By Maura Judkis
Friday, February 7, 2014
There’s no need to be intimidated by contemporary dance, but Ira Glass understands why you might feel that way.
“Usually when we go to dance [performances], we know someone in the show,” Glass says, “who is usually 7.”
And so the public radio host thinks “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host,” his stage show with dancers Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass, is a bit of a leap for audiences. There aren’t many other performances that combine a purely aural medium ---- radio ---- with a purely visual one ---- dance.
Nevertheless, storytelling is storytelling, and in both of the forms it takes in this show, Glass, Barnes and Bass are relating the same kind of tales of love and loss that listeners might hear on Glass’s program, “This American Life.” It’s equal parts heart and humor.
“You can feel [the audience’s] relief when we get to the first joke,” he says. “[The show] kills wherever we go. Partly because it’s such a weird thing.”
If Glass gets his way, it will help audiences come to the realization that he had: “ ‘Oh, I think maybe I like dance.’ And for a second, you feel so cultured. It’s like the arts version of voting for a black president.”
When Glass first saw Barnes and Bass dance in New York, he was struck by how their performance was reminiscent of his show.
“They were enacting these moments from real life of awkwardness and triumph and hope and awkwardness, a lot of awkwardness,” he says. “It had a documentary quality.”
Thinking his radio audience would enjoy their work, Glass invited them to perform at a “This American Life” variety show, and then the trio began to collaborate on “Three Acts,” selecting stories and choreography from their previous bodies of work, and recording new interviews for the show. Some of the show’s sequences feature Glass telling a story, and in other moments, the dancers take over the stage.
“We didn’t want the dancers to illustrate the words,” he says. “It was a really pure kind of experiment.”
Last February, his cousin composer Philip Glass asked him to participate in a benefit show at Carnegie Hall. It was the first time Bass, Barnes and Ira Glass performed any of the material.
“And since then, it’s been a series of lesser venues,” he says with a laugh. “I’m not knocking Lisner. . . . I mean, there’s no joke that goes, ‘How do you get to Lisner Auditorium?’ ”
But practice, practice, practice has become a part of Glass’s life as he takes the show to one city each month. The ultimate goal is Broadway, and he says a few theaters have expressed interest. Though it’s still a side gig, it’s one he’s deeply attached to. In one of the segments, Glass gets more personal than his radio audiences are used to, even opening up about his marriage to Anaheed Alani.
“There’s something about this show that feels more emotional,” he says. “I think dance is inherently more emotional.”
Just don’t ask him about his dancing ability.
“I don’t talk about that,” he says.