In choreographer David Roussève’s “Stardust,” making its world premiere at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center this weekend, the protagonist doesn’t utter a word. In fact, he never even appears on stage.
“Stardust” is the latest production from Roussève, the artistic director for REALITY, his multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural ensemble. He is also a professor of choreography at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Stardust” explores the ever-changing nature of human relationships in our technology-obsessed world.
“In the age of technology, it’s really a question of what constitutes a human being,” Roussève said. “What makes a person who they are?”
“Stardust” centers on an African-American, gay urban teenager who the audience never sees but instead gets to know though a series of text messages and social media posts. The messages are projected onto large screens on the stage. Roussève said originally he wanted to have the messages sent directly to audience members on their smartphones, but that became too complicated.
“Stardust’s” conception began four years ago as “a collection of ideas [Roussève] was trying on [his] students …”
“When it originally began, I was very interested in the relationship between intimacy and technology, in particular with younger people,” Roussève said. “We always battle with technology in the classroom … Rather than being so hardnosed about it, I thought, ‘I’m going to kind of explore why all of us are mediating our human contact through technology.’ That was really the jumping off point.”
After cultivating ideas with his students, Roussève used his summer, winter and spring breaks from school to work with his company to “deepen and expand” those concepts. He also brought in dramaturg Lucy Burns to develop the storyline.
“The text is so little so I have to pay attention to the economy of the words and pay attention to the character coming through and a story being told,” said Burns, who is also an associate professor in Asian American Studies at UCLA. “That’s primarily what I was asked to pay attention to …”
Burns said she has seen Roussève’s work over the years and has even given him feedback on some of his pieces, but this marks the first official partnership between the two.
Through its main character, “Stardust’s” narrative deals with “issues of homosexuality and acceptance, bullying, the power of art and technology’s influence in our society.”
“[I thought], who would be the most marginalized person possible?” Roussève said. “Someone who really needed technology as his only … form of communication … He’s ostracized from the broader world but his own African-American urban community is [also] ostracizing him for being gay.”
Dancer Kevin Williamson said part of the thrill of being in “Stardust” is the opportunity to bring his own experiences and background to the stage.
“I think I bring a really, really intense interest in the work,” Williamson said. “I get to weave my own experiences with gender and [what that means, and] my own experience as a gay man.”
Williamson is a graduate student at UCLA and called Roussève a mentor. The two met while Williamson was an undergraduate student at the university.
“His show inspired me so much and gave me freedom to move with my own choreographed show,” Williamson said.
The pair reconnected at an awards show in 2008 and Roussève invited Williamson onto the “Stardust” project in 2010.
In commissioning the piece, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center has not only signed on to present the show, but the venue has also worked closely with Roussève to engage the local community in a dialogue about some of the issues “Stardust” deals with.
“[The Clarice Smith Center] has done some amazing innovative thinking about connection with the community,” Roussève said. “ … You get very much used to the same set of ideas; we’ll do a master class or a Q&A session ... I mentioned to [the center] about the strong spiritual message in the piece. What if we could contact a conversation with the African-American spiritual community?”
In November, Roussève came to Washington, D.C., and visited several African-American churches to talk about marriage equality.
“ … We had a great conversation around the African-American church and ‘Stardust’ and marriage equality,” Roussève said. “I thought that was so thrilling.”