H-T Feature: IU’s production of ‘Antigone’ adds modern dance

Antig Liz

Choreographer Liz Shea, left, works with actress Ashley Dillard, who plays Antigone in the upcoming IU production.

The upcoming production of “Antigone” by IU’s Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance is taking the name of the department literally.

Director Katie Horwitz was inspired to take a different approach to the play by incorporating modern dance and music into the play. Add in a few swords and shields to the story, and the play comes to life — rich in movement, passion and emotion.

But the additional movement and props mean there is the potential for someone to get hurt.

“Watch out for each other,” warns Adam McLean, fight coordinator for the show, during a rehearsal of the civil war scene.

Actors in the production have learned to push their bodies in different ways. In the beginning, sore muscles were common. The production is stretching, flexing and adding to the skills of the actors and dancers who will perform in the show.

“I’ve actually taken some dance electives, and as of this semester, I’ve added a dance minor,” said Ryan Claus, who plays Haemon.

With some dance experience, Claus has an understanding of how dance can add to the performance.

“The body is the story. The movement is the story,” he said.

For most of the actors in the show, the stretch comes from adding modern dance to their performance. For dancer Cameron Barnett, who plays Polynices, the challenge is adding the acting.

Barnett studies modern dance at Indiana University and did a little acting in high school. He initially thought he wanted to be an actor, but dance became his primary focus. For this show, Barnett gets a chance to showcase his dance ability while building on his acting skills.

“It’s totally a challenge for me acting with dance,” he said.

Barnett needed to learn how to be more expressive —not the blank slate of emotion that is needed in dance.

“But this forced me to inject the movement with specific emotion and a specific character,” he said.

Claus knows how to tell a story with his acting, so adding in the movement is just another way to continue that character. But he must still stay in character while being true to the choreography.

“It’s a subtle difference in the way the body moves,” he said.

Ashley Dillard, who plays Antigone, earned her minor in dance; however, she only took one modern dance class to earn that degree. In previous productions, Dillard said, she’s worked with choreographers who just wanted things to look pretty. That’s not the focus for Elizabeth Shea, movement designer for “Antigone.”

“She wants to tell a story through the body,” Dillard said.

Horwitz was inspired to add modern dance to “Antigone” after she’d seen a play in London that used purposeful movement. “It opened up my mind to what theater could actually be,” she said.

It was more than a year ago when Horowitz was reading “Antigone” in preparation for this year’s shows. Horowitz was listening to singer/songwriter Hozier while reading the messenger’s monologue of the play, and she found the music worked perfectly with the story.

“The entire concept of the show was built on that moment, that song,” Horwitz said.

Horwitz went on to create an Antigone playlist, songs that she thought could be worked into the play.

With the idea formulating, Horwitz then reached out to Shea, director of IU’s contemporary dance program. Shea admits she doesn’t know much about theater, but she was up for the challenge.

Shea doesn’t normally listen to music when she begins to choreograph. Instead, she relies on her own thoughts to create the dance. What she created would, of course, change. Once the cast was in place, Shea watched the actors to see how they naturally moved. With those movements in mind, the dances were tweaked to be more natural extensions of the actors.

“That’s the great thing about Liz. She watches how we move, because we’re not trained modern dancers,” Dillard said.

Shea said she watches how people move, no matter if it is a dancer or actor.

“I do that for everybody, because everyone has a personal realm of expression,” Shea said.

To make the production even more challenging, fight scenes had to be worked in. Those modern-dance fight scenes also include shields and swords — a difficult staging when you consider the size of the stage and 12 actors armed with props.

“Safety is always a big concern,” McLean said.

As fight coordinator, McLean said the challenge is to also make the action realistic in an abstract way.

“That was a great challenge, but it was awesome,” he said.

Using modern dance in this production is certainly a risk, but McLean said the state of theater today is rough.

“We have to up things and change the way we tell stories,” he said.

Although Horwitz is the director, she said everyone was involved in the creative process. She took a very collaborative approach to the production — taking input and advice from everyone into consideration.

“There’s no single vision taking over this show,” she said.

Working in a collaborative way seems to have built a very strong team for the production. Horwitz said these types of shows can’t have a singular vision.

“This is the next wave of what’s growing out there,” she said.

A collaborative approach is helpful when it comes to creating new works, according to Shea.

“That’s how those sorts of works are built,” Shea said.

The play is taking everyone a bit out of their comfort zone, but that uneasiness seems to work in their favor.

“We have a very strong ensemble,” Horwitz said.

Dillard said she’s worked on numerous productions and has never experienced such a supportive cast and crew.

“I know that if something happens, there’s going to be six people to make up the slack,” Dillard said.

As a dancer, Barnett is reconsidering acting and also thinking about how this production has changed the way he looks at dance.

“I want to know what I can take from this back to dance,” he said.

Shea said her modern dance students are excited to see how the movements work with the play.

“My dancers can’t wait to see the production,” Shea said.

The play is an updated version of Sophocles’ original story. This 1944 version was presented in Nazi-occupied France and was focused on the struggle for justice in an unjust society. Horwitz said the theme of the play is relatable as well as being a beautiful story.

If You Go

WHAT: “Antigone” by Jean Anouilh.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Dec 4 & 5,  8-12, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 12.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington.

MORE: Tickets are $15-$25 and can be purchased in advance at the IU Auditorium, at the Wells-Metz Box Office on the night of the show, or online at theatre.indiana.edu.

Reprinted  with permission from The Herald Times. More H-T arts online at www.heraldtimesonline.com


About IU Theatre Department

Welcome to the 7th & Jordan blog. This blog is a peek behind the curtain at the productions and people at Indiana University's Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance.
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