Known for polished contemporary Jazz with a heavy dose of visual flair, the Cincinnati-based company of bright young dancers is moving beyond their safety zone in time for Halloween.
Live theatrics and dance, dead, undead — they’re all coming out to play in the darkness Saturday night. And the perfect venue plays an essential role.
“The Emery [Theatre] is the main character in our Dead Can Dance concert,” says Andrew Hubbard, who co-founded Exhale with his longtime partner Missy Lay Zimmer. “We couldn’t imagine this show at the Aronoff with what we’re attempting to do.” (Zimmer adds that Exhale is still the Aronoff Center’s Resident Dance Company.)
Hubbard and Zimmer are seated in a room at their Planet Dance studio where they teach public classes and rehearse Exhale. The pair shed light on their dark ideas with lively enthusiasm. These two have been consummate collaborators for well over a decade now.
“I’m lucky to have her,” Hubbard says. “Most couples would probably kill each other. [Working together] certainly tests the relationship and tries the dynamic. But I wouldn’t want to be doing this by myself.”
After a family member suggested they do a Halloween show, Hubbard and Zimmer decided to pull in a couple of outside collaborators to help with conceptualization: local acting luminary and CCM grad Jodie Linver and her former instructor Jeremy Guttman.
Hubbard and Zimmer took inspiration from an experimental, site-specific theatrical production in New York City they’d become intrigued with (though they haven’t been able to see it yet): Sleep No More from the London-based immersive theater company, Punchdrunk.
Hubbard says of that production, “It’s like Shakespeare meets murder mystery, and kind of acting, singing and dancing all rolled into one.”
Like Sleep No More, the first phase of Dead Can Dance is not a sit-down show; rather, audience members are free to roam around and explore the historic, long-dormant Emery Theatre — in all of its peeling-paint and creaky, threadbare-velvet-seat, yesteryear glory.
“You decide what your journey is going to be,” says Zimmer.
Fittingly, they’re bringing in a host of local performing talent to occupy different areas of the Emery: dancers, actors, singers, musicians and more.
This mixed bag of thrills ranges from live harp music and opera singing, to Butoh-inspired slow-motion movement and a bloody Black Swan character. And audiences are encouraged to come in costume — and even participate if they wish.
“Maybe what you get out of this experience depends on how far you’re willing to go with yourself,” Hubbard says. “You could do anything from sit in a corner and observe everything to follow a character down a dark hallway and maybe be led to another room with something else going on.”
For the second phase of the evening, the motley cast of characters will be summoned into the main auditorium through an incantation. Then it’s time for the Halloween-themed onstage “sit-down” show featuring Exhale dancers. Expect an eclectic mix of music and moves. Hubbard and Zimmer’s sharp, idiosyncratic choreography — often a blend of Jazz, modern and Hip Hop — always evokes a certain spirit in the well-trained dancers.
And yes, there will be a track or two from Dark Wave/World Fusion/Ambient musicians Dead Can Dance. Expect nods to Edgar Allen Poe’s creepy classic, “The Tell-Tale Heart” as a thematic thread.
“We are just trying to enhance the mood and the atmosphere and the mystical energy of the Emery Theatre,” says Hubbard. “I mean, it has such a history: the artists, the musicians, the greats that have been able to grace that stage...”
But is there an underlying meaning here?
“The audience can decide whether or not we are ghosts of the Emery Theatre past, or we are trapped artists in our own artists’ minds… or our insanity.” Hubbard says.
“Maybe this is some sort of asylum for artists in this perpetual darkness,” Zimmer adds.
Sounds like some good, old-fashioned scary fun.
Exhale Dance Tribe presents DEAD CAN DANCE at the Emery Theatre Saturday. Tickets are $15 in advance at cincytickets.com; Cash only at the door. The Requiem Project is a nonprofit dedicated to saving and reviving the Emery Theatre.