'In Defense Of Gravity' Puts Former Cop Jimmy Cvetic's Raw Poetry Center Stage

Dec 1, 2017

Jimmy Cvetic’s poetry is rough, dark and punchy.

He writes about his more than 30 years on the Allegheny County Police force, many as a homicide detective, and about his time as a boxing coach.

Years will turn and tatter

but in time perhaps you will come to terms with honor.

But the rub,

you’ve been warned, and the choice was yours,

the irony of the lie to call it fate.

As for the broken pieces that you have gathered,

keep them, they belong to you.
– Warning to a Young Officer, Jimmy Cvetic

Cvetic’s work has been adapted into a collaboration between Attack Theatre dancers and musicians called “In Defense of Gravity.” Attack Theatre Artistic Director Peter Kope said gravity as a central theme came from the tough, but hopeful messages that pervade Cvetic’s poetry.

“You have to go down before you go up,” Kope said. “Without having that darkness, you can’t shine light, because you can’t see the light if it’s all light.”

Attack Theatre company dancers Dane Toney and Kaitlin Dann rehearse part of "In Defense of Gravity," a show combining the poetry of Pittsburgher Jimmy Cvetic with original compositions and choreography.
Credit Dr. Robert Kormos / Attack Theatre

Kope said the choreography reflects just that: dancers struggle against the forces that pull them down, they drop to the ground, and then they find their way upright again. It’s something he said everyone has experienced.

“How do we defend against that gravity, how do we evolve from that gravity, and how do we relate to one another through that gravity?”

Cvetic’s raw language isn’t conventionally artistic, which Kope said can make it hard to stage.

“Sometimes we take the entire poem and it’s actually sung and it’s abstracted,” Kope said. “But the essence of the emotion is there. And that’s the challenge, is bringing those two worlds together so the gravity of both of those works can come through.”

Cvetic writes openly about heartbreak and grief, which is interpreted by the dancers and musicians. A live band scores the performance with a mix of classical, jazz, and original arrangements.

Kope isn't a big poetry consumer and said preparing for the project was unlike past collaborations.

“It really provided me with a different lens to look at my own creative life,” Kope said. “A pause in dance is like a breath in poetry. The written word and the moving word and the sung word, it really is just different ways to see.”  

Vocalist Anqwenique Wingfield adapts the poetry into original songs and said Cvetic’s work allows her to explore complex emotions onstage.

“The story that we’re telling, that gravity, that going down, that really sincere deepness,” Wingfield said. “Also, [seeing and feeling] the hope, sort of, sliding back into someone’s life.”

Dancers Kaitlin Dann, Ashley Williams and Sarah Zielinski perform "In Defense of Gravity," a collaboration between Attack Theatre and musicians based on the poetry of Pittsburgher Jimmy Cvetic.
Credit Mark Simpson Photography / Attack Theatre

Wingfield said Cvetic’s words reimagined into song and dance might seem strange, but the performers are faithful to the poetry’s blunt cadence. No matter where an audience member might be in life, she said, they can relate to the story.

"We have these different perspectives and experiences and identities that make us who we are, but ultimately we’re living life in a series of similar experiences,” Wingfield said. “If we can see that and understand that about each other, then I think we can all walk through the world with more patience.”

Kope and Wingfield met several years ago, and said they were waiting for the right project to collaborate. They said Cvetic’s work felt like the perfect opportunity.

Throughout the process, Cvetic has dropped by a few rehearsals and has been recorded reading his poetry for use during the performance.

Attack Theatre’s “In Defense of Gravity” runs Dec. 1-3 at the company's performance space in the Strip District.

Attack Theatre is sponsored by The Buhl Foundation and The Heinz Endowments, which are also sponsors of 90.5 WESA.