After an anxiety-filled year on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, a local dance theater is channeling those emotions into a multimedia performance blurring the lines between dreams, nightmares and reality — all while celebrating the return of dance.
The Mesa-based CaZo Dance Theatre is honoring its seventh season by showcasing “Nightmare: Dreaming Reality” at the Phoenix Center for the Arts, located at 1202 N. Third Street, at 8 p.m. Friday, October 22, and 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, October 23.
The feature-length production merges “new material with fan-favorite numbers” from previous performances — including elements from CaZo’s horror-centric shows, as well as its “more romantic-themed performances” — to demonstrate how “there are plenty of nightmares that are all too real and are much harder to resolve,” according to CaZo Dance Theatre owner Bridgette Borzillo.
“If you’re afraid of clowns, then I’m sorry,” Borzillo jokes.
Attendees at the repertoire-style display can expect to see nods to the company’s prior sequences, such as “Remember When” and “Tough as Nails,” she says.
However, unlike previous performances, “Nightmare” will incorporate video elements into its act for the first time, Borzillo says. Varying digital clips will be broadcasted throughout the show to help viewers determine whether portions of the sequence are “dreams” or “reality,” the theater owner notes.
“The audience will know which ones are dreams and which ones are reality based on the videos that are going on,” she explains.
“Sometimes there will be videos playing simultaneously with the dance pieces going live, or there won’t be video, so you know that’s the difference.”
Although the multimedia production is outside of CaZo’s typical toolbox — tapping into new and creative outlets to express dance and emotion is not, Borzillo says.
CaZo, formed by Borzillo in 2014, is a kinesthetic dance theater company that strives to touch the audience by telling full-length dance stories that are easy to follow and told through raw emotion.
“We don’t use words. We use music, movement and acting in order to portray our stories,” Borzillo explains. “That’s basically what we’re about.
“I’m really proud that we can get people who are not into dance and have them love dance because it’s very accessible. We’re not abstract. We’re very literal in our movement style. We’re a fusion company. We utilize different dance styles, like ballet, modern jazz, tap and hip-hop.”
Every year, CaZo Dance Theatre produces two full-length productions — one in the spring and one in the fall. Although the group was slated to repeat its 2019 version of “Bloody Mary” last year, the COVID-19 lockdown inspired Borzillo to switch courses.
“I was like, ‘I can’t do “Bloody Mary.” I’ll do a rep show we haven’t done before and try to figure out how to link all of the pieces together,’” Borzillo recalls. “I wanted to try to figure out how to link all of the pieces together, because I want to be able to tell stories — and because it was basically a nightmare, I thought, ‘Why don’t we do a show about nightmares, whether they’re real-life nightmares or dreams?’
“I felt like we were all living in one, so I got the inspiration from that and then we began making it a full, multimedia experience,” she continues.
Although “Nightmare: Dreaming Reality” is a repertoire performance — meaning it draws from the dance group’s prior shows — it leaves room for the debut of a few new pieces as well, Borzillo says.
“For example, I’ve created like a 20-minute section of the show just based on this one story, and it has to deal with the sergeant’s nightmare, which is training the soldiers. It’s a military piece,” she explains.
The audience will be guided through the sergeant’s journey, to name one example, as she loses a soldier during war. The loss subsequently alters the sergeant’s new reality, as well as that of the fallen soldier’s spouse. The segment gives viewers a peek inside the deceased soldier’s state of consciousness before he passes, in which he believes he is in a coma.
At a time in which community connection and artistic expression are needed, Borzillo says it’s important to continue to support local arts organizations. The dance theater owner is dedicated to giving back to the industry by performing in community events, working within the high school system, and sharing her passion with others.
“I feel like something we’ve lost over this pandemic is the support of the arts, because people are just staying home and they’re not helping out these creative artists,” Borzillo expresses. “I feel like people need that creative outlet for their own mental and physical health.
“I do feel like it’s cathartic. In our company, we do use dance as therapy, because we do a lot of intimacy training, so the emotion is raw that you see on the stage.
“The dancers use it as therapy.”
For those unable to attend in person, CaZo is offering a livestream option online for $20.
Thirty minutes before the doors open, a preshow performance hits the stage “to get you in the mood,” Borzillo shares.
“I’m most excited about feeling the audience’s reactions and seeing the videos and dance happening at the same time, because that’s hard to do in a rehearsal space. They are mind-blowing. They have worked so hard and stuck around during all of this. They’re really excited to perform live with the company.”
“Nightmare: Dreaming Reality”
When: 8 p.m. Friday, October 22, and 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, October 23
Where: Phoenix Center for the Arts, 1202 N. Third Street, Phoenix
Cost: Tickets start at $20