All the way from Houston, Bonnie and Clyde have come to Dance Center Evanston (DCE) to tell their story.

Annie Arnoult, artistic director of Houston’s Open Dance Project, brought the troupe of 10 talented dancers who will perform this weekend at Studio 5, 1938 Dempster St., in the shopping center at the corner of Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue.

Performing Bonnie & Clyde. Credit: Lynn Lane

There will be no “fourth wall,” the imaginary wall between audience and performers, as there usually is in theater. This performance will be immersive the audience will be able to wander from scene to scene, between a jail, a café and a bar. (There will be some seating in each set for those who can’t take too much wandering.)

This show ”lives in the space between dance and theater,” Arnoult said. “It is a non-linear narrative about these two infamous young people who actually curated their own celebrity.” Does that sound like today? (Cue the Kardashians, among others.)

There will be only four shows, two each night, at 7 and 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4, and Saturday, Nov. 5. “The performances will be very intimate,” Arnoult said, “with eye contact and the audience deciding how close they want to be to the dancers.” However, “the audience will never be put on the spot!” she promised.

Dance careers

Arnoult graduated from Northwestern University with a major in dance and comparative literature. She uses narrative and language in her choreography. Her master’s degree in fine arts is in dance from Ohio State University. She returned to serve on Northwestern’s dance faculty from 2009 to 2014. Her approach, developed there, is theatrical but non-linear. She taught at Dance Center Evanston when it was on the second floor at 610 Davis St.

Working on the set of Bonnie & Clyde. Credit: Gay Riseborough

Bea Rashid, director of Dance Center, was an independent study student and theater major at Northwestern, then acted as director and performer in the Chicago area with the Goodman Theatre and also with Steppenwolf Theatre.  She began teaching to help support her family.

At Dance Center Evanston, which she established in 1994, she often brings in visiting artists to encourage the development of audience for dance.   

In 2004, the Dance Center moved to its present address. Next door is Studio 5, added in 2015 with an intimate atmosphere ideal for dance, she said.

It has a “sprung” (suspended) floor and is ideal in its depth and width. It also works as a music venue, directed by Steve Rashid, professional jazz musician and Bea’s husband of many years. 

The Bonnie and Clyde story

Bonnie and Clyde were teens from West Dallas, Texas. There are many versions of their story in popular culture, but what is the true story?

Arnoult’s learned the pair were both from farm families ruined by the Depression and moved to Dallas to find work.

Clyde was a petty thief, first jailed at age 19, where he committed his first murder. Bonnie was beautiful and smart, had done well in school, sang and romanticized her exciting life with Clyde. She also wrote poetry and kept a typewriter in the back seat of their car.

Clean-up goes much smoother when you’re dancing. Credit: Gay Riseborough

Arnoult said she believes every Open Dance Project performance is a literary project. “Our job is to teach our audience how to read and interpret dance.” Language is important in her work.

Rashid said her job is to expose the community to dance by presenting different styles and breaking break down the barriers that intimidate audiences.

The Evanston Dance Ensemble, a preprofessional group of young performers, will open for the the visiting dancers with a five-minute performance. This ensemble was created in 1997 as a way for young dancers to “explore their choreographic voice.” Five Evanston teens perform as members of the group.

Tickets to this unique dance event are $35 and are available, along with a 2½ minute video. The 7 p.m. Saturday performance is sold out, but there are tickets available for the other performances.

Gay Riseborough is an artist, has served the City of Evanston for 11 years on arts committees, and is now an arts writer at the Evanston RoundTable.