Jordan Levin

Words and moves open Book Fair

Radio personality Ira Glass, center, with dancer/collaborators Anne Bass, left, and Monica Bill Barnes, right, in ‘Three Acts, Two Dancers, and One Radio Host’
Radio personality Ira Glass, center, with dancer/collaborators Anne Bass, left, and Monica Bill Barnes, right, in ‘Three Acts, Two Dancers, and One Radio Host’

The improbable combination of dance and radio in Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host packed the Olympia Theater at Gusman Center Sunday evening, thanks mostly to the presence of radio personality Ira Glass, host of This American Life. "I was wondering why all these people were lined up for a modern dance show," joked Miami choreographer Rosie Herrera, in the audience. It had to have been the most unusual storytelling act ever showcased at the Miami Book Fair International.

But for all Glass’ famous charm and profundity, Three Acts would not have been as compelling or multi-layered without its two wonderful dancers, Monica Bill Barnes, the choreographer and director, and Anna Bass. Together, the trio has made a show that builds, comically and unexpectedly, into a tribute to: the importance of doing what you love, to loving in general, to the stories we tell to keep ourselves going, and, finally, why you just gotta keep on keeping on. Glass takes up more stage time than his two fellow performers, and his voice, both live and recorded, dominates the show. But almost every segment centers, in some way, around dancing. And that includes Glass himself - awkwardly but uninhibitedly – dancing, which is definitely something he couldn’t do on the radio.

Three Acts is a minimal production – there’s a small curtained archway used for some entrances and exits, a music stand for Glass and a small light he sometimes focuses on the dancers, and that’s about it. As in radio, or modern dance, your imagination has to do the heavy lifting.

Segments included a story on how the cast of Riverdance gets so bored doing the same routines every night they buy lottery tickets and work themselves into a frenzy over the prospect of winning, while Bass and Barnes do a repetitive, stiffly razzamatazz routine. "Once it becomes your job, it doesn’t mean anything," Glass points out. But he joins their dance anyways, because "when we come together in a theater, our optimism makes us see what we want to see." While Glass tells of interviewing middle school kids on their first dance, Bass and Barnes round up three men and three women in the audience, then have them slow dance and pose for photos onstage. A heartbreaking interview with a man who recounts his wife dying is accompanied by the two women dancing precariously on a table, until one drops off.

The most oddly poignant segment is a recorded interview with Barnes, 40, who tells Glass of being devastated at age 9 when she realizes she won’t be able to dance forever, while she and Bass do an absurd sequence balancing chairs in their teeth. "Is that impressive or desperate and sad?" Glass asks. It’s both, of course. The only answer is to end, as Barnes tells Glass, with a bang. And that’s how they go out, all three of them kicking, grinning, and twirling a baton while confetti flies. Life will end, so will dancing – you might as well do as much as you can, while you can.

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