Review: "Made to Dance in Burning Buildings" at Joe's Pub

Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

Sexual assault has long been a major issue in society, but only recently – particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement – has the media and pop culture been starting to pay as much attention to this topic – and the need to eliminate the culture that allows this to happen – as should have been given long ago. With this, there has been a great surge of art being created to speak out on these important issues, and Made to Dance in Burning Buildings by Anya Pearson is one of the most creative and visually stunning examples that I’ve seen recently.

Directed by Jamie M. Rea and choreographed by Emily Bufferd, the show is a mixture of theatre, dance and poetry which tells the story of Ava, a woman who deals with and seeks to overcome the trauma of her past abuse. As the press release notes, it is a story that will be familiar to many, but after seeing the show, I can attest to the fact that it is told in a fresh, highly experimental way that makes it feel unique and modern compared to other shows that deal with similar subject matter. The show is choreographed brilliantly across the entire venue and written with passion and conviction, and with the help of the blue lighting and electronic ambient music, the atmosphere is every bit as dark and chilling as the thought of what Ava went through.

Given the nature of this show, it’s only fitting that a mix of performers from both theatre and dance backgrounds, respectively, are featured in the cast. In the role of Ava is dancer Kayla Banks, who portrays the physicality of her character’s thoughts and feelings throughout the show, as male dancers Shannon Giles, Jamal Shuriah, Jordon Waters, and Darnell Williams haunt and chase her. The actors in the show – Ms. Pearson, Reese Antoinette, Jennean Farmer, Aleca Piper, and Monique Sanchez – each portray the varying emotions that Ava feels as she moves, and is reflected in the dialogue and poetry that is spoken. All of the choreography is executed masterfully by these wonderful dancers, while the actors all gave very poignant performances, and left some audience members seemingly on the verge of tears.

While this show only received one performance at Joe’s Pub, I do hope this won’t be the last we hear of it. Not only is the subject matter both powerful and relevant, but the story is also told in a way that is very distinct and makes it stand out from many other theatrical productions, in terms of the way it incorporates various artistic mediums. I applaud all the artists involved, and hope to see them and potentially this show again on stage, in the near future…

 “Made to Dance in Burning Buildings” – presented by Urban Haiku Productions – ran for one night only at Joe’s Pub on April 24th. For more information on this show, please visit