UNCG Campus Weekly

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Dance on Former NFL Player’s Fight with Alzheimer’s

031611EyeOnArts_DadAndMeMelissa Pihos, a graduate student in choreography, will present “PIHOS: A Moving Biography,” a dance work that focuses on her father’s fight with Alzheimer’s disease, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 25-26, in the UNCG Dance Theater.

Pihos’ multimedia MFA thesis concert explores the life of her father, Pete Pihos, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970 after his nine-year playing career with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was an All-American player at Indiana University and a veteran of World War II, where he fought on the front line. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2001 and can no longer communicate clearly.

Melissa Pihos has studied her father’s life for the last four years and is now telling his story through video and dance. In 2009, she created “Dear Dad,” an award-winning documentary, and her video work plays a significant role in the concert. S. Cagney Gentry, who is working toward his MFA in media studies at UNCG, has also created short films to enhance the visual experience.

Pihos moves through the life of her father, beginning with the murder of his father, Louis Pihos, when Pete was 14 years old, and the effects it had on his life and community. She traveled to Orlando, Fla., to research the newspaper articles written during the weeks following the murder.

Profound images of war and combat training resonate throughout the concert as well as a number of football sequences, representing the time Pete Pihos spent fighting for his country as well as pursuing his successful career as an exceptional athlete. These intense scenes show off the physicality and masculinity of both war and sport and the grueling training involved for each.

The concert also includes a visualization of Pihos’ private life, in which he was married four times. Including audio from interviews with family members landscaped by Adam Donohue, the piece shows a sensitive side of the story, including the support from his family and his ex-wife Donna Pihos throughout his descent into Alzheimer’s disease. This emotional quartet will also be performed March 11-12 at The Tank, Space for Performing and Visual Arts in New York City.

Pihos also takes an abstract look at Alzheimer’s disease from which her father currently suffers. The piece begins by showing normal brain function, and then looks at what happens when parts of the brain begin to break down from the disease.

Concluding the performance will be a screening of “Dear Dad,” Pihos’ award-winning short documentary film. The film explores the effects of Alzheimer’s by juxtaposing photos and footage of her father from his days as a player for the Philadelphia Eagles, during the late 1940s to mid-1950s, with images of him today. But it’s the relationship between Pihos and her father – illustrated through pictures and letters, most notably one written by her father after her parents’ divorce – that proved especially poignant for the filmmaker and her audiences.

Melissa Pihos will be performing short solos throughout the concert, layering her personal experiences with her father’s life.

The concert features film and video montages using video footage of interviews conducted by Melissa Pihos, archival WWII footage and footage of Pete Pihos, along with images examining memory and the effect of Alzheimer’s on the brain. Among the people Pihos interviewed are Coach Mike Ditka, fellow teammate Al Wistert, Pihos’ neurologist Dr. John Porter, and Pat Summerall.

“PIHOS: A Moving Biography” will debut in the UNCG Dance Theater. Tickets are available through the UNCG box office and are $12 for general admission, $9 for seniors and children, and $6 for UNCG students. The box office can be reached via phone at 336-334-4849, or online at boxoffice.uncg.edu.

At UNCG, Pihos is a graduate student working toward her MFA in choreography. She is an award-winning filmmaker. She created “Dear Dad,” in a documentary film production class in spring, 2009, which has since been screened all over the United States.

In spring, 2010, she created a dance documentary called “Accessing the Legacy of Martha Graham: Steps in the Street.” A portion of the concert has been accepted to show in The Art of Public Memory Conference here on campus on April 9.

By Steve Gilliam