Music and spoken word are the traditional bedfellows of radio. When one listens to these art forms, it's generally the imagination that must create a visual aid to the aural story. Dance, in its highly visual nature, is not usually associated with a radio program.
Presented by MDC Live Arts on Sunday as the opening night of the Miami Book Fair International, Three Acts, Two Dancers and One Radio Host reflects the intersection and duality of all language -- whether spoken or not. A collaboration between acclaimed This American Life radio host Ira Glass, and choreographer/dancer Monica Bill Barnes, it explores storytelling, and how the visual language of dance can combine with spoken word to create magic in a show that advertises itself as "two arts forms that should never be together."
The idea for this project has been long simmering between Glass and Barnes, who met in 2011 on the set of a Dancing With the Stars-esque competition that saw Barnes as a judge, and Glass a competitor.
Barnes recalls that the famous, quirky radio host sent her one of the most touching notes she has ever received. "He shared how he saw there were a lot of similarities between what I was doing in dance and what he was doing in radio." In 2012, they began a collaboration when Glass invited her to perform during several live performances of This American Life, which were live streamed to movie theaters across the country to much acclaim.
"Our collaboration came about in the way all enjoyable and good working relationships should come about -- in small steps," says Barnes. "I couldn't imagine what the show would look like."
Told in three acts, as the title suggests, the piece shares stories from This American Life's archives and the lives of Glass, Barnes, and dancer number two Anna Bass, who has been working with Barnes for over a decade. "We house a catalogue of dances in our bodies," explains Barnes about the process of figuring out the dance selections that made it into the performance.
"One of the most amazing resources I had, that perhaps Ira didn't, was that everything he has ever done was online. Ira sent stories that dealt with performing, awkward movement, and I pulled duets from our company work. Ana and I also did a lot of work in the studio when he wasn't there, a lot of trial and error and experimenting with movement and our own stories.
"When language is paired with dancing," she continues, "dance often becomes redundant. We wanted to be aware of the strength of story and language of dance -- how these two elements can add up to be more than the sum of their parts. With the incorporation of dance you might hear the words differently."
How do you invite audiences in without handholding, she asks? "We are aware of how ridiculous the premise is and we address it right away. The dances that are included, they are completely re-contextualized. It's been a fascinating experience as a choreographer to see how audience responds when the context of dance changes from just dance and movement, to text and language."
In Three Acts, Two Dancers and One Radio Host, language is the common and uniting theme. The language of movement and the stories of love, life and awkwardness that all humanity shares, regardless of dialect, combine in what Barnes calls a "surprisingly funny show." In the masterful hands of Barnes, Glass and Bass, it's a show that invites audiences in and encourages them to explore stories, language, and movement in a new way.
MDC Live Arts & Miami Book Fair International's Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host featuring Ira Glass, Monica Bill Barnes, Anna Bass takes the stage on Sunday, November 16 at 5 p.m. at the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E. Flagler St., Miami. Tickets cost $35-$55. Visit mdclivearts.org.
-- Rebekah Lanae Lengel, artburstmiami.com
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