Author: Samuel Hanson

Photo: Stuart Ruckman

Dallas Graham was one of the first artists I became aware of when I moved here,” says Daniel Charon, who came to Salt Lake City six years ago to add his talents to the artistic direction of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. Since they met, it’s been “in the back or [Charon’s] head,” that one day the two would work together. Ririe-Woodbury is more than half a century old and one of the most successful repertory companies this side of the Mississippi. Graham’s Red Fred Project is a relatively new non-profit that facilitates experiences for children with life-threatening illnesses. Specifically, it allows these kids to try their hands at writing books. Graham’s inventiveness and passion for storytelling inspired Charon to try something new this year with the slot the company typically reserves for a “family friendly” show.

What’s to come of the collaboration is the live creature and ethereal things, which Charon describes as a totally new direction for the company. Charon says he looks at what they’re doing with this show as being “sort of like a Pixar film,” in that it’s made to appeal to many different audiences all at once. Advertising might lead people to believe it’s a kid’s show, but the live creature and ethereal things is something that always has an adult audience in mind as well, it’s one of those pieces where the craft required to make it work on both levels fuels the creation of something that it’s more inventive as a result. Charon suggests the performance would make great fare for a date or other such special night out on the town.

All of the major collaborators on the project are other Utah artists Charon met though Graham, including composer John Paul Hayward and costumer Jared Gold. Charon is particularly excited about Hayward’s score, which received special support form the Charles and Joan Gross Family Foundation. He told me to expect something that will remind the audience at turns of their favorite Broadway musical, the experience of singing around a campfire and even twentieth-century Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, all within the course of a single evening.

The most visible collaborators, of course, are the theatrical talents of Flying Bobcat, Alexandra Harbold and Robert Scott Smith. Fans of Flying Bobcat’s work will be surprised to see them stretch into the new space of physical acting, although they’ve also collaborated with Charlotte Boye-Christensen’s NOW-ID. (Oddly enough Boye-Christiansen is Charon’s predecessor at Ririe-Woodbury.) The movement in the work is created collaboratively by Charon, the dancers and other performers reflecting Graham’s imaginary cast of birds, the Jolly Troop, which he uses to foster creativity among the kids his organization serves. The text contains an inventive mixture of Spanish and English.

As much as this show represents a departure for Ririe-Woodbury in terms of how the company creates a “family” show, it carries on a strong tradition of serving Utah’s K-12 students. This year over six thousand students will see matinees of this performance for free and many of these students will have received introductory educational materials from education director Ai Fujii Nelson, herself a local choreographer and company alum. Moving away from the familiar tropes of dance education you might be used to (time, space and energy, anyone?) the material students will experience in class for this project will ask larger questions about how the dancing body can address and express themes of friendship, trust and loss.

In past family shows, existing works commissioned by the company were reframed for family audiences, usually either with a theme or a loose story stringing existing repertory together. Some Ririe-Woodbury fans may remember former education director and company alum Gigi Arrington’s brilliant cameos (such as Mr. On d’Move). While those performances were highly successful at making dance accessible, this piece has truly been a local collaboration, and a chance to create a multi-genre happening that is truly of Salt Lake.

The company is having a busy year, in addition to this project, their home season contains another new work by Charon and a piece by local hero Stephen Koester, who will be retiring from the University’s School of Dance this year. Koester’s legacy as a teacher connects him to students all over the country like Juan Aldape, who makes work in the Bay Area, and Molly Heller, who is active here and in New York. Ririe-Woodbury’s dancers will also be touring to North Carolina and Montclair, New Jersey, to present Ann Carlson’s Elizabeth, the Dance.

Ririe-Woodbury’s dancers will also be touring to North Carolina and Montclair, New Jersey, to present Ann Carlson’s Elizabeth, the Dance. Critic Amy Falls has expressed the satisfying difficulty to discuss Elizabeth in its entirety because of the amount of amusingly bemusing incidences in the piece. If the buzz around it is any guide, the same might well ring true for this new creation.

Legacy rehearsals. Photo: Bill Evans

Utah’s Repertory Dance Theater is an institution both blessed and burdened by history. It began a ‘60s-era socialist experiment, a dancer’s collective funded by New York money to bring modern dance innovation to the heartland. Somehow in those intervening years it has become a sometimes-stodgy museum of “American century” dance. However, the dancers in this company are stunning and worth talking about, even if the work they’re doing isn’t exactly au courant. The story of modern dance in the United States is inherently underground. Like any subculture that lasts through several generations, modern dance history—when well told––can be a vehicle for encountering forgotten but necessary parts of the grand American narrative.

“Missa Brevis,” a large-scale work for more than 20 by José Limón, was the intended focal point of “Legacy”. For me, however, the highlight was his teacher Doris Humphrey’s “Two Ecstatic Themes.” Humphrey had a boldly communitarian vision of dance––her 1931 solo looks like it might have come straight from the heart of a woman from Dorothea Lange’s photography. Even though she’s alone onstage in a dress that Martha Graham herself might have donned, Sarah Donohue seems to feel how her angular suffering and breathy ecstasy are connected to the suffering nation and world around her. The black void of the stage is just a formal convenience.

Sarah Donohue captures not only the steps, but also what feels like the real texture of the people who were living and dancing in the U.S. in 1931. This living echo is precious, something which otherwise is only available in photography and phonograph. After seeing her in “Themes” and in Mary Wigman’s “Hexentanz” a few years ago, I’d be willing to call her the best early twentieth century reconstruction artist I’ve ever seen.

“Missa Brevis,” which concludes the evening, premiered at Julliard in 1958. It shows how Limón carried forward many of his mentor’s ideas in a decidedly melodramatic, almost operatic idiom. It’s tiresomely dated at turns, but shows Limón off as an indisputable master of large groups of bodies, eclipsing even the choral powers of the German Expressionists and Humphery. The work is rendered nearly perfectly by RDT with guests from UVU and BYU.

New hire Justin Bass and Efrén Corado make the very best of too much Ted Shawn. (Wasn’t there enough of his mediocre, if historically significant work in the company’s recent “100 Years of Modern Dance”? Why does his work make me feel like I’m watching “Steamboat Willie”?) Rosy Goodman singlehandedly saves a structurally impenetrable solo by Ze’eva Cohen through pure will and talent. In short, RDT is a company with a lot of potential that is often squandered. Hopefully the new associate artistic director, former performer Nicholas Cendese, can inject some new ideas into the processes of curating and coaching, which have felt stagnant in recent years. While opening a new path, let’s hope he can still honor the special work of looking back exemplified by Donohue––and his boss, founding director Linda Smith—this weekend in “Legacy” and throughout the company’s 48-year history.

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Posted in Art.

April Fossen and Kirt Bateman star in Nothing Personal. Photo Courtesy Plan B Theatre

Plan-B Theatre’s new show, “Nothing Personal,” plays out like a living nightmare––it’s only logic is poetic, it feels at turns both sudden and prolonged, and it reminds you of things you’re really afraid of. Its subject is Susan McDougal, who was incarcerated for contempt of court during Ken Starr’s Whitewater investigation in the ’90s, and has since been an advocate for prison rights. As I entered the Rose Wagner’s studio theater Thursday night, Susan McDougal was pacing a bleak square of light (subtly executed by Jesse Portillo) as she did a few more minutes time and the audience seated itself. When the lights dimmed, she was joined by her torturer, the demonic Kenneth Starr (Kirt Bateman) who proceeded to ask her over and over again the “three questions” she so famously refused to answer.

The interactions that ensue are historical fiction, and focus on the most salacious part of Starr’s strategy to dethrone Bill Clinton––forcing McDougal to admit to an alleged affair between herself and the then chief-of-state, who had already testified to the contrary. You need not remember the complex details of the Whitewater scandal to digest the action. The true subject is two differing studies of insanity, compare and contrast.

Bateman as Starr is a vessel for political anger at the right––a hulking amalgam of hypocrisy and villainous behavior American liberals love to hate. Dramatically, this works relatively well–– Bateman revels in turning Starr into a real sicko. When he waterboards McDougal, I know it’s probably not what really happened to her, but it still feels close to the bone–– and she was in fact subjected to eight months in solitary confinement. In another passage, meant to be equally chilling, Starr tries to deconstruct McDougal’s understanding of truth, reality and justice in a muddled speech meant to evoke the right’s intellectual infection by fundamentalist Christian rhetoric. This tact isn’t as scary as it should be––perhaps this is an issue on which I’m just more exhausted than angry, or perhaps the study of religious conservatives’ particular use of language isn’t quite up to snuff.

McDougal, who ends up just as crazy as Starr, is a compound image of oppressed groups––a victim of the U.S. prison-industrial complex, of the torture we now associate with Guantanamo Bay, and someone abject simply for the crime of being an honest, middle-aged woman. Her character is more ambiguous than Starr’s and thus altogether more interesting. April Fossen, who recently played another much less formidable woman in Miguel Santana’s “Real Housewives of Utah County,” makes the most of her role, keeping us guessing if she will break until the play’s final moments. The turn, when we realize that what we are seeing may in fact be in her sleep-deprived mind, is also excellently executed, thanks also to the work of Dee-Dee Darby Duffin, who plays McDougal’s prison guard or “matron,” the work’s only supporting role.

“Nothing Personal” is worth seeing if you’re strangely nostalgic for the ’90s or if you want to see something that mixes up your anger at the American right and renders it a fever dream. Maybe its introspective value is limited, it likely won’t make you question your existing beliefs, but it will make you think about how you might enact them under pressure––and as live entertainment, it’s quite a ride. Check out more about the play and its playwright, Eric Samuelsen on an episode of SLUG’s Soundwaves From The UnderGround.

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Artists of Ballet West in Jiri Kylian’s “Petite Mort.” Photo by Erik Ostling

Ballet West’s current season, which runs two and a half hours, is an ambitious bill, uniting the music of Stravinsky, Mozart and Gershwin. The orchestra, conducted by the company’s three very different and very able conductors, sustains interest throughout. First comes “The Firebird,” in a revival of the version by Willam Christensen, who founded the company in the ’60s as the Utah Civic Ballet––Ballet West is now commemorating its 50th anniversary. While competent and illustrative of the narrative, which was originally choreographed by Mikhail Fokine, Christensen’s stately court dances and fight scenes are ultimately a snooze. They display the formality, but lack the wit and absurdity of other revivals of Ballets Russes classics. (That iconic company would go on to premiere “The Rite of Spring” in 1913, three years after “Firebird.”) Ballet history buffs might have enjoyed the original choreography more, but I pined to see a slightly queerer new version (that recently took place in New York City).

The best piece on the bill was a 20-year-old work by Jiří Kylián, originally made for the Nederlands Dans Theater. “Petite Mort” has enjoyed a warm reception all over the world. It neither asks nor answers any hugely important questions about men and women. Even so, it is a clever, tightly conceived meditation on the contemporary value of that certain kind of heightened sexuality, which, for lack of a more precise term, often goes by the name of “contemporary ballet.” Ballet West’s dancers handle the sensualized distortions of traditional pas de deux vocabulary with aplomb, coming in and out to the floor with the seamlessness of modern dancers. I loved the scenes in which six black dresses animated themselves and the stage was cleared by an Isadora Duncan–esque tsunami of black cloth. (This 20 minutes was worth the two-hours-plus of relative boredom that surrounded it.)

While both safe choices, neither of the pieces above totally reeked of pandering to our expectations of companies like Ballet West. What did was “Who Cares,” George Balanchine’s homage to the music of Gershwin. “Who Cares” was the end of this long night, and in this context, looks every bit as outdated as Mr. C’s “Firebird” and (New York City Ballet pedigree aside) lacks its historical curiosity. Everyone dances with a fierce correctness, but they fail to make me see what other critics have long praised about this work––how brilliantly it marries European dance tradition with distinctively American music. I see that the two traditions coexist, but not in a way that changes my understanding of either one, and the exploration of heterosexual love is about as sophisticated as it tends to be in Ice Dancing at the Olympics. I will say that Christopher Sellars’ dancing, while less technically exacting than that of the women around him, reminded me of much more interesting American choreography of the same era––Antony Tudor, Bob Fosse—even, in moments, Gene Kelly.

As others have pointed out recently, the company is doing fine: They employ a massive number of talented performers and draw large crowds. What a pleasure it would be to see them taking a real artistic risk (other than having a reality TV show) in the work of curation.

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The University of Utah’s Multitudes will showcase six graduate students’ work. Pictured is Alysia Ramos. Photo: Chelsea Rowe @ cprowe.com

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.

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David Fetzer. Photo: TJ Nelson

Tuesday night, Tower Theater overflowed in celebration of David Fetzer, a leading local actor/artist who was lost last year to an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. It was Fetzer’s birthday and he would have been turning 31. The evening was also the formal debut of the David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists, which has come rapidly into existence mostly due to the efforts of Fetzer’s mother. Betsy Ross’ stoic candor, humanity and sense of humor in the face of horrible loss is as inspiring as her late son’s excellent work as an actor, director, musician and arts administrator. Also in attendance were Jerry Rapier from Plan-B Theater, as well as Cynthia Fleming and Keven Myhre from SLAC. All three praised Fetzer’s dedication to theatre and to fellow human beings of every ilk. Along with hosts Kenny Riches and Cara Despain, the above mentioned explained the grants that the Davey Foundation will award every year from now on. The awards are unique in Salt Lake City in that they exclusively fund professional theatre and film artists under 35.

During screentime that will in future years be occupied by the work of recent grantees, the new foundation presented two films written by Fetzer and produced posthumously. Kenny Riches directed a farce about “Isip the Warrior,” a good-hearted fool on a Christian mission sponsored by a local shoe store. It’s lightheartedness complemented “How to Speak Clearly,” which was written later and displayed a greater maturity. The latter film’s cliff-hanger ending, in which a young man soon to be wed faces an important crossroads, reminded me of the work of John Sayles, whose “Limbo” left me gasping for air.

Both films made clever use of cameo use of “Jitterbug,” a short by Dustin Guy Defa from 2008 co-starring Fetzer and friends Shantel Bennett and John Kuenhe. Riches noted that this was some of the older work that Fetzer left behind. Perhaps we will see more scripts emerge in the years to come. Last to play was a short short called “So This is Hell” directed by Patrick Waldrop. It was pure, radiant slapstick––a young David Fetzer trying and failing to gain the attention of Hannah Harris as she sat on a planter in front of the Tower Theatre. After a few more words about why we were here from Betsy Ross, we were ushered back into the night.

Later on that evening, fans gathered for a special screening of “Point B,” a sci-fi thriller starring Fetzer that was finished shortly after his death by local director Conor Long. In attendance were many of David Fetzer’s friends, including my old pal John Kuenhe, whose hilarious performance as the ferryman to the underworld in “Go To Hell” I will never forget. I first met David Fetzer myself when he was working on producing that show, under the moniker of New Works Theatre Machine. I’ve still never met anyone quite like him––so passionate about the project of theatre in Utah, so articulate about why experimental, challenging work was necessary and why Salt Lake was ripe for it. David Fetzer was an infectious, magnanimous talent whose hard work made his peers and collaborators shine. In that sense, through a constellation of friends, as well as through this new foundation, his important work as an artist continues.

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They inhabit a rich labyrinth of coexistence. Photo: Luke Williams

Gretchen and Paul Reynolds live in a Victorian house in the lower Avenues. It’s a floor plan you know if you’ve lived in Salt Lake City, but their home draws you in with a warmth that belies what must be a rich labyrinth of coexistence. They’re committed artists. Every room is clothed in images—landscapes of northern Utah, paintings for painting’s sake, personal photographs and points between. A leaved dining room table has been converted into a table tennis court, and that’s how our interview begins. Gretchen makes coffee for us and opens a beer for herself, while Paul beats me several times at ping-pong. Then we sit down to talk.

One of the first things I ask them is how much they talk about art. I’m not sure if I mean each other’s or that of everybody else. Gretchen replies, “Paul has taken me to some of the best things I’ve ever seen. We were in New York City once when I was 22 … It was nighttime and the hotel room door had a sign that said something to the effect of, ‘Don’t go outside, you’ll be instantly killed!’ There were maybe five locks on the door. Paul said, ‘We have to go out, we have to go to Greenwich Village.’ [Incidentally, it was Halloween.] We went down and we heard the best music of my life.” Paul cuts in, “We caught Ron Carter playing bass.” Gretchen continues, “We were sitting so close to them we could have tuned their instruments … It’s always been like that. He dragged me to all of the 12 Minutes Max [works in progress] shows in Seattle.”

Ironically, I first saw Gretchen’s work myself at her own works in progress series (also called 12 Minutes Max). We met in a windowless basement room, the now defunct DUNCE School of the Arts in Sugarhouse. In collaboration with Alexandra Karl, Gretchen was administering the series as well as participating as an artist. Her work “Choreographer’s Dream, Puppeteer’s Nightmare” was a strikingly simple deconstructed puppet show which changed my sense of the form’s possible range. It was as if Jan Švankmeyer himself had made the three little gnomes, who danced with vigor to Elvis. The piece de resistance: the little stage revolved in a circle in order to reveal its netherspace and, intimately, the three men operating the puppets.

I think it’s fair to say that Gretchen is working on reinventing herself. She credits much of who she has been as an artist over the last 20 years to the excellent technical training she received at the University of Utah from professors like Paul Davis and Tony Smith, who taught her that much of art was simply a matter of learning technique. (The motto was “fuck art, just teach me how to draw.”) But now, inspired in part by studies in performance art with Kristina Lenzi, she wants to work in a more conceptual frame, while continuing the honoring of “skill” that she says has kept her engaged in the art scene in Utah.

“I want to focus on the puppets. I just got to go down to the Avant GaRawge in Provo,” she says. There, she remounted a work she had made for the Utah Opera’s Rigoletto years ago, the set for which had been in storage. Paul described the work: “It’s one puppet in a completely black setting, doing really simple things to this really elegant music. He’s sitting down with a knife in hand. As he cuts into the pie, birds fly out of it, one by one, and out a window.” The title is “Pocket Full of Rye.” The music is an improvisation on the tune of the rhyme “Sing a song of sixpence…” Paul and Gretchen were both effusively complementary of these “vastly talented, unpretentious” Provo musicians, headed up by Christian Asplund, who perform new music every Sunday at 8:30 p.m.—next on February 2. Also playing at Gretchen’s show were Logan Hone and Jesse Quebbeman-Turley, who play together in the band Bright Whistles.

“When I have done puppet pieces before, it’s been like a little show, telling a story … one example of this would be ‘The Utah Cowboy,’ which I made with the Deseret String Band … Working with [these new] musicians brings so much else into the work … [As I] womaned the puppet [in ‘Pocket Full of Rye’], I thought, I am a puppet tender … [these puppets] take on such a life of their own in performance,” says Gretchen. Now it’s more about improvisation, about being “on the ball, at one with the ball, even,” she says. Everything from before the last couple of pieces “feels like dangling little bobbling objects—crass—[whereas] this was subtle, even minimalist.”

Paul offers a performer’s perspective on the shift that is occurring in Gretchen’s work. “In ‘Dream,’ there are three performers [including Paul], and each is paying attention to his fellows and trying to make it work. The first time [Gretchen] ever stood out in front of it and watched, she said ‘That’s just not doing it.’ It was Greg [another of the performers] who finally said, ‘She wants us to listen to each other,’” says Paul. Gretchen continues, saying, “And the next time it was spot on, absolutely transformed … [Where I want to get] is being able to combine that with improvising on an instrument that [I] do fully understand … like those amazing musicians down in Provo.”

A bold red canvas, its singular color cut by a thin meandering line, hung above us throughout the interview. It was hard to see—the light of the room didn’t quite reach it. The cut might be the circuitous iridescence of a snail’s trail or the fault line—a linear artifact of mental instability. I don’t realize until the conversation shifted that the painting was Paul’s. “For years I was working in a different vein, pushing abstract expressionism, working with marks and shapes, letting those push one another around,” he says. Like Gretchen, Paul’s work is now also in transition. His current series of paintings each begin with simple physical acts and strict rules of engagement.

He says, “This one [the painting above us] is the record of me turning around. I change hands, with my back to the canvas, and then continue to the other side without breaking the line. [The form that resulted] was a complete surprise.” He says he’s looking to approximate, as closely as he can, something unintentional in these “records of moments.” Then he adds another layer––he attempts to finish the pieces such that no brush strokes are visible. Sometimes he forms the compositions around the automatic line drawings, sometimes he “buries” them. “The great thing about oil painting is that you can obliterate anything. But, painting something out in one of these paintings is really hard because I am going for no brush strokes,” says Paul. One in the series has shown at the Utah Arts Council Annual Show, and Paul has plans to mount an exhibition of the series soon.

Paul is also a tremendously important curator and facilitator in the community. Utah’s 12 Minutes Max, that defunct works-in-progress series where I first saw Gretchen’s work, is now coming back to life at the City Library under the co-direction of himself and Jason Rabb. At the same time, Paul is transferring responsibility of another significant series, Under the Radar, to fellow SLCPL librarian Jessica Glade. It’s become an important resource in the last year for those interested in seeing fringe and international film in SLC. Paul has pioneered a rich, unique model in having each film introduced by another artist. For example, in October, iconoclast curator Kent Maxwell presented “The Screaming Men.” In the spring under Glade, the series with shift to focus more on local filmmakers. “We’re also going to continue doing the annual performance art festival that began this year,” says Paul. Kristina Lenzi will be curating it again and it will be happening in early October. Luke Williams, a local musician, has begun work on a large-scale puppet opera in collaboration with Gretchen. Neither of them will say much about the content of this project, but if we’re lucky, we’ll see some of it at the new reincarnation of 12 Minutes Max at the Library. The first performance will be Sunday, March 23 at 2 p.m. Paul and Gretchen are too cool to have their own websites, but are happy to reply to email inquiries about their work via reynoldstudio@hotmail.com and greynolds@sisna.com, respectively.

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Srilatha Singh

Sugar Space’s annual show, “SUITE: Women Defining Space,” has presented work by three or four young female choreographers every Spring since 2010. This year’s iteration, which runs through Saturday, opens with a work that may not totally succeed in its project, but cannot be faulted for a lack of experimental ambition. Jane Jackson, who also dances in Sugar Space’s co•da, joins choreographer in Norianna Diesel’s “Perception.” The two women try to cajole the audience into personalizing their experience of the work by “standing up” or “sitting on another viewer’s lap.” They vacillate between addressing the audience head on and verbally, and lapsing into passages of partnering that look like a tender, non-verbal conversation between two friends after a particularly affecting yoga class. Diesel grooves with a sensuality that seems out of place without a beat behind and Jackson is a neutral foil, dedicated to the tasks at hand, but outside of the choreographer’s ecstatic experience. This piece might work better if there are more than ten people in the audience and they are more willing to displace themselves that those who attended with me––I fear the opening may have been an object lesson in the extreme difficulty of getting an audience to participate physically in a dance piece.

Somewhat more approachable numbers came from Srilatha Singh, an artist in the Indian dance tradition Bharatanatyam. I’m a novice viewer of Indian classical dance, and so I appreciated the chance to see two works from Singh––“Mallari” which is a “traditional piece danced or sung during during temple celebrations,” and “Legacy,” which blends “contemporary American poetry” (read from a smart phone by Seetha Veeraghanta) with classical Bharatanatyam vocabulary. Where “Mallari” offers a chance to see four women diverse in age and style interpreting many of the same steps, “Legacy” is an excellent showcase of Singh’s dramatic talents. She brings a humor and expert play with time to the interplay of intracut hand gesture and grounded flexed footed tracing of patterns on the floor. She clearly also understands with subtlety how to wield her heavy costume and ankle-bells to effect both visually and sonically.

Less fully formed pure dance works by Joni Tuttle McDonald and Serena Webb rounded out the action. McDonald’s “Simply Letting Be” reflects her interest in choreographers like Alonzo King and Jirí Kylián. McDonald’s cast is virtuosic but without airs, and their lack of pretention makes them fun to watch. I hope McDonald continues to work with these four, who seem to genuinely like each other, mining further their potential as a unit. Webb’s “Anthypophora” was made in collaboration with local band L’anarchiste. Like McDonald’s work, “Anthypophora” seems to be calling out for a beginning, middle and end where there is none. That said, I love watching Amy Freitas breathe, stumble, rush forward and freeze among her fellows in this dance. Where many of our generation pretend to “feel” as they’ve learned in many somatics workshops and classes, she really seems to be sensing her way through each action, with all the emotional depth that entails. Freitas, who might be the love child of Movement Forum’s Mike Watkiss and former Bill T. Jones dancer Jennifer Nugent, made this number worthwhile as her vehicle.

Four years in, SUITE continues to be one of a handful of places where emerging dance artists can get a foothold and start work in our city. As far as I know, it’s the only one that’s dedicated to promoting the work of women, who, despite being the vast majority of trained dancers, are still underrepresented in the ranks of financially viable choreographers. I hope they get a larger audience on Friday and Saturday, because these women are doing the work of taking risks and honing their craft. If we take the time and small amount of energy required to support them now, their work is only likely to get better and better.

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