Universes Engages Audience with Exciting Performance

By Casey Koldewyn

There’s a kind of certainty that comes with going to a play, a ballet or an opera. Even if you’ve never been to one, it is likely that you’ve heard about the experience and thus won’t be too surprised when you see a familiar story taking place, hear powerful singing in a foreign language or see beautiful ballerinas standing on their toes. Having this certainty taken away can be fun, but it can also be a little scary: you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.

Saturday night’s “Live from the Edge” performance by the group Universes — comprised of Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William Ruiz, Asia Mark and Chris Mansa — was nothing like an opera, a ballet or a Shakespearean play. What Universes performed was new and exciting in ways more “classical” performances can never be. Utilizing a mix of jazz, hip-hop and poetry, Universes focused not on telling a story, but on communicating a message. Much of the performance emphasized the performers’ experiences with race in America. One piece explained that the black body is under attack. Another piece reexamined Hurricane Katrina and how black people were disproportionally affected compared to white people.

The hour and a half long show proved quite energetic. Even the audience members were involved — physically through clapping and snapping, and intellectually through the words of the poems. The event was both draining and rejuvenating. When the show ended, I found myself wishing it had gone on longer. I had fallen into the rhythms of their sound and the time had simply flown by.

This performance by Universes, celebrating the group’s 20th anniversary since its conception by remaining group performers and co-founders Steven Sapp and Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, was actually entirely unique from anything they’ve done before, partly due to the surprise performance of their son. Apparently, in all the 20 years his parents have been performing, he hadn’t set foot on stage with them once. Last night, that changed. It was a wonder he hadn’t joined before, because he could definitely sing.

Lively, thoughtful and unique, “Universes: Live from the Edge” was engaging in all the right ways. Hopefully they will be back for another show in the near future.

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