The dance company Ballet 5:8’s name may be puzzling for some, but not for those familiar with the Bible. Co-founder and Artistic Director Julianna Rubio Slager says it refers to Romans chapter five, verse eight which illustrates God’s love for humanity. It’s an indication of how her Christian faith informs the ballets the Chicago-based company produces.

On Friday, March 24, Ballet 5:8 will present the world premiere of BareFace at Kennesaw State University’s Dance Theater in Marietta. A talkback will follow the performance.

The full-evening ballet takes the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche and turns it upside down. In the original version, the focus is on Cupid, the son of Aphrodite, who falls in love with Psyche, a human. Rubio Slager was inspired by the C.S. Lewis novel Till We Have Faces, which shifts the focus to Psyche’s older sister, Orual. By emphasizing Orual, Rubio Slager invites the audience to connect with the story through themes such as whether it’s possible to love without restriction or expectation.


For instance, BareFace touches on abuse and trauma because in the myth Orual is abused by her father. The ballet also takes a close look at the definition of beauty, which has been defined by the male gaze for many years, Rubio Slager says. She set out to bring a female perspective to beauty, looking at “how we can individually and as a community explore beauty as a concept.” All eleven performers in the ballet are women.

The ballet also examines humans’ impact on the environment. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it reveals the damage human beings have done to the earth. In this imaginary scenario, nature has started to fight back, giving audiences a new way to view the issue. Still, the characters grapple with the same problems that we see in our daily lives today.

The set design for BareFace consists of almost all recycled materials, emphasizing the importance of caring for the environment. Rubio Slager enjoyed the process of repurposing products for the stage. “It’s making a statement about how much we value the place we call home,” and how important it is for the arts to support the environmental movement. Many of the props are repurposed products pulled from Facebook Marketplace and other resale sites.

The ballet’s choreographic style also sets the work apart from a traditional narrative ballet. Classical ballet technique is at the core of the work, but Rubio Slager emphasizes rhythm and dynamics that translate technique into art in a new way. During the choreographic process, the dancers created movement by reflecting first on emotions such as jealousy and being in love. “Even though we have tools at our disposal like a pirouette or a developé, the movement leads from an emotional center into high value dance moments.”

Ballet 5:8
Miranda Rubio performs in “BareFace” (Photo by Kristie Kahns)

Rubio Slager and Amy Sanderson founded Ballet 5:8 in 2012 with a vision to create story ballets inspired by Biblical themes but with a modern twist. The company comprises 18 professional dancers and produces six to eight new works annually, each designed to express today’s social problems as well as love for humanity. Their 2021 ballet Reckless, for instance, reimagines the biblical story of Hosea, an Old Testament prophet who marries the prostitute Gomer, as a tale of sex trafficking and betrayal and, ultimately, love and compassion.

“We’re very focused on innovative ways to tell stories,” Rubio Slager says, “stories that are not just archaic relics from a bygone age, but intricately tied to our daily experience as human beings.”

In BareFace, the heroine, Orual, realizes she is often selfish in her love. While choreographing, Rubio Slager connected with this in herself. “I’ve been challenged to search out my own heart and mind — are there times I think I’m being loving but in actuality, I’m using people?” she says. “When have I fooled myself into thinking that my intentions are more honorable than they actually are?”

These questions might make us uncomfortable, but Rubio Slager believes we need to reflect on them if we want to improve our relationships with one another. And experience real love. “The message is to [encourage] each one of us to say we can love in bigger ways, in more generous ways. To do that, I must have a bare face. I must be able to see my own intentions correctly to truly love anyone else.”


Sydney Burrows is a digital communications specialist and dancer based in Rochester, New York. She is currently the Assistant Director of Digital Strategy and Engagement at the University of Rochester and works as the Assistant Editor of DIYdancer. Sydney is also a company member of PUSH Physical Theatre and dances with the Pre-Professional program at Garth Fagan Dance. Sydney holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Dance from Goucher College and a master’s degree in English from the University of Rochester. 

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