The History of Empires

2022–23 Visiting Artist Grant

The History of Empires. Image credit: Sham Sthankiya.
The History of Empires. Image credit: Sham Sthankiya.
Dancer Marcus McGregor in Dan Safer's History of Empires. Credit Christopher L. Hicken.

Cheerfully nihilistic dance/theater by the iconoclastic Witness Relocation/Dan Safer


Developed collaboratively over the pandemic with the original goal of simply finding ways to make something together, a team of artists combined their respective disciplines and methodologies to explore themes of isolation and fear, and in the process discovered beauty, joy, and friendship. 

The artistic team behind the dance-theater work “The House of Cards,” which had a November 2021 in-progress showing at MIT, returns to the Institute with new collaborators in an expanded version titled The History of Empires

The eight-day residency includes open rehearsals and classroom workshops by the visiting artists, and culminates in an on-campus public performance and artist talkback in advance of the finished work’s premiere at New York City’s La MaMa in October and November 2022.


Past Events

Residency and Work-in-Progress Performance
The History of Empires
September 10, 2022
MIT Building W97
345 Vassar Avenue, Cambridge, MA

Performance for the MIT Community followed by a talk back with the artists.

Maybe things won’t ever be okay and you might need some sort of exorcism, but let’s figure out if we can be happy in the meantime.

Cheerfully nihilistic dance/theater by the iconoclastic Witness Relocation/Dan Safer. Topics include animals, pleasant afternoons, high kicks, torture, a viola, and vivid descriptions of dystopia.

“The House of Cards” is a solo created in collaboration with acclaimed dancer Marcus McGregor (Dance Theater of Harlem, Feld Ballet), with text by playwright Chuck Mee (Eterniday, Heaven on Earth), original score by Christian Frederickson (SITI company, Rachael’s), projections by filmmaker Tom Kalin (Swoon, Savage Grace), and recorded voiceovers by Kevin Mambo (Fela) and German New Wave Cinema superstar Angela Winkler (The Tin Drum).

“The Talking Heads of Stone” is a duet with McGregor and Daniel Pettrow (Wooster Group, John Hegginbotham, Romeo Castellucci). Everything is designed by Deb O (set and costumes) and Jay Ryan (lights).

MIT Class Visits

21M.623 Physical Improvisation: Bodies in Motion
21M.622 Physical Improvisation: Scores and Structures
21M.790 Director’s Craft
Taught by Dan Safer in Fall 2022

World Premiere
The History of Empires
October – November, 2022
La MaMa Theater
66 East 4th Street, New York, NY 10003

Rehearsals and Work-in-Progress Performance
The House of Cards and Talking Heads of Stone
August 2022
The Orchard Project
Saratoga Springs, New York


Lecturer in the MIT Music and Theater Arts program, Dan Safer has choreographed plays, fashion shows, operas, music videos, films, flash mobs, and more. He is the artistic director of dance/theater company Witness Relocation, an ensemble-based theater and dance company that makes shows ranging from fully scripted plays to original, devised dance and theater pieces. In 2011, Safer choreographed Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring for the Philadelphia Orchestra with the Obie-winning Ridge Theater.

Biography: MIT Music and Theater Arts
Social: Instagram | Twitter

Technical instructor in the MIT Music and Theater Arts program, Christian Frederickson is a violist, composer, and sound designer who specializes in live music performance for theater and dance. He was a founding member of the instrumental band Rachel’s, who released six albums between 1995 and 2003 and toured extensively in North America and Europe. As a solo artist, Frederickson has released seven albums since 2011, which are all available on Bandcamp. He teaches sound design and podcasting at MIT.​

Biography: MIT Music and Theater Arts
Social: Facebook | Instagram | Bandcamp | Twitter | YouTube

Marcus McGregor is an acclaimed dancer who began studying ballet at The Hartford School of Ballet at the age of 13. For 20 years, he was a company member with three companies: Hartford Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the Eliot Feld Ballet. After retiring from ballet, McGregor began teaching dance classes for adults, concentrating on working around existing injuries to maximize effective technique. His dance background also brings a unique style to his training sessions as he focuses on body alignment and placement.

Biography: Stephen Petronio Company (SPC) 
Social: Instagram

Chuck Mee is an American playwright, historian, and author known for his collage-like style of playwriting, which makes use of radical reconstructions of found texts. He is also a special lecturer of theater at Columbia University. Among other awards, Mee is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award in drama from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and two Obie Awards.

Social: Facebook

Daniel Pettrow is a Brooklyn-based actor, director, and teacher.  He focuses on new and experimental creations while fostering collaborations with artists from different disciplines. Pettrow is an associate actor with New York City–based experimental theater company The Wooster Group, and a teaching artist at The Wooster Group’s Summer Institute.

Social: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

After spending 18 years working in a factory making ECUs (electronic control units) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Deb O decided to go to Marquette University, where she received her undergraduate degree in theatre design with a minor in studio art and art history. She then went on to receive her MFA in Theatre Design at Yale School of Drama. Deb O’s extensive scenography training and range of experiences—as well as her background in folk art, dance, gymnastics, clowning, puppetry, found object art, sculpture, and mask making—have lent themselves to innovative approaches to the creation of unique theatrical events.

Social: Instagram


A Witness Relocation Production


Playwright: Chuck Mee

Performer / Co-Choreographer: Marcus McGregor

Director / Choreographer: Dan Safer

Original Music / Sound: Christian Frederickson

Performer: Daniel Pettrow

Voiceovers: Kevin Mambo and Angela Winkler

Projections: Tom Kalin

Lighting Design: Jay Ryan

Set and Costume Design: Deb O

Dramaturg: Katherine Profeta

Producer: Sophie Ancival

The History of Empires is directed and choreographed by Dan Safer with music and sound design by Christian Frederickson, both MIT Music and Theater Arts faculty members. Returning to campus are performer and co-choreographer Marcus McGregor and filmmaker and video artist Tom Kalin, with playwright Chuck Mee participating virtually. Joining the project and residency are set designer Deb O, costume designer Alicia Austin, lighting designer Jay Ryan, and performer Daniel Pettrow.

Presented by the MIT Center for Arts, Science & Technology (CAST) and MIT Music and Theater Arts.

Development of The History of Empires was also funded in part by an NYS Choreographers Initiative grant.