PUSH Physical Theatre quite literally pushes the boundaries of theater, dance and illusion in performance.
On Thursday, they came to IUP and hosted a workshop for the dance program’s Intermediate Jazz class, and they performed their show in Fisher Auditorium that evening.
Darron and Heather Stephenson are the founders and artistic co-directors of PUSH Physical Theatre, which was founded in 2000, and is based in Rochester, NY. Darron and Heather went to college together where they discovered their shared love for the arts, which allowed their relationship and passion for dance to flourish.
The workshop involved exploring the different ways the body can move, and what each movement can represent. No movement was meant to be perfect, only experimental. Darron worked on teaching how to portray illusions through movement, all of which can be done by distributing weight differently through the legs and feet and the positioning of the body. The workshop ended with a simple contact improvisation session.
The instructions given were ‘round, by, and through,’ and each pairing of dancers was tasked with coming up with three sets of movements that represented each of the terms. When these were performed for the class, the leader of this exercise tasked us with changing our focus during the improvisation session and explained to the dancers how one’s focus can completely change the meaning of a movement.
The show itself was so unique in its presentation. PUSH Physical Theatre consists of only five performers, but they put on quite a show. There were many different scenes, and each told a story through movement. Some of the scenes were funny, like the first scene that covered the progression of aviation. The three performers in this piece were dressed up in old-time pilot outfits, goggles, and all, and pretended to be the planes trying, then failing to fly. Their goofy movements and sound effects brought the scene to life.
Another comical scene was one related to parenthood. It portrayed the Stephenson’s ‘sleeping’ and having to run back and forth between their kids’ room to comfort them many times as they woke up throughout the night. They were clad in pajamas for this piece and accompanied by music from “The Nutcracker.”
Other scenes included nature, being in the military, and a woman with Parkinson’s visiting with her daughter and granddaughter. Some of these pieces were accompanied by music, graphics, and engaging lighting, while others used simple lighting and no music at all. The stories they told with their bodies were all incredibly meaningful.
The very last scene of their show was called “Galileo,” which featured spectacular lifts, illusions, and acrobatics. There were also amazing graphics of planets, stars, and the moon that showed on the screen behind them for this perfect finale piece.
In addition to touring, PUSH Physical Theatre is passionate about educational arts programs. They run a dance intensive for adult students, and a summer day camp for younger students.
After the show, all five of the performers came out into Fisher’s lobby to talk to any audience members that chose to stick around. They shared life stories, genuine advice, and interest in the life of art students at IUP. They were all so kind and grateful to receive positive feedback from us about the show.
Their passion and love for dance are evident in each part of the performance, each conversation, and each lesson they taught.