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‘Woman’ makes dream a reality

Production follows the life of a Mormon pioneer woman

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Drusilla Hendricks was a dreamer.

During the day, she dreamed of making a life for herself and her family.

At night, her dreams took a more mystical turn. They were spiritual dreams of Jacob's Ladder, descending doves and glorious flowers.

Her daytime dreams led her to join the Mormons and head west.

Her nighttime dreams led her closer to God.

And in "Woman in the Wind," Karla Hendricks Huntsman, Drusilla's great-great granddaughter, shares Drusilla's story in a spare, yet powerful production that casts a fresh light on Mormon pioneer heritage. With music by Kathleen Newton and Machelle Thompson and choreography by Kim Yandow, founding director of the Deseret Dance

Theater, "Woman in the Wind — like Michael McLean's "The Ark" and Tim Slover's "Joyful Noise" — has the feel of a small piece that word-of-mouth will turn into a regional classic.

It is a striking combination of new, old and bold.

"It began when my brother wanted me to write a musical about Drusilla," says Huntsman. "Now, when people see it, I want them to think about their own ancestors and their own lives."

For now, "Woman in the Wind" is scheduled for one more run — Aug. 16-19, 8 p.m. at the Ragan Theater on the campus of Utah Valley State College in Orem (call 801-222-8797 for information). Other performances, however, will undoubtedly come along.

One reason is quality. The dance numbers, under the direction of Yandow, are precise and professional. And they all propel the story along. "Everything had to be in service of the story," she says. "We didn't want anything to distract."

Yandow, a former America Junior Miss, came to Utah from New York, where she was a professional dancer, and took a post teaching dance at BYU. She stayed 11 years.

A couple of years ago she formed the all-female Deseret Dance Theater as a type of "dance ministry." In New York, she says, she needed to do more with her art than simply solidify her own career.

The DDT was her answer.

Today, the local troupe is made up of working women, homemakers, mothers, a grandmother, college graduates, former missionaries — all dedicated to using dance as a way of communicating spiritual truth.

"We want to be messengers of sisterhood and perserverance," says Yandow. "I really believe you can never separate spirituality from other aspects of life."

And in "Woman in the Wind," that point is made over and over.

Like the Broadway play "The Fantasticks," "Woman in the Wind" uses simple props and even simpler costuming. Yet the result is as seamless and elegant as a piece of Shaker furniture. And everything is serviceable — used to illuminate Drusilla's thoughts, feelings and daily life.

For Drusilla, a fanciful girlhood filled with Bible reading and dream-visions would lead to years of persecution, hunger, fear and — eventually — triumph. Mobs ransack homes in the production, angry ministers preach, mourners mourn. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young even put in an appearance. There are several novelty numbers to lighten the tone. Huntsman narrates the story from the side of the stage, supplying the connecting tissue between the dances, songs and set pieces as the story moves along.

Three men have been recruited for the male roles, including Craig Rollo, a marriage and family therapist, who had given up performing because the long hours and rigorous schedule wreaked havoc with his family. Then "Drusilla" came along.

"My wife told me it was a show I needed to do," he says. "So I know it has something special to offer."

Eventually, says Yandow, she would like to do the show with women playing both the male and female roles, a reversal on Elizabethan theater where men were cast as women. But that version will be down the road a ways.

For now, the group is just glad to be working.

And glad for the reaction the show is getting. The response has been very positive.

Partly because the production is so tight.

But mostly because — amid the grand scale of the pioneer migration and epic elements of LDS history — the story of Drusilla Hendricks stands as an example of quiet, individual courage.

Her life — and others like it — are what breathe life into the grand, mythic sagas of American history.

E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com