Williams Center to present ‘The Running Show,’ which aims to bring dance ‘where it doesn’t belong’

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‘The Running Show’ features dancers from local high schools and colleges who spend a ‘purposefully intense’ time learning choreography. (Photo courtesy of Hollis Ashby)

Oliver Finlay

“The Running Show” intends to demonstrate why dancing is the most physically demanding job in the United States.

On Friday, Oct. 15, the Williams Center for the Arts will host Monica Bill Barnes & Company to premiere the newest iteration of this show. Written by Robbie Saenz de Viteri, choreographed by Monica Bill Barnes and featuring performances from both, “The Running Show” is designed to become intertwined with the community for which it is performed. The resulting performances change with each new location.

The show’s plot centers around an individual dancer, documenting her journey from a seven-year-old at her first recital to an old woman still pushing to keep up with dance’s harsh demands. 

With the exception of Barnes, the cast is selected entirely from local dancers. At the Lafayette performance, the cast will be made up of members of the Lehigh Valley Dance Consortium, which includes students from Cedar Crest College, DeSales University, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Moravian University, Muhlenberg College and the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts.

These performers and their passion for dance are the focal points of “The Running Show.” They must learn the choreography in what Barnes calls a “purposefully intense” five-day process while being individually interviewed by Saenz de Viteri, who then inserts clips from the interviews into the soundscape of the show itself.

“The intensity of the rehearsal process [should] mirror the intensity of the physical performance at the end,” Barnes said in an interview.

In the five hectic days leading up to a performance, this intensity is the key to success. By the time the show is ready for an audience, absolute focus and effort are inextricable from it. The company wishes to put that on full display.

One of the show’s goals is to demonstrate the sheer physical strength and determination that pursuing dance requires. Hollis Ashby, the artistic and executive director of the Williams Center for the Arts, noted that “the U.S. Department of Labor has ranked dance as the most physically demanding occupation in the United States. It’s not a professional football player or a professional athlete. It’s not a mine worker, it’s not a steelworker. It’s a dancer.”

According to the company’s website, the show aims to “give the audience an unprecedented look into the life of a dancer as a new kind of sports hero.”

As a classically trained dancer, Barnes knows that dancers are traditionally taught to hide the effort that goes into their art.

She said that Monica Bill Barnes & Company, however, aims to “bring dance where it doesn’t belong.” The company has done this in a literal sense in the past by creating shows for unconventional physical spaces like malls, museums and office parties, but “The Running Show” accomplishes this goal most effectively in spirit.