Born from professors and dancers at The University of Alabama (UA), Yonder Dance Company is a contemporary dance company from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that tours locally, regionally and internationally on a biannual basis. Part of its mission is to encourage and seek out collaboration with artists, composers, creative thinkers and makers.
Created by Artistic Director Sarah M. Barry and her husband, Creative Director Mark Barry, in 2016, Yonder Dance Company is composed of UA dance majors, and collaborates with UA students and professors of different expertise.
Yonder Dance Company’s most recent work, IRL, and its dancers are headed to Scotland to perform at the esteemed Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a week of performances in early August. Before the company heads to Scotland, it had the opportunity to tour the Southeast to showcase its piece, IRL.
I had the opportunity to attend one such performance when the troupe stopped by Atlanta, Georgia. IRL submerged the audience in the piece and activated my mind to think about how my phone and the technology around me plays a part in my everyday life. Choreographed by some of the dancers in the piece, each section of IRL chose to comment on how technology affects that choreographer, some negatively, some positively.
My favorite aspect of IRL was the use of the dancer’s phones. They used their phones throughout a large portion of the show, and that effected their movement phrases. They even had the audience use our phones. For the first piece, one dancer told us, the audience, when to press START on a piece of music found at a link given to us at the start of the show. The music was composed beautifully by UA professor Amir Zaheri, and it was such a surreal experience being so immersed in the timing of the piece through our own phones.
Every section of IRL spoke to me in a different way and evoked all sorts of emotions — especially when thinking about the generation of the dancers on stage and how technology has challenged and impacted their lives so much more heavily than my generation’s. It made me think about my daughter and how technology is going to improve and expand even more in the years to come — which has me a bit scared, but also excited. Attending IRL was an encouraging, intrusive and eye-opening experience, and left me with the feeling that everyone just wants human connection with, or without, distraction.
Below, I’ve asked a few IRL collaborators to weigh in on how the piece has impacted their life and the messages they hope to send to the audience members at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.
What does the dance piece IRL mean to you?
Sarah M. Barry, artistic director and Mark Barry, creative director
“We began our journey with the concept of ‘brain pollution’ in mind, which very quickly evolved into the ways that technology and specifically social media and handheld devices can impede upon our lives. While some choreographers point out the negative effects, others chose to focus on the ways that technology has been able to connect us and be a positive force. I feel the show explores the issue from many sides and perspectives, allowing the audience to come to their own conclusion. Ultimately, the show represents many people collaborating to share ideas and pursue a topic broadly, not a narrow perspective hammering home a particular message to the audience.”
Lexi Hivner, choreographer and performer, rising senior
“On a personal level, IRL means opportunity, performance, creativity, pushing boundaries. It means stretching and growing as a dancer and a person. It means finding a voice that I didn’t know I had and finding a new family with these people that I didn’t know could exist. It may sound cliché, but it really means everything I(M)RL – In (My) Real Life.”
Sarah Curran, choreographer and performer, rising senior
“The inspiration I find behind IRL focuses on how the internet can connect us in a positive and influential way. Yes, there are many negatives of social media, but we also can find the good behind it. It is a way for grandmas and grandpas to connect with new grandchildren even though they live four hours away, and young dancers can begin discovering their passion for dance through YouTube videos. Knowing when to step away from social media is important because negative media can cause these positive moments to lose momentum and get lost. Through IRL, I encourage audience members to use social media to connect to old friends and family and spread encouraging messages throughout. Forget about the number of likes or comments you’re receiving and focus on bringing unfamiliar faces together on this incredible platform we have at our fingertips.”
Eve Sorin, performer, rising senior
“Our piece IRL means a great deal to me because I am very passionate about human interaction and not allowing technology to take over our lives.”
Whittney Clark, performer, rising senior
“I love IRL because it shows some of the negative side effects to the increasing use of cell phones. While I am all for the advancement of computers, phones and technology, I hate seeing people, especially young kids, get sucked into life that only allows entertainment and connection through phones. This piece allows me to express these thoughts and opinions in a way I feel will reach people best.”
What is the most exciting moment in IRL for you?
“For me, the most exciting moment is the anticipation of the opening of the show. We rely on the audience for key aspects, particularly in the beginning, and we are never quite sure if they will go along with us – or if the technology will work well in that particular theatre/moment.”
“My favorite moment in the show is when two dancers sit downstage center and become extensions of the audience as they pull out their phones and record the dancers performing.”
“I think it depends on what hat I have on when thinking about IRL. As a dancer and performer, the most exciting moment is when you can tell that you have the audience, and for IRL that is the first piece of movement that is set to music. Very quickly from the time the music starts, the air in the room seems to change, and you can tell that the audience is completely engaged. As a choreographer, it is every time my pieces go on stage. My works ‘Offline’ and ‘Hotspot’ are both labors of love, and every time they are performed, it is a reminder of every moment spent working out what exactly I wanted to say and every moment that I will cherish about this process. I am so grateful for the dancers who were so willing to give of themselves and help me find my voice creating these works. Both of my pieces also have interactive components to them, so to be able to connect with the audience on a more personal level, whether phone-to-phone or face-to-face, is quite a unique experience as a choreographer. As a fan of the show and someone who has seen it countless times, I think that the most exciting moment for me is during the last piece. Kendall Niblett’s choreography, message and use of technology encompasses the true meaning of IRL as a show. It is when everyone’s thoughts and ideas come through the loudest, and at the end of the piece/show when everything goes dark, time stops for just a moment and the stillness and silence of the audience is palatable. That is the visual manifestation that the show had an impact on the audience.”
“The most exciting moment in IRL would be the constant movement between each piece. We are always transitioning between numbers, an experience I’ve never encountered. The transitions happen so seamlessly the audience has to think about when the piece started and stopped, which, I believe, is a really cool aspect to our show.”
“The most exciting moment in IRL is when everyone rushes through in Morgan’s trio (the dance with the underwater sounds and the dancers wearing headphones) because it reminds me of being focused on something and being distracted by a whirlwind of social media, messages, etc.”
“I love that the audience gets to participate in the show. In most dance performances, they tell you to silence your phone and avoid the use of it. Well, that is the exact opposite reaction we want to give our audience. We make phone calls to direct audience members, take videos of them while we dance, and encourage them to take videos and pictures. With doing this, we keep the audience engaged while really driving the concept of ‘brain pollution’ home. This is exciting to be a part of because many audience members are shocked and overwhelmed when they are asked to use their phone during a performance. Many react saying they just wanted to watch the performance, but including them in this helps them understand the problem a little better.”
How do you think IRL impacts its audience? How does it impact you?
“This isn’t a show full of tricks or feats of physicality. It challenges the audience to think. It asks us to consider the connections and differences between our real and virtual identities.”
“I think that from an audience perspective, it can be a little bit of a roller coaster. IRL draws the audience in right from the beginning, while at the same time confusing many audience members because it’s not run like a ‘normal’ show. The show runs through scenes, scenarios, ideas, moments that feel familiar and yet aren’t portrayed in the way that we are used to seeing them. I think that the interactive aspects of the show provide a unique impact on the audience and ask the question ‘what are you doing in your real life?’ Several audience members have contacted the cast members of IRL expressing how they woke up the next day thinking about it and questioning the choices they were making in regard to how much they were on their phones.
I am fortunate to be on the performing side of this because I’ve been able to digest IRL more thoroughly and from every angle. I think that the biggest impact that it has had on me is that I am constantly more aware about my own technology use. I try to be more engaged when I am talking to people, especially my family. I turn my phone off now more than I ever have in my entire life since being a part of the show. And it no longer bothers me to not be on my phone or be allowed to use a computer in class because I actually enjoy being cut off from the world housed inside of my phone, even if just for a little while. Now, when my mom tells me to get off my phone and look at her, I typically do it. That threw her off at first, but it’s been a great change throughout all of my relationships, as well as my confidence engaging with others.”
“IRL impacts how I want to use social media on a daily basis. Recently, I felt overwhelmed by social media and felt I needed a break from posting and liking, so I deleted all of my accounts. This lasted about a month, and the amount of relief I felt after taking this break was refreshing. IRL has taught me it’s important to take a break from social media when needed, but it’s also okay to use this platform to spread positivity and influence others.”
“I think the audience realizes the overuse of technology and the way we use it to hide from uncomfortable situations. I think our show makes us and the audience want to take a break from our phones and live in our own realities more.”
“Because of IRL, I personally want to put my phone down more often. We dance around with our phones so much, that it makes me want to set my phone down once the performance is over. I want the audience to feel a little annoyed and uneasy because, now, that is how I feel when every time I’m out in public and find everyone on their phone. I hope the audience learns to take more time being present in the now and not in the later.”
What excites you most about performing IRL in the Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland in just a month?
“This will be my fourth time presenting at the Fringe, and my second time taking a group of students. We first took nine students in 2016, and this time we have 16 company members. I’m always excited for the students to step outside their known parameters and get to see work from artists all over the world. In addition to seeing many Fringe shows, there is the added benefit of seeing more established artists through the International Festival, so it’s such a unique opportunity to see a wide range of artists and ideas in one place. I’m thrilled for how it might inspire them to continue to develop as artists and more globally-minded citizens. I’m also excited to share our work with others and see how international audiences react to our work and our company.”
“I can’t believe it is coming so quickly! When I got the official travel dates for our trip, I created a countdown calendar on my phone, and every day I get more and more excited! The answer to what excites me most is simple… Everything! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. If someone had told me when I started at Alabama that before I graduated I would have the chance to not only perform for an international audience but also have my own choreography shown internationally, I would have laughed and kept walking. I am so excited to perform IRL and to go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with my Yonder family. I know that this will be an experience that I will never forget.”
“Performing IRL in the Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland will be a experience I will hold with me throughout my life. This opportunity, given to us by the University of Alabama, will provide us dancers with more exposure in two weeks than one year of school. I am so grateful Professor Sarah Barry has offered this incredible opportunity to all dance majors at UA. If given the chance, everyone should take this course and experience the trip of a lifetime!”
“This show is relatable to anyone, not just one particular culture, and I’m excited to see how it reads to everyone there.”
“I am so excited to go to Scotland and show viewers something that is personal and real. This show isn’t just a piece that was thrown together for a competition; instead, it is one that the concept was thought of well before the choreography was. It is a piece that many of us have struggled with in our own lives, and that’s why I’m so excited to share it with others. We connect with others through personal stories and struggles, and IRL will be well received because everyone can relate to it in some sort of way.”
If you could choose one message from IRL to shout to the world, what would it be?
“The world’s knowledge is at our fingertips, but we should remember to look up once in a while, too.”
“In connecting with people and ideas all over the world, don’t forget to connect to the ones right beside you as well.”
“Be aware! Be aware of what you are doing! Be aware of the choices you are making! Be aware, and control your technology; don’t let it control you.”
“Spread love, not hate.”
“Please put down your phone for a bit and take a look and enjoy the beautiful world and people around you!”
“If there is one message that I want the audience to get from IRL, it’s to put the phone down once in a while and enjoy the simple things. We miss out on so much connection with other people because we are too busy being wrapped up in our phone.”
To read more about Yonder Dance Company and IRL, visit www.yonderdance.com, or follow them on social media @yonderdanceco.
To purchase tickets to IRL at the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival, click here.
By Allison Gupton of Dance Informa, and proud alumna of The University of Alabama.