Keone & Mari’s ‘Beyond Babel’ melds dance and theater in a new immersive work


Over the past decade, the married choreographer-performers Mari and Keone Madrid have soared to national dance prominence, with appearances and credits on programs from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to “So You Think You Can Dance,” and a social-media following in the hundreds of thousands.

But now, these Carlsbad-based stars of the hip-hop-driven style known as West Coast urban are about to unveil a project that’s not quite like anything their fans have seen before — and, along with it, a customized performance venue San Diego audiences have never seen, period.

The project is a work of immersive dance theater called “Beyond Babel,” a full-length show that deploys a dozen dancers and is informed by a famous Shakespearean story as filtered through contemporary social concerns.

The piece is going up in a former boxing gym just southeast of downtown San Diego, and among its innovative aspects is that the audience’s seats actually will move forward and backward at different points in the performance.

“It’s a little bit of a ride,” as Keone puts it. “You punch in to the dancing and get much closer to the dancers than you would normally. So it sort of happens around you, and we have performers performing in different positions around the room and not just in front of the audience.

“It’s this intimate, immersive experience. That’s so attractive to us — we’ve worked a lot with dance on film, and there’s so much opportunity (there) for positions and perspective. And in this particular story, perspective was such an important theme for us.

“So we wanted (audience members) to have a different point of view — to punch in closer and feel the emotions and subtleties of the performers, and then punch back out to see the big group numbers.”

The idea of perspective looms large in “Beyond Babel” because of the story it tells — of people separated by powers larger than themselves, and of how those around them perceive and deal with the realities of that division.

The show’s theme takes its cues from “Romeo and Juliet,” which seemed a natural fit to the Madrids because of their own longtime relationship and the fact they’re known in the dance world for their partner work.

“But I think when people watch the show, they’re not really going to see elements of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ outside the relationship and the tension between two sides,” says Keone.

“It really starts with how Romeo and Juliet are people who are already divided. It’s about people who are in the same community, and are dealing with the problem of a wall being built between them by the authorities. You’ll see them get split up, and see how they deal with it.”

As that imagery might suggest, doing the show in San Diego “is not an accident,” Keone adds. “It’s close to home for us, but it’s also important for the story.

“It’s a story of borders and walls. And obviously right there is a border.”

The couple’s production partners on the piece are Josh Aviner and Lyndsay Magid Aviner of the Brooklyn-based Hideaway Circus, with whom the Madrids previously put up a “slasher circus show” in New York and Australia called “SLUMBER.”

As Mari explains, it was through conversations she and Keone had with the Aviners that the idea of “Beyond Babel” began to take shape.

“The four of us, after the election in 2016, were really talking about the state of our culture, and the ways people were experiencing different things,” she says. “So we wanted to try to delve into that, and try to (explore) things that are happening currently through our characters.”

The idea was to examine how the political and social climate right now can affect relationships “not only between two people, but relationships within families, and relationships between friends.”

Mari and Keone’s own relationship began when their dance paths crossed at an event in Temecula about a decade ago — although “we avoided choreographing together for the first few months to avoid a fight,” Mari says with a laugh.

Mari, a Colorado native, had come up in the Bay Area dance scene before moving to San Diego in her early 20s. Keone, who grew up in Rancho Bernardo, danced for several years with the top local troupe Culture Shock San Diego before taking up choreography in earnest with a rising local crew called Choreo Cookies.

Mari also joined Choreo Cookies, and together the two helped the crew gain national exposure.

Now, the two hope “Beyond Babel” will not only inspire other up-and-coming dancers and choreographers, but help change the conversation about how dance and theater can be wedded and presented.

As Keone puts it: “I think people are yearning for more experiential things to share and talk about.”

‘Beyond Babel’

When: Performances begin Friday. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Through Nov. 18.

Where: Beyond Babel Theater, 2625 Imperial Ave., Grant Hill/Sherman Heights

Tickets: $35-$125

Phone: (866) 811-4111


Twitter: @jimhebert