Presented by the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and USC Visions and Voices, Monica Bill Barnes & Company brought forth a humorous, heart-warming, and enlightening performance with The Running Show.

The Running Show is an exemplary dance-theater work that highlights the life of a dancer through an athlete’s point of view. Co-created by Monica Bill Barnes and Robbie Saenz de Viteri, the two created an imitation of a sports talk show host regarding the challenging yet passionate life of a dancer. Featuring students from the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance along with Flannery Gregg, Gerri Houlihan, and Jada Turner; the multi-generational cast spoke to the community and humanity of dance.

With a script written by Saenz de Viteri, the narration of a dancer’s life was told through stories, reciting stats, and playing previously recorded anecdotes from the onstage performers. He also acted as a sports announcer shouting out each moment’s ‘play by play’ and engaging audience members’ participation.

Monica Bill Barnes & Company - The Running Show - Photo by Julie Discenza

Monica Bill Barnes & Company – The Running Show – Photo by Julie Discenza

The work began with thirteen of the Glorya Kaufman dancers jogging into a high energy structured phrase with Barnes front and center. Barnes moves with distinct punctuation and dynamics that perfectly parallel her facial expressions. Although repetitive and quite simple phrase work, Barnes has a way of entrancing spectators with her use of comedic expression and attention to detail. The scene was set in a classical audition format, with the dancers from Glorya Kaufman wearing numbers pinned to their shirts and a competitive tone underlying the fronted humor. Set to an exciting soundtrack from classic rock all the way to country music, the work embodied each parameter of emotion as I found myself either crying, laughing, or gazing in awe.

Monica Bill Barnes & Co. - "Running Show" - Monica Bill Barnes (center), Robbie Saenz de Viteri (right) - Photo by Paula Lobo

Monica Bill Barnes & Co. – The Running Show – Monica Bill Barnes (center), Robbie Saenz de Viteri (right) – Photo by Paula Lobo

Barnes choreography resembled the athletic tone through aerobic movement with balletic undertones. Authentic to the sports theme, Barnes’ choreography referenced many different sports like baseball, boxing, football, and soccer. The movement paired with Saenz de Viteri’s narration was the perfect concoction of intrigue and tempo. At one point throughout the show, and perhaps the most indicative of dance being viewed as a sport, was a solo in which Barnes portrayed a sports figure trying to break a world record for how many turns she could complete during one song. The audience cheered Barnes on with loud encouragement in an authentic response to the raw rigor and emotion that she displayed.

The Running Show portrayed humanity through gripping scenes that enveloped universal feelings. Scenes such as the duet between Barnes and 77-year-old Houlihan about what it’s like to age as a dancer, along with a scene of Barnes fighting like a boxer against what seems to be the weight of what it’s like to be a woman in the field of dance. An expertly crafted show that was not only enthusiastically performed by all, but spoke to the importance of dance in our culture. Monica Bill Barnes and Company is known for ‘bringing dance where it doesn’t belong’ but through the detail and commitment of this performance, it was made clear that dance actually belongs everywhere.

The Lighting Designer for The Running Show was Tess James and the Set and Costumes were by Kelly Hanson.

To learn more about Monica Bill Barnes & Company, please visit their website.

Written by Rebecca Lee for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Monica Bill Barnes & Co. in The Running Show – Photo by Ben McKeown