Footwork, physicality, rhythm, speed, control — but then there’s that whole punching thing. But 8&1 Dance Company is lacing up its gloves and stepping in the ring to see how connected dancing and boxing really can be.
Exchange St. with featured performers Khalid Beard and Brian Lacy (l to r)
Exchange St.is the latest production from contemporary jazz company, 8&1 Dance Company, and it touches on a subject that doesn’t automatically come to mind when you think about dance: boxing. This full-length dance drama, written and choreographed by artistic director Jill S. Rucci, examines the concepts of sacrifice and the dedication of those who love boxing (and what could, in fact, be seen as a metaphor for the dedication of those who love dancing).
On Saturday, July 18, and for one night only, 8&1 will take over the Courtyard Theater in Plano, and granting its audience ringside seats a show that’s a departure for this company. In the past, 8&1 has presented works focused on Rucci’s jazz style and follow the format of a traditional dance show. This time, Rucci is trying her hand at crafting an original script, as well as tackling the choreography for the production.
I spoke with Rucci as the company geared up for their premiere.
What inspired this work, and why did you choose boxing as the central narrative point?
JRThe work was inspired by my grandfather, Cristino A. Rucci, who was a trainer and a cut man. When I was growing up, my brother and I spent much of our time at his gym, Exchange St., watching the boxers get laced up and dance in the ring. Boxing and dancing always seemed to have many similar qualities — both always in rhythm, featuring disciplined, strong, agile and passionate beings. The story is told through dance and narration and is set in the 1960’s and 70’s. It’s got a soundtrack that makes my dancers hungry for Italian food — it features tunes from Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra — and real boxers.
You have actual boxers as a part of your cast. How did you go about casting them? And do they dance in the show as well?
JRI actually casted my boxers by going to various local boxing gyms and talking to the owners and trainers, and after meeting many contenders, I found my two in Khalid Beard [who will play Barry “The Bull” Leonard] and Brian Lacy [who will play Terrell “Light Out” Lopez].
What sort of training did you put the dancers through to prepare them for this show?
JRMy company dancers are on a continual rehearsal schedule. We don’t take breaks in between our shows; we just keep working on technique and growing stronger as company. When it is time to begin the creative process for the show, their consistent preparation allows me to focus on the choreography and artistic aspects. Many people have asked me if it’s been difficult working with and training both dancers and boxers, but everyone’s passion and commitment to their profession has made the process so enjoyable and inspiring.
What are you most looking forward to with this production?
JRI’m really looking forward to the magic that happens on show night. The audience becoming a part of the energy and watching all of our passion and dedication come alive.
8&1 Dance Company presents Exchange St. at the Courtyard Theater in Plano on Saturday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m.