Salt Lake City’s Repertory Dance Theatre has created a living museum of classic 20th century choreography.
When the Rockefeller Foundation approached Linda C. Smith about the possibility of establishing a modern dance company in Salt Lake City, she was stunned. The idea of Rockefeller seed money underwriting a salaried professional repertory ensemble seemed unbelievable. But it was the ’60s. Definitions were crumbling, artists were heaving out the old assumptions, and arts funding in the United States was entering its most imaginative and expansive period. In 1966 the Rockefeller’s philanthropic gamble launched the Repertory Dance Theatre, now celebrating its 40th anniversary as an anchor component of the Salt Lake City arts community.
Prompted by the influential Utah modern dance educator Virginia Tanner, the Rockefeller Foundation envisioned a small company that would function leaderless, an “artistic democracy” performing revivals of landmark dances as well as new works. Repertory—in the sense long accepted for opera and symphonic music—has been a difficult concept for modern dance. Companies lived uncertainly from year to year, fed by the creative energies and personal charisma of their leaders, and convinced that to be “modern” meant dispensing with the past. By the mid-’60s only one major company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, regularly showed the work of several choreographers, but like its peers Ailey’s identity in the world bore the imprint of its artistic director. Given the highly individual, choreographer-centric nature of the field, it took an outside agency to create a different model.
Repertory Dance Theatre was conceived as a permanent company committed not to any single artist’s dreams but to modern dance as a whole. A collective enterprise with no particular stylistic territory to protect or promote, RDT set out to explore what a living archive might look like. Within three years the eight-dancer company had taken on challenges as diverse as José Limón’s formal Vivaldi Concerto Grosso, Anna Sokolow’s angst-ridden Steps of Silence, and the lush lyricism of Nocturne by Donald McKayle. At a time when freelancing was almost unknown in modern dance, early commissions to Geoffrey Holder, Glen Tetley, and John Butler established RDT as a working instrument for choreographers without companies of their own. In addition, RDT set out to encourage local choreographic talent, especially from within its own ranks.
The company began life as artists in residence in a converted World War II army barracks on the campus of The University of Utah. The university contributed in-kind support, and its dance department trained many of the original dancers, but RDT was to remain artistically auto-nomous. While the company worked out its game plan, the Rockefeller money was gradually phased out, as intended. For the first decade, RDT functioned as a collective, building a repertory and a reputation both locally and more broadly as a participant in the National Endowment for the Arts Dance Touring Program. In 1972 they began giving six-week summer sessions that attracted 150–200 students and brought in vital revenue.
Teaching was also an important source of income for the dancers as their initial 52-week contract gradually stabilized at between 30 and 35 weeks. While the company was housed at the U. of Utah—parallel but not attached to the dance department—on-campus teaching activities were necessarily limited. Today most RDT dancers teach part-time at area colleges and universities or in the company’s own school. Smith describes RDT’s classes in modern, ballet, jazz, hip hop, flamenco, African, and ballroom as a service to the community rather than training for dance professionals.
Linda Smith and Kay Clark were elected as artistic coordinators in 1977, and the leadership passed to Smith after Kay Clark moved to California in 1983. By then the company had acquired works by most of the pioneers. They had produced a survey evening, “Then: The Early Years of Modern Dance” and collected enough Doris Humphrey dances to fill a program. Later surveys and “American Masters” programs extended from the early years of American concert dance to Merce Cunningham and postmodern pioneer Yvonne Rainer. Company dancers like Tim Wengerd and Bill Evans made new works, along with contemporary choreographers Lar Lubovitch and Jennifer Muller, and postmoderns Douglas Dunn and Viola Farber. The ’70s ended and the dance boom decelerated, along with ambitious schemes for new theaters. RDT began a search for a new home that continued for the next 20 years.
Determined to leave their barracks at The U. of Utah, they looked at unsuitable buildings and pursued one doomed plan after another. In 1985 the university announced plans for a new dance building, without space for the company. Looking to strengthen their campaign for an off-campus home, in 1989 RDT spearheaded the formation of a consortium of area groups, the Performing Arts Coalition, to find a location, plan, fund-raise, and ultimately realize a building. When the U.U. barracks were finally demolished in 1992, the company moved into the first of a series of temporary spaces downtown.
Anticipating the 2002 Olympics, the city was revitalizing its downtown area, with arts facilities as a major component. In 1993 Salt Lake County purchased an industrial site, the Restaurant Equipment and Supply Company, to develop the PAC project. The proponents launched a major drive to raise what eventually amounted to over $15 million for a new building. Early in the process, they gained a superb benefactor in Izzi Wagner, a local businessman who had actually been born on the RESCO site, who’d lived and built a recycling business there, and who endowed the future performing arts center as a memorial to his mother, Rose Wagner, and to his dancer wife, Jeanné, and his sister Leona.
The Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center grew in two phases. The first, opened in 1997, houses RDT’s offices and studios, the Leona Wagner Black Box Theater, and a smaller space now used for experimental theater productions. In 2001 Phase II was completed, with more office and studio spaces and the beautiful 500-seat Jeanné Wagner mainstage surrounded by a sweeping, windowed lobby and gallery spaces. The entire building is owned and administered by Salt Lake County. RDT, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, and the Gina Bachauer Piano Competition are regular residents, with other community groups and private functions renting spaces when the schedule allows.
RDT’s 40th anniversary season kicked off in September with “Touchstone,” a program that could be a microcosm of its eclectic mission over the years. Acknowledging its kinship to Virginia Tanner—Linda Smith and several other company members started their dance life in Tanner’s Children’s Dance Theatre—the company revived the 1978 showcase Together, with sections choreographed by former RDT dancer Tina Misaka Mary Ann Lee (now the director of CDT), Linda Smith, and Kay Clark. Almost 50 CDT children from tots to teenagers joined the company dancers in a celebration of multigenerational musicality.
Veteran RDT choreographer-designer Marina Harris contributed a lyrical solo for dancer Lynn Listing, and Todd Allen, now dancing and choreographing in New York, represented all RDT alumni dancers with his own introspective solo Lend Me Your Hot Licks.
Allen also took one of the adult male roles in Together, having learned every move from the wings as a boy. Initiated into Virginia Tanner’s classes at the age of 3, he went onstage a year later and hasn’t exited yet. Allen says he thinks of Virginia Tanner as his artistic grandmother and his exposure to choreographers of many persuasions during his six years with RDT as excellent preparation for the variety of dance opportunities he finds in New York.
Laura Dean’s late-minimalist Sky Light (1982) was acquired by the company in 1991. Its propulsive geometric patterns and high-intensity stepping, spinning teamwork have made it a great favorite with RDT audiences.
RDT first commissioned New York choreographer Zvi Gotheiner in 1993, and since then they’ve forged a productive relationship yielding half a dozen works. For the 40th, Gotheiner made Bricks, a dance-theater piece that evoked the company’s own struggle to build a home and a working collaborative. The dance was a process. Three overlapping layers of activity played out over its 40-minute life span. People worked at constructing rudimentary walls and doorways out of plastic blocks. One or two at a time they danced their personal dramas. And in the background, like some necessary, taken-for-granted engine, they performed a series of closely-woven group dances that seemed to have the capacity to continue evolving indefinitely.
The piece suggested not only the RDT story but today’s news of shelter, home, territoriality, hope, despair, and refuge. When someone accidentally knocked over the biggest wall during the second performance, the metaphor became poignantly real as the dancers struggled to repair and rebuild while they finished the rest of the dance. New metaphors arose: New Orleans, September 11th, and the effortful journey to the Rose Building itself.
On Sunday after the final performance, the company left on a two-week tour of Idaho and Montana. A few days later I asked Linda Smith on the phone what she saw as RDT’s next big challenge. Security, she said, sustaining the company by strengthening the opportunities for individuals and maintaining ties with the community. Smith hopes to commission more works based on real world themes, like the landscape and history of the West. Most of all, she thinks about keeping the dancers working with the company even after they stop performing, “so we don’t lose this marvelous institutional memory and everything we’ve learned.”
Marcia B. Siegel visited Salt Lake City in September to give talks and a writing workshop at RDT. Her relationship with the company began in 1979, when she authored the script for the program, “Then: The Early Years of Modern Dance.” Siegel’s new book, Howling Near Heaven—Twyla Tharp and the Reinvention of Modern Dance, will be published by St. Martin’s Press next month.
As a very shy little girl, my happy place was my room, where I would wear improvised costumes and giggle with happiness while dancing for an imaginary audience. I was raised in a family where dancing was "normal." My mom and sisters graduated from the national ballet academy in Poland, and I, of course, wanted to follow their steps. But I was never forced to. I am proud to say I discovered the magic of ballet all by myself.
Photo by Costin Radu, courtesy of Petra Conti
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The midterm elections are less than three weeks away on November 6. If you're registered to vote, hooray!
But you can't fully celebrate before you've completed your mission. Showing up at the polls is what matters most—especially since voter turnout for midterms doesn't have a fabulous track record. According to statistics from FairVote, about 40 percent of the population that is eligible to vote actually casts a ballot during midterm elections.
Many members of the dance community are making it clear that they want that percentage go up, and they're using social media to take a stand. Here's how they're getting involved:
Dancers will do just about anything to increase their odds of staying injury-free. And there are plenty of products out there claiming that they can help you do just that. But which actually work?
We asked for recommendations from four experts: Martt Lawrence, who teaches Pilates to dancers in San Francisco; Lisa-Marie Lewis, who teaches yoga at The Ailey Extension in New York City; physical therapist Alexis Sams, who treats dancers at her clinic in Phoenix; and stretch training coach Vicente Hernandez, who teaches at The School of Pennsylvania Ballet.
With a contemporary air that exalts—rather than obscures—flamenco tradition, and a technique and stamina that boggle the mind, Eduardo Guerrero's professional trajectory has done nothing but skyrocket since being named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" earlier this year. His 2017 solo Guerrero has toured widely, and he has created premieres for the Jerez Festival (Faro) and the 2018 Seville Flamenco Biennial (Sombra Efímera). In the midst of his seemingly unstoppable ascension, he's created Gaditanía, his first work utilizing a corps de ballet. Guerrero is currently touring the U.S. with this homage to Cadiz, the city of his birth.
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At our cover shoot for the November issue, Bobbi Jene Smith curated one of the best lineups of YouTube music videos that I've heard in a long time. From Bob Dylan to Tom Waits, they felt like such perfect choices for her earthy, visceral movement and soulful approach to dance.
Dance technology has come a long way from ballet variations painstakingly learned by watching fuzzy VHS tapes. Over the last few years, a dizzying number of online training programs have cropped up, offering the chance to take class in contemporary, jazz, ballet, tap, hip hop and even ballroom from the comfort of your own living room or studio.
Usually, it takes new recruits a few seasons to make their mark at the Paul Taylor Dance Company. But Taylor wasted no time in honing in on the talents of Alex Clayton. Only a few months after Clayton joined in June 2017, Taylor created an exciting solo for him in his new Concertiana, filled with explosive leaps and quick footwork. Clayton was also featured in new works by Doug Varone and Bryan Arias. At 5' 6" he may be compact, but onstage he fills the space with a thrilling sense of attack.
Scottish Ballet is turning 50 next year, but they'll be the one giving out the gifts.
In 2019, the company will make five wishes from fans come true, as a way of thanking them for their loyalty and support over the years. "It can be anything from the dancers performing at a birthday party or on the banks of Loch Ness, or even the chance to get on stage and be part of a Scottish Ballet show," according to the company.
Recently, English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams announced that she will no longer be wearing pink tights. With the support of her artistic director Tamara Rojo, she will instead wear chocolate brown tights (and shoes) that match her flesh tone.
It may seem like a simple change, but this could be a watershed moment—one where the aesthetics of ballet begin to expand to include the presence of people of color.
Flamenco dancer and choreographer Rocío Molina created her first full-length production, Entre paredes ("Between Walls"), at the age of 22. At 26, the prodigy received Spain's National Dance Prize, the most coveted dance award in Spain. Now 34, her rupture with tradition makes her no stranger to controversy. But it, and her fiercely personal and contemporary style, means that each new project is a fascinating voyage.
Molina is the subject of French filmmaker Emilio Belmonte's first feature length documentary, IMPULSO. The film, which makes its U.S. theatrical premiere at New York City's Film Forum on October 17, follows Molina for two years as she tours Europe presenting a series of improvised works. These improvisations ultimately inspired the creation of one of Molina's masterworks, Caída de Cielo ("Fallen from Heaven"), which premiered in 2016.
In a move that was both surprising and seemingly inevitable, New York City Ballet closed its fall season by promoting seven dancers. Joseph Gordon, who was promoted to soloist in February 2017, is now a principal dancer. Daniel Applebaum, Harrison Coll, Claire Kretzschmar, Aaron Sanz, Sebastian Villarini-Velez and Peter Walker have been promoted to soloist.
Newly promoted soloist Peter Walker has been showing his abilities as a leading man in ballets like Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB
The announcement was made on Saturday by Jonathan Stafford, the head of NYCB's interim leadership team. These seven promotions mark the first since longtime ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired in the midst of harassment allegations at the beginning of this year. While Stafford and fellow interim leaders Rebecca Krohn, Craig Hall and Justin Peck have made some bold choices in terms of programming—such as commissioning Kyle Abraham and Emma Portner to create new works for the 2018–19 season—their primary focus has appeared to be keeping the company running on an even keel while the search for a new artistic leader is ongoing. Some of us theorized that we would not be seeing any promotions until a new artistic director was in place.
Ryan Steele has a simple rule for demanding days on Broadway: "I listen to my body," he says. "I have whatever I'm craving: If I need more protein, I go straight for that. If I'm tired, I know I need carbs."
This wasn't always Steele's approach. Growing up, shuttling between the studio and school meant relying on McDonald's and Burger King.
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
Earlier this week, a friend of a friend reached out to me seeking recommendations for a dancer/choreographer to hire. She wanted someone who could perform a solo and talk about their process for an arts-appreciation club. After a few emails back and forth, as I was trying to find out exactly what kind of choreographer she was looking for, it eventually emerged that she was not looking to pay this person.
"We are hoping to find someone who would be willing to participate in exchange for the exposure," she wrote.
Why do people think this is an okay thing to ask for?
For over a decade, husband-and-wife team Pascal Rioult and Joyce Herring, artistic and associate artistic directors of RIOULT Dance NY, dreamed of building a space for their company and fellow artists in the community, and a school for future dancers. This month, their 11,000-square-foot dream opens its doors in the Kaufman Arts District in Astoria, Queens, a New York City neighborhood across the East River from Manhattan.
In the final years of her decade-long career with the Lewitzky Dance Company, University of Arizona Associate Professor Amy Ernst began to develop an interest in dance injury prevention. She remembers feeling an urge to widen her understanding of dance and the body. Soon after retirement from the Company, she was hired by the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Inglewood, California as a physical therapy assistant, where she worked for the next three and a half years. This work eventually led her to pursue an M.F.A. in dance at the University of Washington-Seattle. She remembers growing into the role of a professor during her time pursuing her degree. That incubation phase was critical. Ernst joined the faculty at the University of Arizona in 1995, and now as director of the M.F.A. program, mentors the new generation of dance faculty, company directors and innovators.
With cooler weather finally here, it's time to talk warm-ups. And while your dancewear drawer is probably overflowing with oversized sweaters, leggings and enough leg warmers to outfit the whole class, warm-up boots are often forgotten. To keep your feet and ankles cozy in between rehearsals, we rounded up dance warm-up boots that suit every style.
Bloch Inc. Printed Warm-up Bootie
via Bloch Inc.
Created by Irina Dvorovenko and Max Beloserkovsky, this collection comes in a variety of tie dye, floral and even butterfly prints.
Some of my favorite experiences as both an audience member and a dancer have involved audience participation. Artists who cleverly use participatory moments can make bold statements about the boundaries between performer and spectator, onstage and off. And the challenge to be more than a passive viewer can redefine an audience's relationship to what they're watching. But all the experiences I've loved have had something in common: They've given audiences a choice.
A few weeks back, I had a starkly different experience—one that has caused me to think deeply about how consent should play into audience-performer relationships.
What happens when you mix two really good things together? Sometimes, it can be magical. It's practically guaranteed when one of those elements is the wizarding world of Harry Potter, and the other is—wait for it—dance-team–style hip hop.
When the Bible spoke of the "ingathering of the exiles," it didn't have dance in mind. Yet, this month, more than 100 dancers, choreographers and scholars from around the world will gather at Arizona State University to celebrate the impact of Jews and the Jewish experience on dance. From hora to hip hop, social justice to somatics, ballet to Gaga, the three-day event (Oct. 13–15) is "deliberately inclusive," says conference organizer and ASU professor Naomi Jackson.