Review: Ballet 5:8 Presents Myths, Faith, and Post-Apocalyptic Love in the Premiere of BareFace at the Harris Theater

BareFace is a new ballet from Ballet 5:8, created by artistic director Juliana Rubio Slager. It is an intriguing blend of myths from the Greeks, Romans, and the blended classical era, as interpreted by C.S. Lewis. Yeah, take a minute to mull that in your head. Rubio-Slager has taken the giant step of creating a new narrative ballet through a somewhat ecumenical lens of faith.

Bare Face is inspired by C.S. Lewis’s last book Till We Have Faces, which explored faith, identity, and self-worth through the use of myths. There are similarities with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey—similarities that allowed me to reach an understanding of this performance.

This story of Cupid and Psyche is told from the view of the older sister Oural in a land called Glome. If you know the story, Cupid (James Wainright) and Psyche (Elizabeth Marlin) are in love and living in a magical kingdom outside of Glome. Oural is bitter about her station in life as the left-behind daughter of the cruel King Trom. She uses trickery to have her sister unveil Cupid’s face even though the one rule he had was that his face never be revealed. It’s Adam and Eve told not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge because all hell would break loose if they did. Psyche is exiled from her magical kingdom and her true love. Instead of the fig leaf, Oura vows to wear a veil to convey her grief for the rest of her life as penance.

Sarah Clarke. Photo by Kristie Kahns.

The dance company is technically precise and beautifully graceful. There is acting in ballet as there is in opera and 5:8 Company does a stellar job conveying grief, longing, and some lighter moments of comedy. Jonathan Bostelman is outstanding as the cruel and sometimes violent King Trom. Bostelman is tall with a striking profile and an expressive face. Sarah Clarke as Orual has stage time with him that is a mix of militaristic symbolism and movement reminiscent of martial arts.

Orual is encouraged and helped along in her journey by the Fox played by Ford Tackett. The Fox in many traditions is a symbol of mystery, trickery, or kindness. This Fox is not of the Aesop variety with the sour grapes but one who is a guardian angel to both Oural and Psyche. This Fox also has a magical resurrection moment that brings in many faith traditions and fairy tales.

This a long-form narrative that feels like it is set in Middle Earth with the beautiful projection imagery by Sarah Freeman. JRR Tolkien was an admirer of Lewis and Freeman’s choices of imagery may be an homage to that. Grayscale brick walls, decaying monuments, and Ionic columns fill the back wall against the beautiful costumes by Lorianne Robertson in an array of colors. There is an eerie projection of a tunnel toward a light that becomes more like a tomb depending on Oural or Psyche’s state of mind.

Miranda Rubio. Photo by Kristie Kahns.

One of the most interesting sequences is of Miners working underground wearing headlamps. It was reminiscent of the Mouse King and company in The Nutcracker. The headlamps should come with a warning about a strobe effect as well as the light being held later in the story. I had to look away when I did not want to miss anything.

The sets inject an industrial vibe to this alternate Narnia. They move around as mountains, balconies, and funerary biers. Graham Louthan’s set design is really cool and minimalist in the midst of a complicated tale. The music used in BareFace is a cool mix of electronic music by Rubio-Slager, baroque rock from Surjan Stevens, and gorgeous piano music from Fazil Say. The music is a perfect accompaniment to the dance moves with haunting sounds that flow along in slower dances and percussive strings that add an edge to the darker themes of a brutal caste system.

Elizabeth Marlin and James Wainright. Photo by Kristie Kahns.

BareFace is an ambitious ballet and I look forward to how it develops or if any changes are made to simplify the narrative. There is a lot going on and it clocks in at 2.5 hours with a 20-minute intermission. I am not well-versed in C.S. Lewis but I am in Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology. They can be interchangeable even with the Judeo-Christian stories from the Bible, but I found the need to put everything in makes this ballet about an hour too long. If this is supposed to be a Wagnerian-length narrative and dance, it should be serialized like The Ring Cycle. I would certainly be more amenable to seeing this in chapters concentrating on one or two characters and other performances culminating in a dance to Valhalla in the final chapter.

Ballet 5:8 premiered BareFace on April 22, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St. Ballet 5:8 was founded in 2012 and is headquartered in Orland Park with over 400 students enrolled in dance programs. There is also a Beverly location. I find this to be very encouraging that the arts will continue to have an influence on the South Side. For more information, please visit

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Kathy D. Hey
Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.