Susan Dibble's dance play inspired by shoes is anything but pedestrian

Performances at Spingold Theater Center run through April 17

Photo/Mike Lovett

A dance play, "Shoes On, Shoes Off" tells its story entirely through dance and music.

Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of places — even a suburban shoe store. That’s where Susan Dibble, the Louis, Frances and Jeffrey Sachar Professor of Creative Arts discovered the soul of her newest choreographic creation. 

"Shoes On, Shoes Off" begins in a shoe store based on the actual Michelson's Shoes of Lexington and Needham, and takes off on an exploration into the mystical souls of footwear. 

The Brandeis Department of Theater Arts' production of "Shoe's On, Shoes Off," which features a cast of Brandeis students and professional dancers, will be performed Friday, April 15 at 8 p.m., Saturday, April at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 17 at 2 p.m. at Spingold Theater Center. Performances are free and open to the public. 

Dibble took some time to discuss the production with BrandeisNow.

Shoes are an unusual subject for a dance performance. How did you come up with the idea?

The artist Kiki Smith said something that I find really inspiring: ‘You go out and find something and make something out of it.’ That’s what I like to do, to start with something ordinary and make it extraordinary. I had been frequenting Michelson's and was struck by the hospitality there. So I started with this store and the people who work there as a basis for characters. Then I came up with the idea that when someone dies their shoes get passed on and start a new life. There’s a shoe graveyard, and its gardener is a main character. It’s all a bit mystical.

What about this store inspires you?

I would take my mother, who has difficult feet, to the store, and the people who worked there were always so kind to her. It’s the traditional kind of store I can remember going to as a kid. It has a wonderful atmosphere that is hard to find today. There’s also a scene at a deli inspired by South Street Market in Waltham. It’s my way of bringing ordinary merchants into something really magical.

You call this a dance play. What does that mean?

In a way it’s a play because there are cues and characters, but no dialogue. There’s a rough narrative, there’s a streamline of a story, but the performers do not talk. The music helps tell the story, too.

This production features professionals and Brandeis students. How has that collaboration been for the students?

We have six professionals who are very approachable. They are not just dancers but actors and performers and they understand we are all part of the same story. They are wonderful at making students feel comfortable so everyone feels equal.

The students see the ease with which the professionals can take a note or work within the flow of rehearsal. They can see what it takes to be a professional, and to have that performance quality. It’s just been a really good match. The collaboration — their willingness to go along with my imagination and bring in their own imagination — has been great.

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