Annie Moore isn't the most well-known figure in U.S. history. She was 17 years old when she boarded a ship in County Cork, Ireland, bound for New York, where she would join her parents. The ship arrived on Dec. 31, 1892, and on New Year's Day, she became the first immigrant processed at the federal station at Ellis Island, a tiny island not far from the Statue of Liberty.
Twelve million people followed in her footsteps, making Ellis Island the busiest point of entry for immigrants during its six decades of operation. The stories of some of those immigrants inspired Melange Dance Company's new production, Journey of Dreamers, which runs at Art Klub Dec. 14, 15 and 17.
"We tell the story of Annie Moore," says Melange co-founder and choreographer Monica Ordonez. "There's a really fun, spirited, Irish-inspired dance."
Dreamers has two parts, with the first focusing on the experiences of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. Most of the company's 11 dancers are onstage throughout that first part, suggesting the crowds and confusion as the travelers sought entry (98 percent were accepted). In one vignette, some dancers carry suitcases or sacks, like immigrants who carried all of their possessions as the started new lives. Ordonez tries to capture both the hope and stress of the experience.
"One of the reasons a lot of people left (Europe) was fleeing persecution," Ordonez says. "There's a Holocaust escapee piece, which is pretty deep, but I felt it was necessary to show what people were running away from. There's a piece that shows what single women went through. If they were alone, they couldn't get in. They were considered a 'Public Charge.'"
The production uses some voice-over personal stories from historical interviews. Movement also is informed by records.
"In the piece inspired by the Holocaust, the music sounds like marching music," Ordonez says. "I studied the way the Nazis made people in the camps march. There's a voiceover of 'March left! March right!' (The woman) was recalling what she was told to do. I have them moving to these commands."
Melange Dance has created several shows based on historical events. In 2014, it presented The UpStairs Lounge, based on the 1973 arson of a gay bar in the French Quarter which killed 32 people. Its most recent full show, HerStory, explored the history of the advancement of women's rights, including pieces about suffragists and Rosie the Riveter. (Melange will remount that show at Loyola University New Orleans' Feminist Festival in 2018).
"I love storytelling as a choreographer," Ordonez says. "The historical aspect gives me a lot to research and think about before I start to choreograph. I read about the 'Kissing Post,' a place on Ellis Island where people reunited. I read that guards liked to work there because they got to see people who had been separated."
Journey of Dreamers also includes more mundane parts of the experience, such as the seasickness some suffered and the strangeness of new foods.
The second act leaps to current times and takes a broader view of immigration from around the world. In one vignette, dancers perform while a video about a Latin American woman is projected on a screen. But the overarching issue remains the same.
"I want to return to the original reason of why people came here, what the country is supposed to stand for and welcoming people from different cultures," Ordonez says.