Marcus McGregor returns to stage after 15-year hiatus in The History of Empires

Marcus McGregor returns to stage after 15-year hiatus in The History of Empires

Witness Relocation/Dan Safer – a longtime resident dance-theater company at La MaMa ETC – will return to La MaMa’s Downstairs Theatre (66 E. 4 St) with its latest world premiere, The History of Empires from October 27 to November 6. The History of Empires is an evening-length piece comprised of a solo dance directed and co-choreographed by Dan Safer, and performed and co-choreographed by Marcus McGregor, along with a duet for Daniel Pettrow and Mr. McGregor.  

The History of Empires marks Mr. McGregor’s return to performance after a 15-year hiatus, following a long and distinguished career as a dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem and Feld Ballet. Daniel Pettrow is known for his work with The Wooster Group and choreographer John Heginbotham. This is the first time Messrs. Safer, McGregor and Pettrow have collaborated with one another.  

The History of Empires is set to text by the celebrated playwright Chuck Mee (Big Love), with text spoken by Kevin Mambo (FELA), Angela Winkler (The Tin Drum) and Marcus McGregor.  Music is composed by Christian Frederickson (Palissimo), projections by Tom Kalin (Swoon) lighting design by Jay Ryan and set and costume design by Deb O.

An interpretation of the rise and fall of empires – historical, contemporary, urban, political and even our personal domains – The History of Empires was originally developed starting September 2020 at the height of the pandemic when Safer, McGregor and eventually composer Frederickson hunkered down together with Mee’s text and Frederickson’s score weekly for two years in a ‘pod’ at Mr. Safer’s home/studio in upstate New York. Covid delayed the work’s planned debut, and the creators have revisited the piece, with the added elements of the film by Kalin and the recorded texts by Mambo and Ms. Winkler, the German New Wave film star of The Tin Drum.

According to Dan Safer, “We started Empires over the pandemic, with the goal of simply finding ways to make something. We really dug into our isolation and fear, and in the process discovered beauty, joy and friendship. I think about this piece like an ongoing exorcism, going through the rough stuff to come out better, and remembering that if you wait for everything to be okay before you can be happy, you’ll never be happy.”  

Witness Relocation has presented a range of performing arts from original dance/theater to fully scripted plays, including Vicious Dogs on Premises (2008), the English language premiere of Five Days in March by Toshiki Okada at La MaMa in 2012, with original music by Dave Malloy.  Also, The Loon, an original collaboration with performer/writer Robert M. Johanson in 2016; and the dance/theater duet Surveys the Prairie of Your Room (2019) with an original score by longtime collaborator Heather Christian. The History of Empires marks Witness Relocation/Dan Safer’s eighth production at La MaMa since his 2006 when his Dancing vs. the Rat Experiment debuted there. Dan Safer founded Witness Relocation in 2000.  

The company has received three New York Innovative Theater Awards and has performed at Abrons Arts Center, Bushwick Starr, Dixon Place, Ohio Theater and ART in Cambridge, Mass. Internationally, Witness Relocation has performed in France, Poland, Russia, Romania, Canada, Egypt, Abu Dhabi and Thailand. 

The Village Voice called Witness Relocation “one of the ensembles now leading the city’s progressive theater scene,” while Time Out said the company is ‘a purveyor of low-fi mayhem,” and Artforum noted its “pure expressionistic danger.” 

In addition to his leadership as Artistic Director of Witness Relocation, Dan Safer has choreographed elsewhere for productions such as Ubu Sings Ubu with Tony Torn, Ridge Theater, choreography for the Salzburg Festival’s recent Jedermann and Dom Juan at SummerScape.  

For performance and ticket information, visit Performances are Thursday – Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 4pm. Tickets are $30 for Adults, $25 for Student and Seniors, with the first ten tickets for every performance available at $10 each. Don’t miss the opportunity to see Marcus McGregor’s return to the stage!