The School of Theatre + Dance’s annual spring professional and faculty dance show returns to the Nadine McGuire Pavilion Black Box Theatre for its namesake of an intimate night of dance. Dance 2018 Stepping on the Audience: An Evening of Dance in Intimate Spaces brings the dancers closer to the audience members in more ways than one.
The phrase “stepping on the audience” originated from late dance professor Ric Rose who passed away this November. UF Dance has a unique practice called Unshowings, which act as an informal way of presenting work and receiving feedback. At the Unshowings, students often dance over the boundaries of the “stage” space in the studio, getting too close to the observers. At this point Rose would often yell, in his humor-driven way, “You’re stepping on the audience!”
Co-director Elizabeth Johnson said that she immediately wrote this phrase down when she caught onto it, and it inspired her in the process of writing the show proposal for the season planning committee last fall. She further explained that the phrase now carries a new weight to it since Rose’s passing and allows the department to honor his sense of humor and bring him into the show.
The idea of “stepping on the audience” became a metaphor for pushing boundaries and telling stories of social injustices.
“Well...I don’t mind stepping on someone’s toes,” Johnson said. “We can literally step on them because they’re so actually near to us and we can aesthetically on them, step on their suppositions and assumptions about what dancing is, about what politics is, about what bodies are, about what anything is.”
Current third-year B.F.A. dance student Jade Bloshuk says that her favorite part of the show is the close-natured aspect of it while being able to interact with the audience.
“In most dance concerts, there is a divide between performer and observer,” Bloshuk said. “This show breaks those boundaries and allows the audience to become part of the show as well.”
Since the show is co-directed, both by Trent D. Williams Jr. and Elizabeth Johnson, it allows the many faces of social injustices tell their stories through dance.
Williams’s research and choreography is mostly focused on racial relationships. The final piece in the show which Williams choreographed, In My Blood, is influenced by his family in Texas and New Orleans, drawing on family reunions and storytelling from his grandparents for inspiration. The stepping section of the piece pays homage to the title Stepping on the Audience and is developed from his time growing up in Texas when he would step and play games as a kid.
Williams is most looking forward to the performance of his other choreographic piece, Knelt. Created in relation to the national anthem protests in the NFL, the piece speaks for itself.
“It has such a strong message that we as people, whether it’s black, white, latino, et cetera, need to be there for each other, to help each other,” Williams said. “It makes us realize that we all are human and that we’re all the same.”
While Williams portrays his struggles as an African-American male, Johnson draws her inspiration from living as a woman in our current society.
Her dance works, Only in Private and Welcome to the Gaslight Cabaret, both depict stories of women in an autobiographical way, portraying motherhood, female empowerment, objectivity, sexual abuse, the expected roles of women and everything in between.
Johnson explained that she wanted to show how she can be in a privileged yet disadvantaged position all at the same time because of her race and also her gender.
Other pieces in the show, such as Cartas de Nostalgia by Isa Garcia-Rose, Suite Female: Part I by Rebecca Bryant and Don’t Take it Personal by Herman Ramos, also continue the evening’s theme of pushing boundaries and relationship storytelling.
Alex Murphy, a B.F.A. dance student performing in four out of the seven pieces, said that he hopes audience members will clear all of their preconceived notions about dance out of their head.
“Let the intimacy of the space clear their idea of what dance is and just enjoy the show for what it is,” Murphy said.
Elizabeth Johnson tries to clear the audience members’ worries about “understanding dance” or over-analyzing the performance.
"Dance is beautiful because it exists in a way that doesn’t make demands for you to know what it is,” she said.
Dance 2018 Stepping on the Audience: An Evening of Dance in Intimate Spaces runs now through Sunday, Feb. 18 in the Black Box Theatre on UF’s Campus.
Tickets are $13 for students, $15 for faculty and staff, $15 for seniors, and $18 for the general public. Tickets can be purchased online at ticketmaster.com or at the University Box Office.
Learn more at https://arts.ufl.edu/in-the-loop/events/dance-2018/.