Fifty-nine people auditioned Saturday at Kansas University for an ensemble that will perform Feb. 5 with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane & Co. dance group. Two company members from New York chose 39 people to participate.
The company will perform "The Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin," a four-part dance project that Jones has choreographed. Loosely based on themes found in Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and the gospels, the dance piece explores issues of race, religion and sexuality in ways that have won praise for its initial productions in Minneapolis and Brooklyn, N.Y.
The piece also features a moment of nudity for the 50-plus ensemble at the very end of the fourth movement, called "The Promised Land." Area people who auditioned Saturday will be encouraged to participate in that part of the production, organizers said.
The performance is sponsored by the KU New Directions Series and will take place in Hoch Auditorium.
THE COMPANY members, Lonne Moretton and Gregg Hubert, flew into Kansas City on Friday night for the Saturday auditions. They were scheduled to leave Saturday night to hold auditions in Los Angeles.
"It was unlike any audition I've been to before," said Michelle Heffner, one of the successful auditioners. "I thought they were very sensitive and gentle, especially with the people who were not dancers by training."
Moretton and Hubert are on a trip to select similar groups of local performers for 12 stops in an upcoming company tour.
The pair said they were looking for a heterogeneous group of people with some talent for moving in sync.
"WE LOOK for people with determination and enthusiasm about the piece, about the work," Hubert said in a Saturday morning interview. "We look for non-dancers who can keep in step with the rest of the company. The things we require of them aren't complicated, but they're not easy, either."
The audition process began with Moretton and Hubert discussing the piece briefly and teaching the auditioners some movements from "The Promised Land." The auditioners then explained why they wanted to audition for the piece while performed dance steps or movements they were comfortable with.
"I do a lot of improvisation, so I improvised," said Heffner, who is a KU student working in the Concert Series office. "I found I discussed different reasons for auditioning with each new movement I chose."
THE PAIR from New York also discussed the nudity with the group. The image of 50 people nude on stage closes the show; it is meant to dramatize the idea that people have their humanity and mortality in common, Hubert said.
"The idea is to have someone you know from your community on stage," Hubert said. "That person could be a heterosexual, middle-age woman with her own history, and yet she's standing on stage naked with lesbians and blacks and others, to show there's no difference."
After the audition, Moretton and Hubert chose those who would participate in February. In January, one of the company's rehearsal directors will come to Lawrence to teach the participants the rest of the moves for the production. Then, the company will come in the week of the performance for 24 hours of rehearsals spread over a couple of days.