“Asylum: The Undertaking” mixes dance, pop culture and mental illness

Dr. Zillo (Bridgette Borzillo) and the inmates (CaZo Dance Company) welcome you to CaZo Asylum. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Southwick-Single Man Studios)

A local dance company is mixing pop culture and mental illness into its new production “Asylum: The Undertaking” for the Halloween season.

The performance is the newest show in CaZo Dance Company’s repertory and premieres this weekend at Phoenix Center for the Arts.

A spinoff of last year’s “Asylum ’66,” the new show is set in 1967 and follows Stephen King’s character Carrie who, rather than going home after her ill-fated prom, admits herself into the CaZo Asylum.

The show depicts 14 different types of mental illness ranging from the obscure such as clinical lycanthropy, where a person believes they are or can turn into an animal, and Wendigo Psychosis, a disease that is characterized by the craving for human flesh, to more common diseases such as narcissistic personality disorder, dissociative personality disorder and various forms of addiction.

“I’m not wanting the public to think I’m making fun of [mental illness]. It’s a huge issue in our society,” said Bridgette Borzillo, artistic director and founder of CaZo. “I want them to take a piece of entertainment with them, but still think about it.”

In order to cover the topic, Borzillo researched the mental illnesses she hoped to use in show. She also heavily researched Whittingham Hospital, an asylum in England that had a history of patient abuse and mistreatment.

The show portrays the complexity of addiction through partner dances with one dancer representing the addiction and the other representing the addicted. At one moment the dancers movements are those of comfort, and at the next moment they are trapped or harmful.

Bobby (Randy Civico), the Hannibal Lecter inspired character suffering from Wendigo Psychosis, wears a mask to help prevent his cannibalistic tendencies. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Southwick-Single Man Studios)
Bobby (Randy Civico), a character suffering from Wendigo Psychosis, wears a mask to help combat his craving for human flesh. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Southwick-Single Man Studios)

Lindsay Kraemer, a performer in the show, said that the duet her character performs with her addiction is a challenging and satisfying piece.

“I try to make it a little more raw and a little less delicate, so people can see less of what’s on the outside and more of what’s going on inside,” Kraemer said.

She said that she hopes the show will help people embrace a certain sense of togetherness and be more understanding of differences, even beyond mental illness.

“My big hope is that people will walk away feeling that they can take a new perspective on people they may not be as accepting of,” she said.

Another unique aspect of “Asylum: The Undertaking” is the variety of film characters incorporated into the show. Aside from Carrie, you’ll also find Nina from “Black Swan” and Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Other characters include Bruce and Joey, loosely inspired by “The Incredible Hulk” and “The Nightmare on Elm Street,” respectively. The show attempts to bring new angles to these established characters.

Rebecca Reeder, who plays Carrie, said her character’s journey was reflected in the changes in Carrie’s movements over the course of the show from quieter and unsteady to long, aggressive and sharp.

“I think it is a really excellent show for people who may not be as secure watching dance,” Reeder said. “It’s accessible and visually captivating, and a great way to get your toes wet if you’re interested in the arts but don’t know where to start.”

“Asylum: The Undertaking” premieres at the Phoenix Center for the Arts Friday, Oct. 7, at 8 p.m. followed by two more performances Saturday, Oct. 8, at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.  Doors open 45 minutes before all shows and feature a pre-show 30 minutes prior with a musical performance by Jenny Radke.

Clarifications: October 5, 2016

An earlier version this story said that Bobby, Bruce and Joey were film characters. It has been updated to reflect that they are loosely inspired by their respective films and TV shows.

An earlier version this story incorrectly stated that the character Bobby was loosely inspired by the tv show “Hannibal.”

Contact the reporter at charles.t.clark@asu.edu.