These are Two of My Favorite Things

September 10, 2014

Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of This American Life. So when I heard last year that host Ira Glass was collaborating with Monica Bill Barnes on a touring production called Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host, I was super excited—if slightly confused. What in the world would a show combining radio and dance look like?


I was also a bit worried. In reading interviews about the project, it became clear that Glass’s exposure to downtown dance outside of Barnes’ work is pretty limited. He often speaks about her as though she’s the only modern dance choreographer ever to bring personality and humor to the stage.


But watching the show—now playing a three-night run at New York’s Town Hall before touring to practically every other city in the country from East Lansing, Michigan, to Anchorage, Alaska—I realized that Glass’s outsider status is a major part of what makes his focus on dance so endearing. He gives a completely open-hearted look at issues that most of us in the dance world take for granted: the monotonously repetitive nature of live performance, how the fear of aging hangs like a shadow over this career before it even begins, the incredible aversion dancers have to communicating through speech.  


Much of the press has highlighted how this production shows viewers a new side of Glass. In This American Life, he plays the role of the sensitive, yet somewhat distant radio host; here he opens up, revealing personal things like his discomfort in speaking about himself, and how he prefers to be the one always asking questions. To me, however, most revealing were the moments when he danced. Few things expose a person’s inner nature more than dancing, and watching him move alongside Barnes and her long-time collaborator Anna Bass showed off a boyish quality—as well as an earnest giddiness. He let down his sophisticated guard, and just allowed himself to be awkward. But best of all was how every time he finished a sequence of steps, a giant grin spread across his face. I couldn’t help it: One spread across mine, too.