Long-Distance Mission 

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Choreographer Chris Burnside went to Ghana last December and realized that he is not cut out for hands-on mission work. But being an artist, he concluded that he could use his creative skills and contacts to help the children there: "I thought, what can I do?"

The answer starts with a show called "For Africa: A benefit performance and celebration for the children of Ghana," which runs Nov. 1-3 at Virginia Commonwealth University's Grace Street Theater.

It's the culmination of a six-month collaborative project of Burnside, a VCU professor emeritus, and VCU's School of Social Work and PeaceWork. The goal is to help provide educational opportunities for street children of Ghana through the Sovereign Global Mission, a nongovernmental relief organization that addresses the social issues of poverty.

For help with this massive project, Burnside came up with an educational opportunity for VCU students, an independent study course called Making a Difference. By working on "For Africa," students learned the ropes of planning, producing and promoting a fundraiser.

Several local performance groups are in on the project, too, including the African American Repertory Theatre, Chris Burnside with LaWanda Raines, Danica Priest and Friends, Ezibu Muntu African Dance Company, James Frazier, Njeri Jackson with Jackie Prater, Richmond Ballet's Minds in Motion Team XXL dance troupe, the John B. Cary Elementary School's step team and Theatre VCU.

Derome Scott Smith, artistic director of the African American Repertory Theatre, is adding some levity to the mix. "While I was talking to Chris about what we should perform," Smith says, "he said he wanted something light. So we are doing a scene from our all-black cast of 'Steel Magnolias' in which Anell recounts a funny story about her deadbeat husband."

But the theme of unity is most reflected in the ending dance and drum sequence. It begins with the Minds in Motion troupe, which will perform an energetic dance called "Jumpin' Jive" representing the youth of America. Then they're joined onstage by the Cary Elementary School's step team, which recalls African-American dance heritage. Ezibu Muntu next joins, taking the audience to Africa through their traditional African dance and drumming. The three groups end up dancing together, demonstrating the global social work we can all participate in.

There will be a silent auction and an African market after each performance. The proceeds of which go to the Sovereign Global Mission. S

"For Africa: A benefit performance and celebration of the children of Ghana" runs Nov. 1-3 at the VCU Grace Street Theater. Tickets are $26. Call 828-2020 or visit www.forafricabenefit.org.

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