Words in Motion

Ira Glass brings unlikely pairing of stories and dance to Santa Rosa

Live storytelling backed by interpretive dancers might sound like bad performance art, but Ira Glass insists it’s a winning combination.

“It’s something nobody wanted to combine but us,” says Glass, host of NPR’s This American Life and co-creator of the traveling spoken-word-meets-dance show.

“I know it sounds awful, but it’s not pretentious at all.”

The touring show, “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host,” comes to the Well Fargo Center for the Arts on Feb. 7. In it, Glass tells stories from his radio show while the dancers add an element of movement you’ll never get from the radio. The dancers are from New York’s Monica Bill Barnes & Co.

Glass saw the company once and said they were doing just what he does on his radio show, but without words—telling stories about human moments and having fun. After the show he approached Barnes about collaborating, and she immediately said yes. She had been looking for ways to expose dance to a wider audience.

“I approached her at exactly the right moment,” Glass says.

In May 2012, the two collaborated on three short dances, which were part of a This American Life variety show that played movie theaters nationwide. It was such a hit they decided to do a full show together. Some are performed together onstage by Glass, Barnes and dancer Anna Bass; others feature just the dancers or just Glass.

Glass says the hardest part was figuring out which stories to do. The natural choice was those that had movement in them, like, say, a story about an airport shuttle bus driver who goes and around and around. But that didn’t quite work, says Glass.

In the end, it’s personal stories and ones about being a dancer that worked best, he said.

While he used to create a new show every week for This American Life, he’s performed the storytelling-dance show about 30 times now. (He does it on weekends to allow him to continue doing the radio show). Bringing energy and humor to the same material for each night’s performance is new territory for him. But with his dance partners, they’ve developed a well-honed night of entertainment, Glass says.

“Everywhere we go, it kills.”