Multitudes: University of Utah’s Dance Graduate Students Perform
Bucking the trend of previous years, this December is shaping up to be a busy month for dance here in Zion. Monday night I attended a book signing co-hosted by King’s English and the 15th Street Gallery. New Yorker Wendy Perron, current editor of Dance Magazine, was promoting her new book, which includes, among other things, a fascinating interview with Susan Sontag and a heartbreaking piece about her friendship with the iconic Arnie Zane, who was one of many New York dancers who died from AIDS in the ’80s. Sadly, very few people made it to the reading. Those who did were mostly professional dancers, dance professors and artistic directors—what a missed opportunity for dance fans and students! The sparse attendance did make it a great opportunity for me to catch up with my colleagues and learn what they’re up to this month.
Ashley Anderson, who you may know as the director of loveDANCEmore, is headed to New York City to perform in Draftwork at the St. Marks Church. Alex Bradshaw, who dances in Ririe Woodbury Dance Company, got me excited about their upcoming show, “Momentum”—a unique annual showcase of alumni choreography. According to Bradshaw, the hot ticket on this alternating double bill is Tara McArthur and Brad Beaks getting back to their Jazz roots in Andy Vaca’s “Big Big Love” (Friday, Dec. 13 night, Sat. Dec. 14 matinee). Personally, I can’t wait to see Stephanie Nugent’s new work (Dec. 11 and 14, night). I’ve been hearing about her presence in the Contact Improvisation community in California for years, and I had no idea she was a Ririe alum.
“Momentum” is December 12–14, but let’s backtrack to this coming weekend for another chance to see fresh dance. This Thursday through Saturday (Dec. 5-7), the University of Utah’s graduate students in dance will mount “Multitudes,” celebrating the culmination of three years’ research in the studio. I asked Scotty Hardwig, one of the six graduating this spring, why people should go. “I do have a buzz word for you,” he replied, “diversity.” He expounded that show contained both a diversity of people and diverse perspectives on the choreographic process. Compatriot Alyssa Tolman noted that the show had, against all odds, “developed a sense of unity,” as seemingly unrelated dances gestated eerily similar movement motifs and thematics. Tolman went on to compare her thesis dance process to the rehearsals they went through with New York–based guest Raja Kelly, who set a group work with all six members of Tolman and Hardwig’s class. (He also recently performed at our very own Mudson series here in SLC.)
Kelly’s work, “things fall down, people look up, when it rains, it pours” deals with topics as disparate as Buddhist philosophy, an Onion article about a grad student deconstructing a Mexican restaurant menu, landscape and the nature of improvisation itself. Said Tolman, “At first I was frustrated with [Kelly’s] process … and then I realized how similar it was to my own.” Tolman’s own work explores ways of showing the individuals who comprise her cast through material generated through improvisational tasks. She spoke of the struggle to find authenticity and realness—a topic of conversation I hear echoed all over the dance world these days. What impressed her about Kelly’s process was that, despite how disparate everything they did in rehearsal first felt, “[they] ended up using everything they’d worked on together,” she said. Kelly may indeed be a master of pastiche—his current project in New York re-appropriates Drella, Andy Warhol’s drag persona, and is described as a “movement-based drag performance essay.”
There’s an interesting through line to note in the events described above. We’re about to see a lot more work that’s more explicitly improvisational in the dance scene this winter. One more example is happening Friday, Dec. 6. Movement Forum is fundraising to bring the work of several New York choreographers to town. (Their event is free and takes place at the new Sugar Space location at 124 West 840 South. Mini-performances are at 7:30 and 8:30.) They’re hoping to bring improvisation scores by Gabriel Forestieri, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Miguel Gutierrez and others for an evening of work in Fall 2014. Personally, I hope they’re very successful—more improvisation usually means more risk, and that’s a trend I can get behind.