3 Dancers on Johnny Cash


In James Kudelka’s The Man in Black, four dancers – three male, one female – move through a montage of poetic images inspired by six poignant cover songs Johnny Cash recorded in the later years of his career. Here, three of these dancers offer a montage of thoughts and song lyrics that help inspire this journey. 

“I see this piece as a journey through life that we’re taking the audience on. To me, the piece represents a lot of struggles that we go through. Grief, anger, isolation, self-destruction, are all things that are implied, but there’s also this larger meaning to it that through all of these things that seem to happen to us, life goes on. Though I may be wrong in my interpretation, I feel that a lot of the dancing is less lyrical and more abstract. It’s as though the songs act more as a soundtrack to the piece, rather than the lyrics in the song dictating the choreography. I think a lot of what we see in dance gives the audience something obvious to relate to. People need to be able to read a person’s face to know exactly what they’re feeling. With this piece, James Kudelka never asked us to put anything on, or to emote. The emotion the audience needs to understand is all in the choreography. Our job as dancers, as artists, is to be present in each dance, in each step. Our job is to find our story within his piece that the audience can follow along with and relate to, or perhaps interpret in their own way entirely.” – Corey Bourbonniere



“I find that journey especially in “In My Life” and “Four Strong Winds”. They’re the first two pieces and a lot of it is just walking. It helps me to think that I’m looking off into the horizon, seeing things as they are, the way they change and distort as they get closer or farther away. There’s a lot of dancing that happens between each section of walking, but James really wanted us to understand that the walk is the dance. It’s in those moments when we’re walking that we should be able to convey exactly who we are, and be able to convey that we’re on this journey. There may be no end in sight, but with each step, we’re exactly where we need to be.” – Corey Bourbonniere

“Every song I have a different landscape of where I am. The first one is a rainy day…”(One of the guys is) going a bit crazy. We’re shoving him around a little bit. It’s a good opener. You don’t really know what to think of it.” – Caitlin Peabody


“Throughout this song we are traveling along attached to one another.  It looks like a covered wagon, and it’s a shape that the four of us make and continually go back to.  We are always looking out over the horizon, looking for changes in the distance.  I think it shows the perseverance that people can have.” – Cooper Verona

“It reminds me of a horse and carriage kind of that…that trotting noise (as we keep the beat with our boots). Everyone’s just out and about, roaming together. Just taking a stroll on a hot day. I honestly picture a hot meadow.” – Caitlin Peabody


“I’m in love with ‘Sam Hall,’ this is where she really gets to take her anger…She’s mad in Sam Hall, but not theatrically mad…I think there’s something to be said about almost being nothing. But thoughtful. That in itself is an expression in the face. It’s fast, we’re flipping. It’s a crowdpleaser.” – Caitlin Peabody 

                     IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND

“When these lyrics are sung, I am being manipulated by the other three dancers.  Throughout this whole song we are either controlling somebody’s movements or being controlled.  It has been a challenge involving intense teamwork. Being able to relax and be receptive to the other dancers’ movements and manipulations is very hard.  I think this part of the piece is making a statement that you’re not always in control.” – Cooper Verona 

“That one makes me think somehow of the war — of a battlefield. At one point one of the characters is gripping the ground, on Cooper’s feet, and as Cooper walks he’s crawling in the mud kind of…We have a choreographed fight. We’re all really connected.” – Caitlin Peabody 


“‘Hurt’ is difficult because my character is representing someone who is hanging by a thread onto this life. This person is battling suicidal thoughts and feelings. It’s difficult because the dancing is very physical and I’m putting everything I have into it, yet I’m trying to maintain control of my emotions. I feel that if I let go completely, I would just end up crying, and I think this is another piece where the emotion is in the choreography, there’s no need to wear the pain on my face.” – Corey Bourbonniere

“You imagine that all of us are somehow close in life. We’re pulling (one of the three male dancers). He’s the one that’s lost.” – Caitlin Peabody 


“This song is at the end of the piece and I think it is impactful because of what came before.  Out of context, this is an uplifting song.  Within the context of the piece, I think it’s much darker.  it’s not a happy dance. I take it as the end of our journey together. Perhaps we’ll meet again, further on up the road.” – Cooper Verona

“The last piece ‘Further On (Up the Road)’ gets us back into this mode being on this journey. The ballet as a whole has this sense of ups and downs, but in this song, this last dance, we all come back together, doing the same steps, moving on up the road. Like we’ve made it through this part of the journey, but the journey isn’t over.” – Corey Bourbonniere 

“When you’re walking in the dust on a warm day and it kind of kicks up, I kind of picture that at sunset or sunrise.” – Caitlin Peabody


                                                                    “I loved Johnny Cash before we started working on this piece and I think this process has gotten me to explore the darker side of his work.  I think this piece will resonate with everyone because it is so honest.  It doesn’t judge, it just shows everything for what it is.  James Kudelka has talked to us a lot about having an honest gaze in this piece.  I’ve never had anybody tell me that before and I think it’s really helped us to go into the work without any walls up.  It has humanized us within the piece, which sounds weird to say because we are humans, but the honesty is something beautiful.” – Cooper Verona

“In each song each of them has a bit of a story that they leave you…Every song I picture a different landscape of where I am. “Even though this piece you are working so intently with your partners. You have to all be very connected. I actually feel like As the girl in it, in my head, I imagine that she’s completely alone from all of them –  just in it for herself. I think at first you’re not going to know what’s happening. It’s not obvious. I think you’re going to get sucked in for 20 minutes…You will feel something.” – Caitlin Peabody 




March 10-13, 2016 | Byham Theater
pbt.org / 412-456-6666
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  Learn more about the choreographers here!

Lyrics & Musings on ‘The Man in Black’