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Turbulent ‘underground’ to light up Decio mainstage

Observer Scene | Wednesday, January 14, 2009

January’s offerings at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center are off to a strong start tonight at 7 when the David Dorfman Dance opens a three-night run of its latest program, “underground.” First performed at the 2006 American Dance Festival, “underground” takes its cues from the turbulence of 1960s politics.

Black, white and shades of gray in American activism inspired the company to take to the stage with “underground,” which is now touring nationally. The program explores the context and activities of the Weather Underground with an energetic, rock-heavy score and exuberant choreography. “Underground,” through the medium of dance, seeks to ask questions about where the lines blur between activism and terrorism. Does an idealized political end justify violent means? The New York Times has called the program “a brave, ambitious departure from the norm,” and it is sure to excite and intrigue audiences in the Decio Mainstage Theatre tonight.

“Underground” will engage a variety of media throughout the performance. With a score by Jonathan Bepler, a video design by Jacob Pinholster (whose credits include “Wicked” and “Spamalot”), and frequent use of integrated text, dialogue and protest footage, “underground” reflects the company’s love of cross-disciplinary, collaborative performance art.

Surprisingly, these diverging elements work together to form a cohesive whole. “[They] don’t feel like artsy indulgences,” Joy Goodwin wrote in the New York Sun after the November 2006 premiere of “underground” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. “They feel like building blocks of a lean, highly visceral theatrical experience.”

In a statement on the company’s Web site, Dorfman recalls being a young teenager during the Weather Underground’s high profile series of riots, the “Days of Rage” in Chicago. “Although I was only 13,” he says, “too young to be protesting in the Chicago streets, I remember being awed by the audacity of the Weathermen.”

It is in the legacy of the group, however – in its “principles, and also in its foibles and its regrets” -that Dorfman finds the inspiration for “underground.” “[The program] will explore the inside world of political activism, asking the questions: when can activism become terrorism … and is condoned or endorsed killing/destruction ever justified?”

The show’s run at the Decio Mainstage will also feature a “talk back” session with David Dorfman after each performance. Audiences members will have the chance to speak to Dorfman himself about the substance and style of “underground” in what will likely be a question-and-answer format.

David Dorfman Dance will no doubt challenge, engage, and

Founded in 1969, the Weather Underground was an activist-turned-terrorist offshoot of the Students for a Democratic Society. The Weathermen, who took their name from a line in the Bob Dylan song “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” are best known for a series of bombings and riots that lasted until the mid 1970s.

The group resurfaced in the media recently after a connection between then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and William Ayers, a founding member, garnered media attention.

The Browning Cinema also recently aired two films related to the Weathermen: the 2002 documentary “The Weather Underground,” and the 2008 film “Chicago 10.” Audiences looking for more background on the movement can watch either film to prepare for the David Dorfman Dance performance.

David Dorfman Dance is a New York-based dance company which has performed throughout Europe and the Americas. In the company’s twenty-four year history, it has produced both artistic productions, including 2004’s “Impending Joy,” and community-based dance projects both in New York City and nationwide.

Performances begin tonight at 7 p.m. in the Decio Mainstage Theatre. There are also shows on Friday at 7 p.m., and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $40 for general admission, $32 for faculty and staff, $30 for seniors and $15 for all students. Contact the box office at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at performingarts.nd.edu for more information.

Contact Analise Lipari at alipari@nd.edu.