This article originally ran in the Cleveland Daily Banner on March 27, 2019
“The Veil: Creation of Glory,” the Broadway-style musical ballet centered around the world’s creation and God’s involvement throughout, is scheduled for its seventh annual showing Saturday and Sunday, at the Conn Center.
In addition to the message this show brings to Cleveland, its team is planning to work with the upcoming interactive biblical museum, Trek Thru Truth, to potentially incorporate dance into the museum’s plethora of offerings.
“The Veil” is the most recognizable show created by local dance organization Unity Dance Troupe. Founded in 2010 by Alexis Burleson and managed by her husband, Austin, Unity Dance Troupe is a professional touring company and academy situated in the heart of Cleveland which uses the art of dance as an innovative and creative way to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Alexis started Unity Dance Troupe as a club at Lee University before the school even allowed dance clubs.
“I really believe Unity played a big part in showing how dance doesn’t have to be sleazy. It can be a form of worship. I’m a professional ballet dancer trained in the Russian-style of dance, so at Unity, we don’t just get together and jump around; there’s an actual syllabus that goes along with it all. Plus, when you put God into the mix, you have a really great combo of excellence and ministry,” Alexis said.
The idea for Unity Dance Troupe came to Alexis in a vision when she was 14 years old, she said.
She said God told her she’d one day write a show about His heart from His perspective. While she expected to postpone this show until middle age, all items she needed to make the show happen fell into her lap during her senior year at Lee, and she put on the first showing of “The Veil.”
Since its first opening night, the cast of the show has expanded its experience and talent immensely, with many dancers and performers having worked in their respective fields for years. Unity Dance Troupe’s Cleveland location has 340 students, while its Ooltewah location has 40. For “The Veil,” 48 dancers will take the stage.
The Burlesons met Trek Thru Truth founder Doug Caywood after Caywood reached out to them to compliment their show.
“It wound up working out really well because Doug is an architect, and created a design for us for a future, larger studio. For the museum, we’re discussing what it would look like to have Bible stories told through arts and drama,” Austin said. “Any good theme park or museum incorporates that dramatic aspect.”
Austin is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, and Alexis is from Buffalo, New York. They both moved here to attend Lee University, and initially majored in psychology and accounting, respectively. Through working with Alexis, Austin is now finishing up his master of business administration in nonprofit management, and helping grow the company with his wife. Unity Dance Troupe has 25 employees, including six full-time employees.
Students of all ages participate, with the younger ones having their own version of “The Veil” to put on at a different point in the year following the adult production.
“We’re caring, accepting and excellent. We don’t compromise on those. We also really take care of our workers, because when we empower our employees, they empower our dancers. Our employees help us market as well,” Alexis said.
The couple cited the public reaction to their show as “amazing” over the years. Their unique take on various stories and interpretations has earned them praise for even the tiniest of details such as making the Holy Spirit a female.
“That kind of thing sort of disarms people. If this show makes you feel uncomfortable, it makes you face your theology. It makes you think, ‘Why am I not comfortable with God being portrayed as a man with a white beard in the clouds?’ I highly recommend this show for anyone,” Alexis said.
Despite being devoid of dialogue aside from a single monologue, “The Veil’s” performances, storytelling and musical selection elicit incredibly emotional responses from its audience, as Austin said dancers can hear the audience weeping throughout. He added some people have said they had to take time to process what they’d just seen after seeing the show.
The couple made sure to praise their donors and partners, as word-of-mouth and financial support have done wonders for the show since its inception.
In addition to “The Veil,” Alexis is currently finishing writing an all-new production set for Nov. 22 – 24 called “Scrooge,” which will go over the life of Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” but with a unique twist about forgiveness. This information was first revealed to the Cleveland Daily Banner, and will be announced publicly during the showing of “The Veil.”
Unity has held other plays in the past such as the “Life of Job,” and “Dreamer,” which is about the life of Joseph. Austin said they are hoping for “Scrooge” to grow into a holiday tradition, such as “The Nutcracker.”
“The more we can perform, the better, and working with Trek Thru Truth is going to give us an excellent platform for not only raising awareness of our dance troupe, but also giving the museum yet another unique and interactive attraction,” Austin said.
Since Caywood is heavily focused on the tangible elements of his upcoming museum, the addition of a physical dance troupe will be a great addition to its hall, Alexis says.
“Trek Thru Truth is going to show people just how exciting the Bible can be. It’s not boring and dry. It can really be engaging!” Alexis added.
Admission is free for “The Veil”; however, preferred seating can be purchased along with backstage passes. A love offering will also be taken up at the show’s conclusion.
“The Veil: Creation of Glory” takes place on Saturday at 2 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in the Lee University Conn Center. For more information, call 423-790-5800.
To learn more about Trek Thru Truth, go to www.trekthrutruth.com.