Theatre & Dance students explore “Dread Fascination” in latest dance project

“‘Dread Fascination’ is a weird and wonderful dive into what it means to be afraid, and what the emotion of dread is,” a cast member said before the show’s run.


Austin Patterson, The Exponent

The dance production “Dread Fascination,” which ran Oct. 27–30, explored humans’ relationships with fear and dread through dance and literature-inspired narration.

Baldwin Wallace students delved into what it means to be afraid with “Dread Fascination,” the fall edition of the dance project “Testing Ground,” in the Mainstage Theatre in Kleist Center for Art & Drama during Oct. 27-30.  

Directed by BW Assistant Professor of Dance Sara Whale, “Testing Ground” is a biennial dance show that is open to all students regardless of major and aims to explore and showcase movement pieces that are not fully completed for a major production.  

“It’s an opportunity for us to present movement in a way that perhaps is not ready for a fully produced production, but in a more experimental way … trying out ideas that are really sketches,” Whale said.  

The fall edition of “Testing Ground” has evolved throughout the years to include a combination of text and movement, and Whale said that this year, she decided to examine the idea of dread and the strange attraction that humans have towards it.  

“Dread Fascination” incorporates excerpts from stories and poems by various authors that evoke the emotion of dread, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft and H.G. Wells.  

“I think we all go through phases of having these moments of angst, whether they’re existential or the idea of dread fascination itself,” Whale said. “You’re sort of drawn to it – that strange unseen force that makes us have fear and yet be curious about it.”  

Nash Feiler, a sophomore B.F.A. acting major, said that this show examined the vulnerabilities of humanity and the common uncomfortableness that comes with the unknown. 

“‘Dread Fascination’ is a weird and wonderful dive into what it means to be afraid, and what the emotion of dread is,” Feiler said. “You’re going to sit there and be unnerved for an hour.”  

The company of “Dread Fascination” performs the movement pieces scene by scene with a story within each section, but there is no overall story arc. To aid in the audience’s understanding, members of the company narrate the texts.  

Maya Norman, a sophomore acting and directing major, said that her major role in narrating was to “convey the story” by painting a picture in the audience’s minds through her speaking.   

“I’m just kind of a part of the many parts that move the story and let you know what’s going on,” Norman said.  

The making of “Dread Fascination” was a highly collaborative process. The dance company offered their own interpretation of the text with their bodies as an instrument.  

“It’s a very collaboration-driven process where each of us is given the space to use our own imagination and use our bodies in a way that makes us comfortable,” Feiler said.  

Feiler said that this show did not attempt to alarm audiences through jump-scares but instill a “cosmic-scale terror” that urges the audience to think about their place in the world.  

“We may not have that much significance,” Feiler said. “The universe is so big [and] we only have so much time, so we might as well do what we can while we’re here.”   

Whale spent the summer doing heavy research, compiling and editing various texts that speak on dread. All the text is in the public domain, so although the material is quite old, Whale said it is still relevant to the human condition today.  

“I’ve taken these works and edited them – most of them – so that I think they give the most bang for the buck without giving the stories away,” Whale said. “It was just enough language for people to have their own imaginative ideas for what we were looking at.”  

 “It’s not a story that will just come right into your grasp,” Norman said. “It’s one of those things where you will take from it what you’re willing to put into it.”  

Whale said that in order to evoke uncomfortableness, there was a trigger warning including words, gestures, sounds and effects that audiences may find troublesome, like ticking, flashing lights and portrayal of panic attacks. 

“Dread Fascination” was centered around fear and general discomfort, but it was meant to evoke interest in the dreary through interesting movements, and connect members of the audience to a common human experience.   

“I love that we’re cultivating a chance to explore this part of the human experience all together,” Norman said, “[and] to embrace the things that make you uncomfortable.”