iStand is a Personal Take on Civil Struggle

The upcoming election is a timely backdrop for Lauren Putty White’s emotional show.

Photo by Bill Hebert

Photo by Bill Hebert

The Black Lives Matter movement hit home for choreographer Lauren Putty White last year when Freddie Gray died in police custody in Baltimore. The UArts grad is a Baltimore native and she watched her hometown erupt in violence while a state of emergency was called.

Putty White’s response was to channel her emotions into her art, creating iStand: Stories of An American Civil Struggle. The dance performance premiered at West Philly’s Community Education Center and now the Painted Bride is remounting it for one day, timed to the presidential campaigns.

“It’s that much more relevant now, because more people are being vocal with the election coming up,” Putty White says. “More people are speaking out. People are fired up.”

The show uses the Pledge of Allegiance as a jumping off point for a dialogue about society and civil unrest, woven around video interviews and with an original score composed by Putty White’s husband and collaborator, Brent White. We spoke with her about what she hopes to inspire and using art as a platform for positive change.

How do you tell a story through dance in a way that the audience understands what you’re talking about and what questions you’re raising?
It is a dance performance, but in between each dance section there are video interviews with people of different backgrounds – different race, age, gender — answering questions about the topic, and those interviews are weaved into what each dance is about. It’s not an abstract work where you leave confused and you’re trying to figure it out — it’s clear what it is we’re trying to say. And there is a Q&A, so people can talk about what they just saw. It’s the kind of show that provokes a response.

Photo by Bill Hebert

Photo by Bill Hebert

What kind of response are you going for? What do you want people to take away from iStand?
I want people to leave feeling charged. Feeling motivated and like their voice matters. Like there’s something that they can do, no matter how big or small. I want them to feel like they’re a piece to the puzzle and what they do and what they say matters. They can make positive change. It always starts with face-to-face, honest dialogue, and using art as a platform can make that easier for people to express themselves — even the quietest person who may not ever want to speak up, it gives them that little push to know there’s something they can do.

Did you come across anything that surprised you while researching and thinking about how to create this show?
We were just discussing recently — my team, my husband, everyone who’s involved – that the interview part [for the videos] was surprising. Same questions, completely different people, and similar answers. It showed us no matter how different we look, we all have similar concerns and fears. We all want to be accepted. You get caught up thinking this person or this culture is so different, but it really isn’t like that at all.

Putty Dance Project’s iStand is at the Painted Bride Art Center (230 Vine Street) on Sunday, October 9th. Tickets are here.

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