Keone and Mari Madrid could feel the tension, both onstage at the Gym at Judson and in the audience. It was March 12, the final pre-quarantine performance of their Off-Broadway show, Beyond Babel, and every cough cut through the silence. The Madrids sensed a mutual appreciation among the audience as well as the cast; as Mari put it recently, everyone seemed to realize they might not see each other for a while.
This realization created some anxiety for the two, who are married, but also a inspired in them a desire to find a foothold within the new opportunities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Every industry has transformed to become more virtual,” Keone said, “so we’re trying to discover our voice within that.”
In addition to Beyond Babel, an urban-dance riff on Romeo and Juliet they choreographed and starred in, the Madrids have honed their craft by performing their own material (NBC’s World of Dance, Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” video) while also creating moves for the likes of BTS, Billie Eilish, and Flying Lotus, and Kendrick Lamar.
Keone said they are both workaholics, which has made it hard for them to slow down. They have had to create a system and push themselves to balance feeding their creativity and playing hot potato with their 10-month-old daughter, largely within the confines of their San Diego home. Teaching as well as taking online classes related to dance, storytelling, and directing have helped.
“We have a little dance space in our garage,” Keone said. “We make stuff in there just so we stay on top of our game.”
While they wait to see whether Beyond Babel will return, they have another theatre project to focus on: the new Broadway-bound Britney Spears jukebox musical Once Upon a One More Time, which they will be both directing and choreographing. The two were halfway through the rehearsal process for a Chicago world premiere when shutdowns occurred. While the Chicago premiere was canceled and the Broadway production postponed until further notice, the Madrids still believe in the project. (Whenever it returns, they said, will be the perfect time.)
The Spears project came as a surprise to them, but Mari said they were attracted to the “hilarious” script (by Jon Hartmere, who wrote Bare: A Pop Opera), and also motivated by an urge to pursue more longform projects. “For so many years, we’d have one to five minutes of time to tell a whole story,” she said.
A musical adaptation of the film The Karate Kid is on their docket as well, and the Madrids are also focused on Building Block Dance, the Carlsbad, Calif., dance studio they co-founded in 2014. They are currently in the process of developing a virtual alternative to its studio classes.
“We’ve been right there with everybody,” Mari said, “trying to find what feeds us spiritually. To be honest, we’ve been praying a lot.” They have also used this time to meet with a strength and conditioning coach and rehab doctor to stay in shape.
Ideas come quickly to the Madrids, who recently created a YouTube video titled Built for This as part of the Health Hero Hotline in support of medical workers.
“We are essential,” Keone said. “We are needed because, whether you’re a dancer or not, art can really allow you to reflect on the person you are.”
As the couple continues on their mental, emotional, and physical journey, they cannot stop dancing. “It is spiritual,” Mari said. “It connects us to God. I feel like we’re living out what we were meant to do.”
But most of all, they have a lot more time at home watching their daughter grow. “So, although this time has been quite chaotic and scary,” Keone said, “it’s also been a blessing.”
Madeline Powell is a Goldring Arts Journalism graduate student at Syracuse University.