A dance to push

Lemon Sponge Cake Ballet tackles gun violence in new production

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White Fields will be a duet with choreographer Robert Sher-Machherndl and Bailey Harper.
Courtesy of Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet

In these bleak times, it seems impossible to go a day without another shooting. Choreographer Robert Sher-Machherndl is fed up and wants to awaken the desensitized.

“It shouldn’t become, ‘Oh, it happened again,’ OK, ‘Oh, it happened again,’ OK,” he says. “I want to put awareness on people to really think what it means to take a life. It’s a huge deal taking one life. We shouldn’t be [like] when it’s one life we don’t look anymore, or it has to be 80 lives or 200 lives, then we look. No, every life counts.”

So the choreographer uses dance as the language to explore these topics.

“You can stir a lot of emotions with people,” he says. “Through movement, when they see it, they can experience it.”

Sher-Machherndl is raising awareness about gun violence in his new production, White Fields, with local dance company Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet, on Saturday, Sept. 17 at Holiday Park in Boulder. The performance will feature music by concert pianist George Lopez, playing a mixture of Bach and his own improvisations, as well as a spoken word segment by Denis Berkfeldt. It is free and open to the public.

“When you have a heavy theme, I cannot charge you a ticket price. It would be ridiculous,” he says. “And we feel really good giving it away.”

White Fields is the follow up to last year’s performance of White Mirror, and it is the second chapter of a three part series. Performed as a public art performance for Denver Arts & Venues, White Mirror was a living memorial for the thousands of Jews, Ukrainians, Gypsies and others who were murdered at the Babi Yar ravine in Kiev, Ukraine, during World War II. After its success, Sher-Machherndl decided to do a public dance piece in Boulder. And he doesn’t want to reveal details for the third installment, but it should premiere in 2017.

His goal with White Fields is to start a conversation about  gun violence, both here and abroad. Austrian-born, Sher-Machherndl says with the current political climate both in America and in Europe, leaders use too much aggression, which he doesn’t see as the answer.

“Politicians have to talk, people have to talk,” Sher-Machherndl says. “We cannot just scream at each other, pull a knife, pull a gun, stab each other, kill each other, send the military in, press the button.”

Sher-Machherndl goes beyond the effects of the issue and looks deeper into the causes of gun violence, exploring themes like alienation, isolation and connection. He approaches the piece with empathy for all involved, each party touched by these tragedies. He feels it’s his privilege to use his voice to bring about change for the better.

“As an artist my job is to put awareness on heavy themes, and bring people together,” he says. “As an artist, this is the voice I have. I have the chance to create things. My job is to bring people together and not pull them apart and put fingers on other people.”

Before choreographing the piece, Sher-Machherndl researched various mass shootings. He didn’t want to tell one specific story, but instead focused on the issue as a whole. White Fields will be a duet between him and dancer Bailey Harper. Sher-Machherndl says he loves choreographing two-part pieces because the chemistry is built-in, creating a story right away.

“Two people on stage, immediately there’s a relationship,” he says. “Things happen instantly, just looking at each other, touching each other, looking away, walking away, approaching each other.”

As a contemporary ballet choreographer, his main focus is movement of the whole body while also embracing traditional ballet technique.

“I like to move the spine, the arms, everything is very liquid, but infused with ballet technique and ballet dancers. …” he says. “It’s not like just ballet hoppity boppity boom — you know how they do. I don’t like it. I don’t like men in tights. That’s over. I really can’t stand it, that’s just personally.”

Sher-Machherndl wants to take dance further, away from just telling stories and fairy tales, but actually using the medium to tell real life narratives that challenge contemporary issues.

“Pushing, pushing, pushing, I will never stop pushing. …” he says. “It can’t sit where it is, it always needs to be pushed forward and brought into the time now. I want to keep it alive, that’s why I keep pushing.”

On the Bill: White Fields — presented by Lemon Sponge Cake Ballet. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, Holiday Park, 4650 14th St., Boulder, 720-352-2903.