SB Dance pushes audience interaction to new extreme in Halloween-themed show
By Daisy Blake Special to The Tribune
First Published October 20th 2016
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If you are planning to attend an SB Dance show this fall, prepare to shed your comfort zone like snakeskin at the door.
“All Saints Salon,” the company’s new Halloween piece at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center this weekend, is described as an immersive audience adventure, made for an adult sense of fright and fantasy. SB Dance artistic and executive director Stephen Brown said the performance surrounds, surprises and erupts within the audience.
“Call it immersive, experiential or interactive, this sort of show is a far cry from nailing your butt to a seat,” Brown said. “First, the audience is active and moves around. Second, it’s intimate theater, with an audience of just 80 people. Performers are up-close, look you in the eye and offer you treats. Third, each person’s experience is distinct, because of where they stand or when they react. Yet the experience is also communal; you go through it together, like a haunted house exploration party. Fourth, there’s the psychology of being uncertain about what’s next. It heightens your awareness and ours since every audience reacts differently. And of course, surprise fits nicely into the Halloween theme.”
The company warns that the show involves nudity, profanity and, wait for it, stage fog. All patrons must agree to Rules of Engagement, which include dress and conduct codes designed to put the audience and the performers more at ease.
The show, conceived and created by Brown and co-directed by Winnie Wood, features Annie Kent, Christine Hasegawa, Nathan Shaw, John Allen, Rick Santizo, Florian Alberge, Kimberly Campa and Miriam Gileadi, as well as guests Kristen Ulmer, Melissa Snow and Allison Shir. There is also music by local band MiNX and video by Anson Fogel.
Brown said the immersive nature of this piece is an extension of previous shows by the company. “There’s frequently a component of audience interaction in SB Dance shows,” he said. “In ‘Waltz of the Dog-Faced Boy’ in 2000, Juan Carlos [Claudio] got someone from the audience to come onstage and pick him up. There’s a show that begins as a bar. We’ve spanked audience members. So an immersive evening feels like a natural progression.”
Brown said Persephone and her two sisters are the guides to “All Saints Salon,” and the rules are established for everyone’s mutual enjoyment.
“There are rules about safety — do not drink the potion or eat the wafer if you can’t ingest alcohol or have food allergies,” said Brown. “There are rules about behavior — move when you are asked, get out of the way when you need to, do not grab performers but react in-kind only. There are rules to maintain the audience’s anonymity — wear black, put on the provided mask, remain silent. And there are rules because Persephone is a control freak — no recordings of any kind, not even note-taking, and no cellphones. She hates cellphones.”
Brown added that last year, the company did a very raw preview of “All Saints Salon” and a slightly less raw prototype performance. “That information gave me what I needed to make a finished product,” he said. “My crew and I are experienced pros —I’ve been in this industry since I was 18. But the staging and design of ‘All Saints’ turned everything we knew upside down. We had to build it from the ground up — how lighting works, how the audience affects timing, even how to cue music, rigging moves and dancers.”
The performers said that breaking the traditional fourth wall between the audience and the performers ensures each show is a totally new experience, because the viewers become participants.
Gileadi, appearing in her second show with the company, said: “It is a unique experience to be a performer who is allowed interaction with the audience, when dance is typically guarded by the fourth wall of the stage. I find the experience to feel more organic, genuine and exciting in that aspect. Each performance will have a new interaction, reaction and voice as a whole.”
Campa became involved with SB Dance because a friend of hers who has worked with the company invited her to a rehearsal. Her background is in theater arts and she is a ballroom dance instructor and competitor.
“The piece being immersive adds to the rawness and beauty of SB Dance,” Campa said. “The dancers and the audience are one. This union and intimacy brings a greater connection, and the audience feels as if they are part of the experience. They are no longer spectators sitting in a seat.
“Your typical Utahn might consider SB Dance to be edgy and in-the-splash-zone entertainment. And I find the alternativeness to be refreshing. I am not only dancing, but also acting. It really is a type of dance theater. Also, our choreography is flexible and adaptable to the moment. … One performance might differ from another.”
Ischa Bee and her bandmate Raffi Shahinian from the Salt Lake City-based band MiNX will also be involved with the production after working with SB Dance on the preview last year. Bee said the genre-bending nature of the piece has inspired her to get back into acting.
“Stephen is known for his creative incorporation of different art forms in his productions — live music/film/acting/dance — so he worked us into his vision,” Bee said. “There is nothing like working with other professionals who put their all into what they are doing to make you want to be the best you can be yourself.”