities to orga­nize the many Big Read events that are going on through September and October.

There are film show­ings, lectures, community discussions and living history performances. Among them will be a "paint and sip" party at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at Art Happens in Wil­ton, and a program called "Just Off Route 66: Paint­ing the America of the 1930s" will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, at the Amherst Town Li­brary

All the public library events are free, but some require registration.

The project will culmi­nate at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, at Saint Anselm College with author Jay Parini, who will discuss "Steinbeck in California: The Man and the Writer."

To see all of The Big Read events, visit fire seedallinace.org. Local events also can be found in The Cabinet’s library listings.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.