Arts & Culture

UK Theatre and Dance Stages Live Performances in ‘Once Vacant’ Space

photo of Connor Perry dancing in front of cars illuminated by cars for "Once Vacant"
UK dancer Connor Perry rehearses for "Once Vacant," which will be presented in the Orange Lot by Kroger Field. Mark Cornelison | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 12, 2020) A little over half a year after the parking lot at Kroger Field emptied out as a global pandemic found its way to the Commonwealth, University of Kentucky Department of Theatre and Dance will bring a rare form of movement to the space typically traversed by students in cars and weekend crowds of fans headed to a Wildcats game. This Saturday, instead of football enthusiasts, arts lovers will shine a spotlight on UK dance students in the lot as they fill the space with three performances of “Once Vacant: Bodies in motion still.”

“Once Vacant” reimagines a public space while literally and physically shining light on the role dance can play in a variety of societal discussions all while following COVID-19 protocols to keep audiences safe, as well as entertained. Dancers will present “Once Vacant” Oct. 17 at the Orange Lot located near Kroger Field, while the audience will maintain its social distance surrounding the performers from the safety of their cars.

The practice of occupying vacant spaces is a tool that many dancers and dance companies are accessing globally to continue to create, perform and advance the field of dance during the pandemic.

“As dancers and choreographers, we continue to seek motion as a means of enlivening a world that has become motionless. ‘Once Vacant’ reimagines a public space while illuminating the vital role that dance can play in advancing political, social and cultural discussions,” said UK Dance Program Director Susie Thiel.

Thiel and fellow choreographers and UK dance faculty Stephanie Harris and Theresa Bautista centered their work around a series of questions, “What does the body mean in spaces and places? How can entropy lead to liberation? And as we yield toward chaos, do we shrink into nothingness or do we enter into a field of abundance where our cellular bodies become uninhibited by their physicality and the confines of our quarantined selves?” 

“Within this time we have had to resist becoming disembodied, and through that process we have found that there is still space for us to continue moving,” Harris said. “Our work as dancers in many ways is an act of resistance as we navigate a world that is no longer accessible to us and our practice as dance artists has been deeply impacted.

“Not only has the pandemic affected our ability to move together, we have embodied the residual trauma of this time. We hold the residue of isolation, racial violence and the deterioration of our life as we once knew it.” 

“Once Vacant” is inspired by “PARKED,” a drive-in dance performance put on by California-based dance company Jacob Jonas The Company in May 2020 at the Santa Monica Airport. The invitation-only audience arrived in their vehicles and were given a set of instructions to follow which included: “Stay inside your car with the windows rolled up; when you see a flashing light, turn on your headlights; wear a mask.” 

In exploring new ways to create, the UK dance faculty has come up with a novel solution to the restrictions COVID-19 has placed on live performances. 

“As our bodies became restricted, we began to seek out new spaces of liberation whether cognitive, spiritual or physical as it became very clear that we had to discover a new way of being and moving through the world. By inhabiting once vacant spaces, we are reconstituting the concepts of performance making space for new potentialities to emerge within the field of dance. Within this practice we are creating a space where all bodies have value and the democratic nature of site-specific performance reinforces that.” 

After announcing two evening performances of “Once Vacant” — one of the few live in-person performances scheduled in Central Kentucky, much less on the UK campus, this fall — the production sold out. A third performance has been added for 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17. Tickets are limited. Rain date is Oct. 18.

Tickets are $15 per car. One ticket admits one vehicle. Processing fees will be added upon completion of transaction. To purchase tickets to “Once Vacant,” contact the Singletary Center for the Arts ticket office by phone at 859-257-4929 or visit online at

Proceeds from “Once Vacant” ticket sales will benefit Big Blue Pantry, a campus resource available to UK students experiencing food insecurity or hunger.

The Department of Theatre and Dance, part of UK College of Fine Arts, is an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Theatre. Students in the department get hands-on training and one-on-one mentorship from professional theatre and dance faculty and renowned guest artists in acting, directing, playwriting, theatrical design and technology, and dance. From mainstage productions to student-produced shows, students have plenty of opportunities to participate on stage or backstage. Special programs include a musical theatre certificate, education abroad, as well as a thriving dance program that emphasizes technique, composition, performance and production.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.