I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I’d have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek)….
From “I Knew a Woman” by Theodore Roethke (1908-63).
If ever there was a woman “lovely in her bones,” it was Viki Atkinson, dancer, choreographer, dance teacher, writer, and philosopher. A beautiful brunette, inside and out, and lithe as a panther, she glided through life with a smile and exquisite grace, brightening every room that she entered. Creative from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet, Viki transformed her homes and gardens into showplaces, and even turned her unique fashion sense into a clothing line. The sound of her voice was music to me, and the silence that has followed her death from cancer on the early morning of May 14th, at age 59, is deafening. Losing such a sweet soul, after an incredibly brave year-long battle with cancer, makes me want to scream and scream and scream. But maybe God needed an angel to put more pep in the step of the Heavenly Chorus.
Viki and I first met on May 21, 2013, at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh, at the funeral of 64-year-old long-time Raleigh Little Theatre artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons. A mutual friend, N.C. State University Theater director John C. McIlwee, introduced us. Viki had recently returned from Richmond, VA, to Raleigh, where she served from 1987 to 1999 as chief dance critic for Spectator magazine, for which I also wrote — mostly about theater — from about 1992 until 2002. After Haskell’s funeral, Viki and I chatted briefly about my Triangle Review e-mail newsletter and my desire to upgrade its dance coverage. She was interested in once again reviewing dance and theater in this market and reconnecting with the Triangle theater and dance community.
As she wrote in 2011 in her blog: “I’ve been lucky enough to spend most of my adult existence living a creative life … as a dancer, choreographer, dance teacher, and dance writer … then as the creator/designer of my own line of linen and hemp clothing. Life in recent years took me down a less creative path career-wise, but I’m slowly working my way back to a creative — and more spiritual — life….”
Between Oct. 10, 2013 and Jan. 9, 2015, Viki wrote 25 reviews for Triangle Review and our Internet partner, Triangle Arts and Entertainment, plus four more reviews for CVNC. Sadly, as far as I know, these are the only reviews of hers that you can still read online. But Viki left other “random thoughts and inspirations,” as well as photos and favorite quotations, in her online journal, pathwriter. The last entry, posted May 3, 2016, reads: “…what matters is never lost, just somewhere out of view. …the work of faith is to keep looking for what matters” (from The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be by poet and teacher Mark Nepo).
Viki will live on in the hearts and minds of the many, many people that she touched in her all-too-brief transit of this Earth. For more information, you can visit the website that Viki’s family created to honor her memory.
Where There Is Music: A Poem for Viki
Where there is music,
there you are,
from note to note,
prancing, pausing, pirouetting,
lighting up the stage
with your 200-watt smile:
that smile that no photograph
could fully capture
in black and white or color.
Pure joy quivers on your lips
and twinkles in your eyes.
Angels smile like that,
with the radiance
of a thousand suns.
Like that song by Elton John,
whose music you loved,
you are gone too soon,
like a candle in the wind.
But, oh my darling,
how you still shine,
as the footlights of my mind
find you skipping lightly
from note to note,
whenever music plays.
RWM: 11 June 2016
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)