Randolph Ward Provokes and Questions in 'Them & Us'

Exploring Ideas of Power, Conformity and Non-Conformity, Race and Rejuvenation

Randolph Ward in rehearsal for


Randolph Ward in rehearsal for "Them & Us."

Cameron Basden, Dance Writer

Randolph Ward, artistic director and founder of RTW Dance, is Black, he’s queer, his husband is a drag queen and he has many personal relationships with trans people. He’s always been ensconced in the dance community and he does a tremendous amount of research to produce the works that he creates.

On Friday, July 12, 2024, Ward will showcase his dance-theater piece, “Them & Us” at the Sandrell Rivers Theater in Miami. He says it is a direct response to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ on-going battle with individuals who Ward says are not like him, questions about the history of racism in our country, and the numerous discussions about transphobia.

Ward has gathered together a group of individuals, each with unique identifying characters, to present an evening of dance, theater, acting, jazz and gospel vocals, and live music. The evening is visually and purposefully provocative to stimulate visceral thought and reaction, he says.

Everyone in the piece gathered in the week prior to the show’s premiere for the first full run-thorough rehearsal. Details were being worked out and music decisions were fine-tuned, but the impact and commitment of the performers was strong and deliberate.


Growing up in Miami and studying at the Thomas Armour Youth Ballet, New World School of the Arts and Miami City Ballet School, Ward journeyed the well-treaded path to classical dance. His 15-year professional career carried him across the United States and throughout Europe. Along the way, he worked with top-name choreographers, including but not limited to, Ohad Naharin, Alonzo King, Jiri Kylian, George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, Mats Ek, Dwight Rhoden, and Alvin Ailey.

Destiny Diaz in


Destiny Diaz in "Code Switch." (Photo by Natanael Leal)

Ward has always wanted to say something with his art whether as a performing dancer or now, as a creator. Books and poetry have an impact on how he thinks and what he creates, says Ward.

“My three mentors are writers,” he says. “James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison. They are all very strong in the use of their art to make people think.”

He reveals that he recently read a book entitled "The Denial of Death" by Ernest Becker.

"(It was) written as he was dying from cancer. He says everything in our life is preparing for our ultimate demise; pride, jealousy, love, hate. Fear is a big one; the fear that someone else might be controlling us. I need to hate someone to make myself feel bigger or better. James Baldwin said, ‘I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once the hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.’”

All of these thoughts and ideas are stewing as he creates.

Ward remembers becoming a young dancer and spending an entire year preparing for only three performances.

“Now,” he says, “In the professional world, you’re performing so much, almost all the time. Sometimes it becomes meaningless. I started to dedicate each performance to something or someone, maybe an idea, to give it more meaning.”


In “Them & Us,” Ward makes his voice heard and "stirs the pot."

The Zealot in "Them & Us" is played by Destiny Diaz who is exploring the sociological effects of racism on the racist. Ward seeks to ask the question: What are you without racism?

This section is directly inspired by the way Angelou talks about racism and rarely from a Black perspective. She speaks about the psychological warfare going on. In one interview she says "Racism is ugly, it’s the feeling of ugly."

Natanael Leal in


Natanael Leal in "The Big Dig." (Photo by Karime Arabia)

Ward says, “I am investigating the feeling of ‘ugly.’ "

During the rehearsal, over the speaker, Angelou’s voice rings out saying, “People need to be pried loose from their ignorance.”

Luzcarina Nunez is featured in the section, “No Voice No Choice.” It is inspired by the human desire to be free amidst America’s cultural war and obsession with the control of a woman's body. During the solo, Nunez paces back and forth across the stage. Emotions are on edge and tension is high.

“The Last Sermon,” performed by Tayanna Love, is inspired by the 1962 arrest of Nelson Mandela. Smooth and powerful, in this lip-synced sermon, a preacher's faith is used to convey ideas of religious freedom and Black liberation.


A dancer/actor who has often worked with Ward, and has been somewhat of a muse in Ward’s creations, is Natanael Leal. In this production, Leal carries a dual role. The first is “The Big Dig” a solo dance adaptation of the Randolph Ward poem, “Broken,” dramatizing the psychological effects of an intimate relationship with fear. Leal, who grew up in Rio de Janeiro, brings to life the passions of a dancer who knows the challenges of staying true to his identity while growing up.

Leal also performs “This Little Light” constructed to express neither androgyny or non-binary definitions. No gender identification or association is seen while humanity is narrowly defined through emotions and not gender.

Stephanie Sanchez is the Non-Conformist portraying ideas of rebellion and the power of self. Through dance moves of hip-hop and non-stop speed, Sanchez has the audacity to curate a life that is not influenced by society, community, government or education.

For this section, Ward heeded the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Ja'Nia Harden sings that


Ja'Nia Harden sings that "Individuality is no more."

“Code Switch” is a celebratory section that salutes how Black Americans have used different and evolving new dance and rhythms throughout history to survive. Using genres of hip-hop, African, vogue and Latin dance styles, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) band culture communicates dance as a vehicle of identity construction.


The evening concludes with “Dystopia” showcasing the stories of these five individuals under the guidance of Lady X, The Master of Ceremonies, played by musician, composer, arranger, educator, and author, Ja’Nia Harden.

Lady X inspires the idea of conformity and complete control over another human being. She evokes the thought that "individuality is no more…"

“I feel like Dystopia” is a dismantling of what we knew before,” admits Ward. “It’s, sort of, a total destruction of everything, something old and something new. It’s a Buddhist ideology from Kali, the goddess of destruction. She destroys to create new things.”

Ward speaks of the ideas of conformity versus non-conformity.

“I was under the idea my whole life, that conformity was not a good thing. But I’ve learned that we need both conformity and non-conformity, the yin and yang, to make our society work. In this program, I hope to get people to think ‘Am I a product of societal propaganda or am I a free thinker?’ It has to be yin and yang, it has to be a little bit of both.”

“In my world, art is always a political statement,” Ward muses. “One day I want to make something pretty, where I won’t feel I have to say anything.”


  • WHAT: RTW Dance “Them & Us”
  • WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Friday July 12
  • TICKETS: $35 general admission, $25 for students, senior, military (not including fees)
  • WHERE: Sandrell Rivers Theater, 6103 NW 7th Ave., Miami
  • INFORMATION: (305) 284-8800 Tickets at

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