Katherine Adler (L) and Kitty Sailer (R) during their performance of Inventory, choreographed by Samuel Hanson. Photo: Robin Sessions
Sugar Space is tucked away on 616 Wilmington Ave. in Sugarhouse, which provides for a sense of stealing away to a small mountain town, and lends her performances an intimate tone. As I took my seat, too small kids—brothers, by the looks of it—were dancing on the black stage floor with stuffed toy snakes that matched their respective yellow and blue, striped outfits to the amusement of the adults. As the house music faded, Sugar Space director and founder Brittany Reese introduced the show and informed the audience that Sugar Space will be opening a second space on the West Side at 130 South and 300 West, and encouraged attendees to make a donation to the cause, which you can do here.
Leah Nelson Del Porto and Cortney McGuire of fivefour kicked off the showcase with their piece, “my space is sometimes yours.” An older piece in their repertoire, “my space is sometimes yours” is honed and polished. The program previewed that the piece was devoid of musical accompaniment, which turned out to be an excellent choice, as the under-the-breath mutterings between Nelson and McGuire proved to be not only entertaining, but underpinned the conceptual content of the piece, which was negotiating space with another person and the shifting boundaries. The two began at Front Stage Right in positions on the floor as if they were sitting on a hill, and shifted and minutely wiggled like children or a couple sharing a bed. There was a comical use of their summer dresses, which were short and often revealed the two’s underwear, which they repeatedly yanked down. They executed much of their movement verisimililarly, with their arms moving in long, sweeping motions, and they often collided uncomfortably with each other. The intended awkwardness elicited laughter from the aforementioned brothers who freely sang and exclaimed their wonder with comments like “I wonder what she’s going to do next!” The audience reveled in their commentary, and after they sang “The ABCs,” McGuire implored Nelson to redo a phrase where they moved along a diagonal because the “ABCs” recitation was a distraction, and they danced closely with one another again. I first thought that their designation of the work as being a quartet was a slab of cheeky, meta-dance commentary, but I later learned that Nelson and McGuire are both expecting a child each! Had they not been, though, the two little dudes in the crowd surely made for good accompaniment. At times, the two would spiral away from their union, and when they were together, their apologies for obstructing the other’s space worked out in a way that was both genuine and funny. The text for this piece was sparse, but effective, as Nelson invoked the similar conversational discomfort as Michael Cera’s movie roles; at one point she declared unto McGuire how great it was to be “talking” and to have somebody listening as McGuire tractor-beamed Nelson to her. Nelson would leave McGuire, and at one point, sat in with the audience as McGuire sat feigning devastation, and said, “You know I have an acute fear of dancing alone,” and they ended the piece. Nelson and McGuire effectively conveyed the necessity of human partnerships and the intrinsic and sometimes arbitrary discomforts therein. There’s something that really gets me with dances that are a bit understated—I give it a 10.
Next, dancers Katherine Adler, Kitty Sailer and Michael Watkiss lined up for Samuel Hanson’s piece, Inventory. I was endeared to the dance from the get-go, as Hanson used a track from one of my favorite artists, Bryan Lothian: “Yo-Yo You Go.” The main focal point as Sailer and Adler coursed through the stage was Watkiss reading one-liner descriptions of people (seemingly at random) from a list in a notebook, the only vestige of the identities of the people being their linguistic descriptors (i.e. a reference to an undergrad honors thesis by yours truly), as the demarcators of each identity were just numbers, e.g. Watkiss introduced “Number 47!” Watkiss’ acting skills shone with his crisp delivery. At the end of this segment, Sailer had apparently been keeping time on the watch she wore, and Watkiss exited. The next section of the dance included Adler and Sailer moving in near unison on their feet with phrases where the two would point to the audience and upward, sometimes facing the wall behind them, usually on their feet. They recited text that flowed through different identities, delivered in sentences using the second person. What evidenced the shifting persons was that Adler and Sailer would deliver statements referring to “you” that shifted gender, such as speaking to an “idyllic matriarchal” figure (thus causing the speakers to reveal that they used to mistake the addressee’s true name for Barbara), then shift to a statement like, “You were the only boy I knew in high school who enjoyed dance belts.” As with the previous dance, the two moved in a verisimilar way, which evinced the theme of the piece, that one is defined by those around her. For the third part, Watkiss re-entered the stage to read off a couple more names, and Sailer and Adler recited a series of “yeses” and “noes,” counting on their fingers. Ultimately, the piece’s text resonated as a spectacular experiment, although it somewhat stifled the dance aspect. I am certain, however, that as this piece grows, the three sections will be sutured together and the language and movements will coalesce more. Not one to settle for cakewalks, Hanson presented another challenging and engaging piece, and the dancers executed the score deftly.
After a brief intermission, the Movement Forum troupe entered and brought two volunteers to the stage to accompany their improv-based dance, The Fence. I must say that I regret not raising my hand to volunteer, because the extent of their volunteerism, in total, included sitting in a chair and eating an ice cream cone. The dancers formed two teams, red and blue, and moved in groups like schools of fish. As they moved through each other, at times, one dancer would hook onto another from the opposing team, like a snag of clothes on some thorny bushes. Next, Watkiss (who reappeared in this piece) and Nancy Carter staged a fight, some wrestling improv, with the blue team stationed at Stage Right and the red team at Stage Left, subtly cheering for their teammate. Nelson, who also reappeared in Movement Forum, broke up the squabble and asked the audience some questions. The blue team changed to the white team and the red to black as representatives of vanilla and chocolate, respectively, and Nelson asked the crowd which ice cream flavor they preferred. She posed the question of which flavor best complemented cherries, and the chocolate team and the vanilla team improvised their points of view as to which flavor worked best: The black team stacked on each other, calling to mind a sense of “structure”; the white team’s iteration was a bit nonsensical. Nelson asked an audience member to pose a question, and he asked which was better for a hangover, and the dancers followed up, the black team seeming to display the heartiness of chocolate and the white team seeming to display the tender delight of vanilla. The dancers then merged teams to enact the idea of an ice cream swirl, in a sort of happy coming to terms, after Nelson sent the volunteers back to their seats, and they eventually conjured their own cones. One dancer dropped one (I believe it was Carter), and they performed a mourning ceremony with their arms stretched to the air. Dance improvisation, I would wager, is difficult, and to procure a seamless dance that’s based upon improv seems like a hefty task. The Fence, however, included too many facets of the theme (working with/through/etc. animosity between groups of people), which exhausted the piece of its allure and made it feel too long. If I had my druthers, I would have started the dance with Nelson’s communication with the crowd, and cut Your Kid Sister’s cover of Rancid’s “Poison.” You can learn more about Movement Forum here.
Sample Tracks was a fantastic opportunity for very different choreographers to show their work, whether they were long-set pieces, fresh works in progress or improv. The crowd was meager, but, to my pleasure, I got to share an experience of seeing performance devoid of disingenuous assholes who go to the ballet for the mere sake of “seeing art” because it’s the cultured thing to do. If you’re not an asshole, Salt Lake City is home to a vibrant, DIY dance community, so make sure to check out more productions from Sugar Space and other people making dance.