Not Provoke, But Invite: RubiX’s First Year

Haley Kostas remembers prepping her collaborating dancers behind the curtains directly before they walked out for the first RubiX performance back in September. The other members of RubiXSarah Magill, David Steele Overholt, Johnny Dawbarn, Conner Giles, and Teresa Leggardwere in position on the other side, but Haley hadn’t seen the audience yet. “I thanked the dancers for being a part of this process, but told them not to get their hopes up. I suspected the audience would be really small, maybe like 25 people, just our families,” she says. 

As she stepped through the curtain, she found herself facing an audience of over a hundred people crowded into the gallery in Downtown Kansas City’s 21c Museum Hotel, a space without a stage or any formal separation between audience and performer. She says she looked back at the dancers and with her eyes tried to communicate: Modify. They would have to figure out how to make space on the floor where there was no space. 

The dancers moved through the gallery and into the other room. Sarah, from her stationary position, noticed the way that the audience began to learn that there wasn’t a way to see the performance holistically. It wasn’t about the bigger picture, they were IN it. “It was interesting the way that people found the thing that they wanted to focus on, the way that some people were excited to have an interaction with us and who wanted to hang back.” 

Photo by Ali Happer

Since then, RubiX has had two additional performances at 21c. The second performance, instead of being in the large space of the gallery, was in two hotel rooms and a hallway. The third performance in the series moved to six hotel rooms and a hallway. The more choice each audience member had on where to go and what to see, the more unique their individual experience was. For RubiX that meant trying to anticipate the actions of hundreds of people. “It was like solve for x, except there’s a million x’es and they keep changing. We had a lot of contingency plans.”

Dancer and choreographer Haley Kostas and musician Sarah Magill talk like they’ve known each other for years. In reality, though, they met less than two years ago at the back bar of Monarch Coffee. They wanted to collaborate together on a project, but that idea didn’t become a plan until last January when they began applying for their Rocket Grant. Sarah had recently attended a show that she was really excited about, one that mixed different mediums into one performance. “I was talking Haley’s ear off about it when she stops me and pulls out this PowerPoint presentation and says, ‘Something like this?’” Haley’s PowerPoint was a pitch for the project that would become RubiX. 

Photo by Ali Happer

The next step was to put together the full RubiX team: Conner Giles, a composer and musician; Johnny Dawbarn, artist and founder of Collective EX; Teresa Leggard, director and playwright; and David Steele Overholt, an artist working in video and new media. Haley had previously collaborated with Conner and Sarah knew David, Teresa, and Johnny. “There’s a kind of intuition that you get about whether you’ll work well with someone,” says Sarah, “and I had that with this project.”

RubiX was born out of the desire to make something bigger than their own individual work. “Everyone was in this place where we wanted to practice our craft, but also felt like we were at the end of a particular juncture and needed to work with other people to grow,” says Sarah. They began their first meeting by negotiating their goals and values on a big chalkboard, creating the foundation to guide the work. They asked what they would change about their own genre. 

Teresa came up with the theme for the first three performances. “She’s so good at finding the spirit of the moment,” says Haley, “and keeps us grounded when we have our heads in the clouds.” After reading through the lyrics to Sarah’s recent EP, Ahem, she came back with Reckoncile. “We wanted to ask ourselves and our audience what needed to be reckoned and reconciled, with this understanding that you can’t have one without the other.” They pitched their performance series to Jori Cheville, the museum manager at 21c. She understood immediately and gave RubiX a home there. 

Photo by Molly Carroll

Part of RubiX’s intention was to create room for improvisation by giving the audience choices. Throughout the creation of the three performances they questioned how much audience members would be willing to participate. When given the option, though, people seem eager to connect. Haley recalls during the third performance there was a room filled with pill bottles. “We asked people to write down something that they needed to be reconciled and to leave them there.” After the performance, the six of them laid on the hotel room floor and read through the dozens of notes people had left. “It was astonishing what people shared. It made us feel less alone.” 

RubiX is continuing their work in 2020. Their first performance of the year will be their Patron Party on February 28th at the Penthouse in 21c Museum Hotel. VIP, limited edition tickets are available now for $100. Tickets will include a unique and intimate performance, food, a full bar, and an incredible view of the city. Proceeds from the Patron Party will go towards investing the equipment Rubix will need for their next round of shows.

The support of the Rocket Grant and 21c has been crucial for the project’s first year, and they want to continue producing accessible and affordable performances. In 2020 they want to work with other artists and in new spaces, possibly plan a tour. “We want to be inviting and want to audience members and potential collaborators to feel welcome.” 

Drea DiCarlo, January 2020

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