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 Payne unlocks problems of domestic violence in new dance 



January 20, 2008
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:


Payne unlocks problem of domestic violence in new dance 


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - The world premiere of "Under Lock and Key," a bold and dynamic dance about domestic violence by Ursula Payne, Slippery Rock University dance professor, will be staged Jan. 23-25 at Pittsburgh's New Hazlett Theater. 

            "The choreography examines, through abstract modern dance, the aspects of passive abuse that sometimes lead to violence in domestic relationship," Payne said. "It focuses on the psychological and emotional aspects - those things that often get dismissed."

            An all-female cast in blood-red costumes will symbolize the subtle psychological abuse in relationships that can escalate to physical violence, Payne said. SRU dance graduates Gretchen Moore and Meredyth Casey-Smaretesky are two of the four dancers in the 25-minute piece, which Payne described as one of most important of her career.

            The two-movement, modern choreography includes an original score by Andy Hasenpflug, who performs music during dance classes at the University.

            Rather than pinpoint violence against one segment of the population, Payne broadened  "Under Lock and Key" to encompass traditional couples, parent-child relationships, adults caring for elderly parents and same-gender relationships.

            "It was important not just to limit the piece to male-female relationships," Payne said. "Even something like starvation can produce problems in relationships."

            Payne, an award-winning dancer, choreographer and artistic director of Soul Deep Creations, devised a set that uses two doors as metaphors.

            "The door represents what happens behind closed doors," she said. "Sometimes a door is a barrier. It's almost symbolic of being trapped and can also illustrate a form of escape. Sometimes a victim goes through abuse six or seven times before leaving a situation for good."

            The final section of the dance includes a movement that symbolizes "physical venting." Payne got the idea by studying the Japanese custom of women shouting in public forums to protest abuse. They Japanese call it "bitterspeak forums."

            "When I read about that, it inspired me to create the last section," Payne said. "Physical venting is important because it leads to release and recovery. The dancers will move in ways to abstractly show what they've been holding inside."

            Payne said she hopes the dance raises awareness of the pain of subtle abuse in relationships. 

            "I think domestic violence is something we just have to still be aware of," she said. "It's not decreasing. It's increasing, and it's even increasing female-on-female." 

            Payne, who joined SRU in 1999, has presented nationally and internationally. "This Woman's Work," a national collaborative involving Payne and six other African-American female choreographers, was selected for inclusion in Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" list for 2006.   At SRU, Payne teaches "Modern Dance," "Advanced Modern Dance," "Jazz," "Dance Kinesiology," "Repertory," "Dance Composition," "Wellness for Dancers" and serves as artistic director for SRU's dance theatre. 

            The three nights of performances at the New Hazlett Theater will also include "Re: Memory," a duet by Jennifer Keller, SRU associate professor of dance, and Gwen Hunter Ritchie, artistic director of LABCO Dance in Pittsburgh. The 20-minute piece involves the use of dance technology, with live video feeds and improvisational scores.

            The New Hazlett Theater, located at 6 Allegheny Square in the Allegheny Center of the Northside, was built in 1889 as the Carnegie Musical Hall and was dedicated by U.S. President Benjamin Harrison.

            Performances of "Under Lock and Key" and "Re: Memory" will be staged at 8 p.m. Jan. 23-24 and 2 p.m. Jan. 25. Tickets are $20 at the door, $15 for students and seniors at the door. Call 412.394.3353 for more information.


Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.





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