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Local director-actor heals as show goes on

Nothing.

When Terrance Henderson opened his mouth to sing at his grandmother's funeral, he couldn't make a sound.

The grief Henderson, the artistic director and choreographer of Vibrations Dance Company, dealt with the latter part of last year was like a mute button.

Until he got on the stage.

He buried his grandmother Geneva Sligh on Jan. 6, and when Trustus Theatre's production of "Rent" reopened the next night, Henderson was in character.

The script called for Tom Collins, the role he played, to vocally mourn the loss of a close friend, and Henderson's performance of "I'll Cover You" was riveting.

"That would be the scene that sent everybody over the edge," said Dewey Scott-Wiley, "Rent's" director. "It was very emotional."

Henderson continues to pour himself into his work. Tonight, Vibrations will perform "Musicality," a three-part dance performance, at the CMFA ArtSpace. One of the pieces is a reflection of Henderson's grieving, which began two months before his grandmother's New Year's Day death.

His father, Fred Henderson, succumbed to colon cancer in October.

"He never acted ill," said Henderson, 32, who drew closer to his dad during hospital visits and at his dad's home where he received hospice care.

"It just never felt like he wasn't himself until the last week."

His father's voice - big and gruff, much like his personality - weakened. Henderson, who choreographed Dreher High School's production of "Les Miserables," was rehearsing when he got the call to come home.

He sat on the couch at his place before driving to his dad's house to sit on his couch, stunned. When he heard his stepmother's screams, he knew his father had taken his final breath. He wanted to get up and go see him.

But.

"I couldn't move my feet," Henderson said about the most natural of functions for a dancer. He felt exposed and bare, as if a sheet had been suddenly tugged off his sleeping body.

"I couldn't walk," he continued.

The stunted, almost robotic, limb failure is incorporated into a movement of "Truth=Love."

"Those are moments I physically experienced," Henderson said.

Vibrations is the kind of company that makes a warm-up look like a routine. Each movement is rhythmic and soulful.

Henderson, a Newberry native and USC graduate, is the S.C. Arts Commission 2010 Dance Performance Fellow. In 2009, Henderson received the bronze Leo Award for outstanding choreography at the Jazz Dance World Congress for his piece "Stand," which was performed by Vibrations.

"Musicality" is one of the company's more accessible productions as popular music from Jill Scott to MIA to Ciara to RuPaul will be used. Along with "Truth=Love," there's also "Welcome to the Ball," a nod to the night life dance subculture and "Images," an excerpt of "Ninacity," which was set to the music of Nina Simone.

The company rehearsed a dance set to Beyonce's "Halo," a corps piece that features ample uses of the stage's wings.

"Not bad," Henderson said as he walked toward the stage. "But we can still show more facially. We need to see more from everybody."

Though he's recovering from a sprained ankle, he demonstrated a jump, holding his head rigid as he smiled toward the empty space.

"There's nothing but darkness up here so you need to brighten it up or it looks like a box," he said.

The exiting to the wings needed work, too, as the dancers, who were jumping out of frame with their heads down, looked like they were tripping. Some bumped the black curtains on the stage's sides.

"Professional dancers do not hit the wing," Henderson said. "If you have to break your neck, do not hit that wing."

For the past few years, Vibrations, a company of mostly black dancers, usually performs a lot of shows during this month, concerts themed for Black History Month. Not this weekend.

"This year, we wanted to just present the art, present the company and see the company do something different," Evie Belton, Vibrations' founder and executive director, said.

Henderson, who is confronting death for the first time in his adult life, said he's no longer interested in speaking to categories. He's living - and choreographing - life his way now.

"Rent" opened on Dec. 4, his father's birthday. After Trustus darkened for the Christmas holiday, the musical reopened the day after his grandmother's funeral.

"It was so fresh," Henderson said of the pain. "Every night I got to work out my grief.

"It was very helpful to me to find a way in my art to express something that was personal to me."

What the stage was for Henderson during that time is easy to surmise:

Everything.

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