By Ladd Wendelin
Long time contributors to the Lincoln arts and theater scene, Daniel Kubert and Dustin Witte have made a name for themselves through evocative dance performances, stunning set pieces, and marvelous characterizations in productions such as Metamorphosis, Angels in America, and Church Basement Ladies.
Beginning August 18th, Mr. Kubert’s dance piece ‘the lonely book.’, as well as a new work entitled ‘Marginalia @ 40’, will be performed in repertory at the Haymarket Theatre through August 27th. These unique events will also serve as the flagship for their new non-profit production company, OmniArts Nebraska. I sat down with Danny, Dustin, and company members Corey McKenna and Vivian Kim to discuss the creation of ‘the lonely book.’, vaudeville shtick, and why being a pawn on the chessboard of the local arts scene isn’t such a bad thing.
L.W.: ‘the lonely book’ is really is a dance piece about a book, “A Philosophy of Solitude” by John Cowper Powys (1933), but its much more than that. What were some of your earliest experiences with ‘the lonely book’?
DANIEL KUBERT: ‘the lonely book’ is a book that I inherited from my Great Aunt Lona via my Grandmother, Vivian Trott, one of the “grande dames” of community theater, when she moved into an assisted living home. The book came to me at a time when I was dealing with a lot of issues. I was still in New York, after I left the Bill T. Jones Dance Company, and I was wondering who am I, what do I do now, what is the meaning of life? If that sounds trite, it wasn’t. I was studying philosophy in The New School in New York, so I was very drawn to obscure, archaic philosophies. It felt like the right book to read coming back to Nebraska after a very chaotic time in New York.
I found myself reading this book, late at night, sort of in my moments of darkest despair. Trying to figure out how to put myself at peace over the sound of circular saws, how to transcend the chaotic world. I’m always one to underline parts of books, lots of marginalia in it. While I was reading it, I found myself underlining the same passages that my Great Aunt Lona had underlined when she read it in 1938, when she was probably the same age I was. She was deep in thought about the same things I was deep in thought about. All of these passages were so meaningful and powerful to me.
After I was diagnosed with cancer, I realized I wanted to make a dance piece about the book. I had talked to Virginia Smith (co-writer, ‘the lonely book’) about the project in relation to my struggles with drug addiction and retirement at age 31 from a really active career. The stakes of my life changed, and I dove in wholeheartedly and really explored the paradigm of A Philosophy of Solitude – what it means spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
L.W.: ‘Marginalia @ 40’ is the new piece that plays in repertory with the restaging of ‘the lonely book.’ Can you tell us a little bit about that?
KUBERT: ‘Marginalia @ 40’ is a mix of work, a retrospect of me looking back at my notes and all the things I’ve learned at the age of 40. It’s a series of three pieces based on this thought that my dances are the marginalia, the notations in the book of my life as I go along. I have all these ideas for dances, and I wanted to illustrate through dance the marginalia of my brain.
L.W.: One of the pieces is based on the work of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. How did you and Dustin go about adapting their personas for the stage?
KUBERT: Dustin and I developed two characters based on them named Fitz and Startz. They are our alter egos – our clown selves. We are very silly together, and we’re both very drawn to the physical comedy of Chaplin and Keaton, so we’ve created this piece and it’s an introduction to the world of Fitz and Startz. I’d call it a dressing room drama.
DUSTIN WITTE: I love that sort of 1890’s vaudeville, pantomime, clowning, and the closest parallel is Chaplin and Keaton in that tradition. The piece itself is sort of parallel to our relationship with these clowns coming together for the first time, or as rivals, divas on stage, and learning that they really enjoy working with each other.
L.W.: Corey McKenna (2011 UNL Grad., B.A. Art & Dance) and Vivian Kim (UNL Sophomore, Dance) both appear as featured dancers in the ‘the lonely book’ and ‘Marginalia @ 40’. What in your experience or background helped you to prepare for the experience of dancing with Danny?
MCKENNA: Dance pretty much fell into my life. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in college. I started out with musical theater, and after I auditioned for the dance program under Susan Levine, I got more into the history of modern dance. I saw it as a great art form, and wanted to be a part of it. I became fascinated with improvisation, which Danny likes to do. He wants to open up dance to the beauty of how an individual moves. He’s not asking us to move like him. He’s asking us to take on his movement, but in our own way. I’ve learned how to take my body and not put extra tension anywhere else in my body. It’s about moving the body in the way it’s supposed to be moved, and not wasting extra energy.
L.W.: Has this been a challenging experience for you? And if so, how?
KIM: Yes, it has been. I came into modern dance not really knowing anything about it, because I was into tap, jazz, and ballet dance. Going into UNL for dance my freshmen year was kind of a shock. I’d never seen such organic movement. When Danny asked me to do this project with him, I was kind of scared. But I was all for it, and through the entire process, I’ve learned so much about movement and myself. I’ve learned from all the other company members. Being in a company atmosphere, you really have to be grounded and know yourself, and also be open to learning more about your body and the way it moves. Sometimes that’s being simple, but still exuding energy.
L.W.: OmniArts Nebraska is your new 501c3 non-profit organization, which is a “new theatre arts and dance production company with a mission of collaboratively creating original works that highlight local talents and incorporate multiple artistic disciplines.” Explain the meaning behind some of the features on your organization’s logo.
WITTE: The central features of the logo are the tree and two meditating figures.
L.W.: They look like pawns to me.
KUBERT: I would say that’s appropriate. Dustin always wears red. I always wear green. The figures themselves are based on two individuals actually sitting and contemplating life. I love that you consider them pawns. Both Dustin and I operate in the service of art.
WITTE: Either one space or two on the first move.
L.W.: But always moving forward.
KUBERT: They’re sitting at the base of a tree, and the tree has four limbs, which represent the focus of OmniArts Nebraska, incorporating the four main artistic disciplines; literature, music, visual art, and performance. Those four things coming together to create a unified piece of art. When Dustin and I meditate and talk about art, it’s always about how we can “weave” a vessel that can hold this art that we’re making.
L.W.: What are some of the future projects OmniArts Nebraska is looking forward to?
WITTE: Our goals with OmniArts Nebraska include doing possibly 3-4 productions a year to start with. We’d like to continue to do original work with children, with professionals, and staging at least one contemporary or classic play and musical.
KUBERT: We very much want to collaborate with people in the Lincoln community. We have plans to work with child guidance organizations and LGBT groups, and extract these stories and create a performance piece based on their unique voices. We also have our hearts set on a musical next year.
L.W.: Danny, as a closing thought, if you could present a small window into ‘the lonely book.’/’Marginalia @ 40’ to someone who hasn’t seen contemporary dance before, what would you say?
KUBERT: It’s an opportunity to see somebody in the world who accepts the fact that he’s an ordinary person, but he’s aware of how extraordinary it is to be alive, and he’s willing to share it and has presented it in a way where the door is left open to see what is universal about the ideas and impetuses that drive one on to their dream.
‘the lonely book’ will be performed August 18, 20, and 26 at 7:30pm at The Haymarket Theatre, (803 Q St.). ‘Marginalia @ 40’ will be performed August 19, 25, and 27 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $15 General Admission and $12 for Students and Seniors.
Call 402-477-2600 or visitwww.haymarkettheatre.org for details.
Master classes in modern dance and basketweaving are also available during the OmniArts Nebraska residency at the Haymarket Theater, and are open to the public. Email Dustin Witte or Daniel Kubert for more information on how to participate or donate - email@example.com