Come to the dance hall with a pocketful of dreams. If you had a chance to change your life, how far would you go? What would you risk? What is at stake? Will you ever be the same? Do you want to be the same?
The American Depression-era dance marathon craze is the inspiration for Anthology of Endurance, an original drama devised by 18 Monks, the collective name for the fourth-year Creative Ensemble class in York University’s Department of Theatre. The show opens tonight for a four-night run at York’s Keele campus.
Left: The Creative Ensemble rehearses Anthology of Endurance
A moving tale of hope, desperation and transformation, Anthology of Endurance is set in a dance hall where the stakes are dangerously high. Eighteen individuals, each with their own obsessions, fears and desires, compete for the chance to change their life forever.
As the marathon proceeds, the line separating optimism from desperation blurs, forcing the dancers to confront their darkest secrets. Alternate worlds are conjured as fatigue begins to win over desire. Stark reality and imagination collide for a group of people who have nothing left to lose. Theirs is a story of need, a story of escapism, but above all, a story of personal transformation.
The production is supervised by York theatre alumna Allyson McMackon (MFA ’92) a Dora-nominated director, actor and producer, and the founding artistic director of Theatre Rusticle.
“This is a group of very brave young artists who have been finding their voices not only as performers, but also as theatre-makers,” said McMackon. “Most striking to me is the originality of their work and their creation process, which is completely unique to this ensemble. They are the next generation of theatre-makers – the innovators set to push the boundaries of our work.”
Right: Allyson McMackon
Combining original text, physical theatre, ballroom dance, sound and design, Anthology of Endurance draws on true stories from the heyday of the dance marathon as well as contemporary sources such as the documentary film Paris is Burning, singer-songwriters Kate Bush and Leonard Cohen, photographers Steven Klein and Jork Weismann, playwright Michel Tremblay, and theorist and author Judith Halberstam.
The production is the culmination of three years of collaboration by the Creative Ensemble students, who have worked together as a group since the beginning of their second year of studies.
“Collective creation can be challenging, but we’ve managed to establish a working dynamic that facilitates group harmony and productiveness,” said ensemble member Jamie Ebbs. “We started devising this show last semester. The class was challenged to explore and mine physical imagery related to our personal obsessions and the idea of judgment. Common threads led to the premise of the dance marathon, which goes hand in hand with desire and transformation – something our group could easily relate to.”
Ebbs feels the dance marathon concept also resonates strongly with contemporary entertainment culture.
“The idea of exploiting desperation is still totally relevant today,” he said. “In retrospect, society may take a somewhat condescending view of the dance marathons of the 1930s, but taking a closer look, it’s apparent not much has changed between then and now. “Jon & Kate plus 8” is just a modern adaptation of the “Dionne Quintuplets”, and “Dancing with the Stars” is the modern “Dance Marathon”. When there’s the opportunity for personal transformation, people come in droves.”
18 Monks presents Anthology of Endurance from March 29 to April 1 at 8pm nightly in Studio 207 in the Accolade East Building on York’s Keele campus. Admission is $10 at the door.