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'Community needs to be a verb': Miami choreographer contemplates a world stripped of individuality

Natanael Leal in 'The Big Dig'
Karime Arabia
Natanael Leal in 'The Big Dig'

"Individuality is no more."

A character named Lady X keeps repeating that ominous phrase while taunting several other characters bound to chairs by what looks like a spider web.

It's a scene from Dystopia, a new work by Miami-based choreographer Randolph Ward. It has its world premiere this week at the Sandrell Rivers Theater as part of a program titled "Them & Us."

Ward says Dystopia asks the viewer to ponder this question: Are you a product of societal propaganda or are you a free thinker?

When asked what inspired him to create the piece — which is a blend of dance, music and spoken word — Ward repeats the word "frustration."

As a Black, queer artist whose husband is a drag performer, Ward says he is outraged by Florida's raft of anti-LGBTQ+ laws and drag show bans signed last year, as well as changes to Black history teaching standards in the state's public schools.

"So this piece really just started to almost regurgitate out of my body," he says.

READ MORE: To support Florida drag shows, an all-male dance festival harnesses its 'heeling power'

Also featured in 'Them & Us' is Ward's The Big Dig — a solo dance that he says dramatizes the personal psychological effects of an intimate relationship with fear.

Ward says the first part of the dance depicts the sensory overload many people might be experiencing in the digital age.

"The sounds are louder. The energy is louder. Lights are louder. The traffic is louder. Life is more hectic, more expensive," he says.

The program also showcases Ward's Code Switch, which he describes as a "celebratory work" paying tribute to how Black Americans have used dance and rhythm throughout history as a way to survive.

As for Dystopia, Ward hopes his new piece will make audiences think about the people and the ideas they follow — and how those ideas could have devastating consequences for society.

"I would like us to really contemplate the idea of community," he says. "I know 'community' is a noun in the dictionary, but it needs to be an adjective or a verb that describes action."


WHAT: "Them & Us"
Choreographer: Randolph Ward
In partnership with the Fantasy Theater Factory with support from Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs.
Adult content warning: 16+ age group viewer discretion advised.
WHEN: Friday July 12th AT 7:30pm.
The performance runs for 2 hours and is followed by a brief Q&A with the choreographer and cast.
WHERE: Sandrell Rivers Theater,.6103 NW 7th Ave. Miami, FL 33127

For ticket information, click here. To view trailer, click here.

Christine DiMattei is WLRN's Morning Edition anchor and also reports on Arts & Culture.
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