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Kerry Clawson, The Akron Beacon Journal | September 23, 2021
New York dance professional Monica Bill Barnes says there's something about having a dancer in tennis shoes that makes people identify with them as a person.
Her dance "The Running Show" gives a look into the life of a dancer as a new kind of sports hero, so it makes sense that they'd wear athletic shoes.
"The whole show is performed in tennis shoes, which is really unusual for a dance show," Barnes, founder of Monica Bill Barnes & Company, said by phone from New York Sept. 16.
One of the coolest parts is that the young people whose dance stories are being collected and weaved into creating "The Running Show," to be performed at E.J. Thomas Hall on Saturday, are University of Akron dance students.
On Monday, 13 masked dancers auditioned with Monica Bill Barnes & Company at Guzzetta Hall for the opportunity to perform alongside the professional contemporary dancers in this weekend's "The Running Show." It was the beginning of a weeklong residency with the company that will culminate with a production of "The Running Show" that's completely unique to Akron, with the UA dancers and their stories taking center stage.
The show, expected to run an hour, will be at 7:30 p.m. at E.J. Thomas Hall. It's the season launch for DanceCleveland, which is co-presenting the performance with the UA Dance Program.
This week's residency is the first time in two years that UA dance students have had a live fall residency with a pro dance company. It's also the start of touring again for Monica Bill Barnes & Company.
"We're just so grateful that they're working with us to make something live happen," Barnes said Sept. 16 of DanceCleveland and the UA Dance Program. "We make the whole show in person in a week."
On Monday morning, Barnes invited all 13 student auditioners to take part in the show. They were starting interviews with writer Robbie Saenz de Viteri, Barnes' collaborator, that evening to create material for the show.
"The whole show is sort of about getting to know them as individuals," which is uncommon in the dance world, Saenz de Viteri said Monday at UA.
Audiences will learn about these young dancers, their dreams and their love for their craft as their stories are shared live on stage and incorporated through interview clips.
During the audition Monday, the students whooped it up, clapping and cheering for each other as half of the group stood in a line watching the other half perform a dance sequence they had just learned with a lot of finger snapping and hip rotating. The rowdy moment, set to the tune "Dance to the Music," had the vibe of a sports arena where a team lineup is being cheered on before competition.
"This is obviously pretty isolated movement. The idea is to find a way to physicalize it" and intensify it, Barnes told the students. "You're trying to make this seem like an Olympic event."
She added more footwork and arm work as she started to speed the sequence up.
"Fantastic," Barnes told the students.
"Awesome," concurred rehearsal director Flannery Gregg, demonstrating in front as Barnes taught the dance.
Later, the dancers did another sequence that had them running forward and backward en masse that evoked the feeling of a football drill. The finished show is inspired by the drama of a sporting event, with Saenz de Viteri on stage giving play by play.
"I'm kind of a sportcaster-narrator for the event that is the show," said the performer, who has a theater background.
The audience is asked to look at the performance as both an art and an athletic event.
Monica Bill Barnes & Company tailors "The Running Show" to each community it works with. The dance company, making its Akron debut this week, has dubbed the performance a "COVID world premiere" after having workshopped the piece in 2019 with Hunter College students in New York.
The UA students were clearly having fun Monday. Junior Rachel Carpenter said this will be her first time performing live in 18 months. Her dance partner, freshman Larry White, said he'll be performing on the E.J. Thomas stage for the first time.
"This is really fun. It's definitely hard with masks, but just to be around people, it makes it worth it," said Carpenter, 21, from North Royalton.
"I'm very excited because this will be my first time ever going into E.J. Thomas Hall and I'm really happy I'll get to showcase my abilities in front of a live audience," said White, 19, of Warren.
Barnes said the UA dancers were amazing with their speed of learning.
"Quick pickup, it's just a muscle memory thing. If you're not practicing, it's one of the skills that can go away so quickly," she said. "I'm so impressed with their ability to just offer themselves and dive in.
Also featured in the show will be local ballerina Jessica Yi, 14, from the Dance Institute of the University of Akron, a Revere High School student who will perform a solo en pointe. At the other end of the spectrum, dancer Diana Byer of New York, who is in her 70s, also will perform with the UA students, as will Barnes and Gregg.
Barnes and Saenz de Viteri, who have collaborated for eight years, have worked on developing "The Running Show" for about four years. They're known for bringing dance "where it doesn't belong," including a choreographed exercise routine through New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art for "The Museum Workout" in 2017 and "Days Go By," performed in a Manhattan mall in 2019.
DanceCleveland last presented the company in 2015 at Playhouse Square with their Broadway show "Three Acts, Two Dancers and One Radio Show Host" with Ira Glass.
For tickets, $25-$35, to "The Running Show" in Akron on Saturday, call 330-972-7570 or see www.dancecleveland.org.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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