Author: Samuel Hanson

BLUSH. Photo: Franziska Strauss

Tuesday night, February 11, I went to see Gallim Dance, a New York–based company with Utah and Israeli connections. Their show was at the Marriot Center for Dance, just west of the University Library, but the performance was presented by Kingsbury Hall. Says that institution’s John Caywood in the program notes: “This is the first time [we have] presented at a campus venue other than the Marriott Auditorium in Kingsbury Hall.” Bringing Gallim is a departure from the less-than-edgy big name acts we’re used to seeing at Kingsbury e.g. Pilobolus, the Blue Man Group or Paul Taylor. Whatever judgement one makes of Gallim’s 2009 work “BLUSH,” this is clearly an historic moment in the development of new models for presenting live performance in the state of Utah–– if Kingsbury keeps partnering with the College of Fine Arts departments in this way, their offerings might get a whole lot more interesting. It’s worth mentioning that Kingsbury Hall isn’t the only institution in Salt Lake that’s working on the problem of how to frame experimental work and bring it in from out of town. In May, Sugar Space will bring the European improvisor Katie Duck to town for a series of workshops and performances. loveDANCEmore is working on independently presenting Natosha Washington, a local choreographer formerly of Raw Moves. They’ve also presented New York–based choreographers Miguel Gutierrez, Diana Crum and Regina Rocke since 2010.

“BLUSH” is in many ways a logical choice with which to begin such a conversation. Andrea Miller lived here for a time as a kid, where she attended Virginia Tanner Dance, before going to Isreal to study Ohad Naharin’s Gaga technique. At first glance, “BLUSH” seems very experimental. It freely borrows from Butoh vocabulary, creating little vistas of extreme slowness and taught emotion while the five other dancers whirl past in patterns tightly controlled counterpoint. Ballet lines are torn apart, vigorously––as in one memorable moment where Emily Terndrup’s head is roughly grasped as if by a junior high school bully––somehow she still manages a series of striking split jetes while being run around the playground.

In other ways, Gallim is quite conservative. Like many much older companies, such as our own Ririe-Woodbury, the cast of “BLUSH” is an even three men and three women, who are often grouped as such in Miller’s blocking. The men are shirtless and the women are in black leotards. They’re all fit and good looking without being strikingly different from each other. Both sexes wear ankle braces which warn of the disregard they’ll be compelled to give to their joints in the heat of the action.

Out of the seven sections of “BLUSH,” one stands out as representative of the whole. It could almost have been it’s own succinct little dance. In a melodramatic move, this duet between two of the men is set to Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres.” The stage clears, and Dan Walczak and Daniel Staff are left to explore each other. Despite the heavy handed score, the duet accomplished in miniature everything that happened on a more precarious scale in the rest of the work. They threw each other around, grabbing and flinging each other by ankles and wrists, moving fingers out of the way just in time and marking their territory on the way. One would thrust out of the floor lead by the pelvis, only to crouch back dramatically as his own pair of turned-in knees buckled below. As they wrestled and ran from each other, the white paint finally started to make sense––here was the blush, and it was rubbing off. (Up until then, I had just assumed the paint was a reference to the work’s Butoh influences.)

The mixture of violence and skillful camaraderie at play here translated less well on to all six men and women. In one passage, the three men handle one of the women like a sheet being spread out of a mattress, flinging her up and down carelessly until they’re satisfied with how she spreads out on the ground. Since there’s no clear narrative or character development, this violence exits in a void, and rather than saying anything, just feels gratuitous and distracting from the dancing.

I’ve learned over the years to have patience with this kind of behavior on the part of artists––sometimes the repetition of difficult imagery is a necessary tool. But after the first half hour of “BLUSH,” I’ve seen so much energy expended––but it doesn’t seem to have moved us very far. In the penultimate section, the six run in circles like a pack of tired wolves, half-singing along to a catchy pop song, “I’ll Believe in Anything” by Wolf Parade. Miller is adept at marketing, and I wonder if that ever hamstrings her as an artist. This choice in particular feels calculated. Is she just trying to fit the dancing that pours out of her own body into a package that will appeal to a broad demographic of smart, interesting, moneyed people––some of whom might listen to Wolf Parade and some who might prefer Pärt? Each time they mouth the refrain “nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn,” one of the six breaks out of the running to stop and stare dumbfounded into the audience, maybe ecstatic, maybe just stunned. I think it’s meant to be a transcendent image, of an individual experiencing the fragility of her solo identity. They look at me for a moment before falling back into the fray. I wish I knew what they––or their choreographer––were thinking.

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Sequoia
SXSW Film Festival
Director: Andy Landen
Andy Landen’s Sequoia, while suffering from some problems with clichéd characters—its cast looks like a mix of privileged if troubled film students and out-of-work soap stars—actually takes some serious risks in terms of subject matter. In the first scene, the protagonist Riley (Aly Michalka) faces down her doctor, begging him to admit to a video camera that she really is dying of cancer. (She’s sending a letter to her absent, amateur novelist mother.) The sequence that follows, wherein Riley meets the handsome young Ogden (Dustin Milligan) who’ll distract her from her plan of committing suicide, is faintly reminiscent of the recurring train scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Instead of recurring, it just goes on and on, and gets more and more predictable as the cast expands to include others in Riley’s life, but it’s not the worst way in the world to go. –Samuel Hanson

SXSW Screenings:

Thursday, March 13 – 4:30PM – 5:56PM @ Stateside Theatre
Friday, March 14 – 2:00PM – 3:26PM @ Rollins Theatre at The Long Center

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Thank You a Lot
SXSW Film Festival
Director: Matt Muir
Texan director Matt Muir’s Thank You a Lot is the sort of film you find yourself watching late at night in a hotel room in the middle of Idaho or Nevada. For some reason, you never manage to change the channel. The film is a parade of cliches, the most intriguing of these is James Hand-a failed, obscure cousin of Johnny Cash who’s lost his wife to his best friend. Hand Junior-Jack-who works as an agent at a large music firm, is charged with wooing his estranged dad back into the fold of the evil record company. It’s that or risk losing his job, and with it the chance to spend more time rushing around smoking American Spirits while coddling his clients, an anonymous rapper and an even more generic hipster band whose drummer’s leaving for grad school. What a snooze! I hope for the sake of my colleagues who are actually visiting the festival that SXSW and Austin aren’t as boring as this feature-length commercial for both makes them out to be. -Samuel Hanson

SXSW Screenings:

Saturday, March 15 – 11:00AM – 12:25PM @ Vimeo Theater
Sunday, March 9 – 9:30PM – 10:55PM @ SXSatellite: Marchesa

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Still from Danielle Short’s “Surface Line Movement.”

12 Minutes Max has long been a staple in the dance and performance world. It’s the signature program of Seattle’s famous On the Boards and now, Paul Reynolds has brought it to Salt Lake City’s downtown public library. This past Sunday at two in the afternoon, a respectable crowd––faces familiar to me from our city’s film, dance and visual art communities––filed into the auditorium at the library. Paul, an affable, passionate curator, introduced each artist with warmth. He also expounded on how he hoped his role as curator would shift to that of a facilitator or juror, as interest in the series grew. Also present were collaborators Gretchen Reynolds, Alexandra Karl and Kristina Lenzi, who pioneered the predecessor to this series at the now defunct DUNCE School for the Arts.

Luke Williams, a local musician who also frequently collaborates with dancers, had the privilege of opening the show. He’d selected a 12-minute sampling of an emerging body of work that draws on a sampling of interviewed voices and other “found sound.” I can’t wait to see how these pieces develop. They bring to mind a plethora of references, from early Steve Reich to the Lounge Lizards. Jan Voitehovich created a visual design to accompany Williams’ music. It consisted of a moving grid of rectangles, whose shifts in color palate flirted with the music. Imagine Piet Mondrian composing a screensaver inspired by Cadbury Eggs.

Danielle Short’s “Surface Line Movement” followed. Shot on film and then printed to video, Short’s experiment began with a 100-foot roll of 16mm film which the artist spent following the reflection of two power lines in water. She then subjected this footage to a rigorous series of transformations–– magnifications, cutting, superimpostion, internal displacement––the specifics of which were dictated by randomized procedures like those used by musician John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham. Short’s line of thought is difficult to follow, she seems interested in applying chance to the materiality of film––yet we’re seeing this all on a video, where the media’s been edited. Her obscure system of numbering the “versions” of the original footage also does more to confound than anything. Still, stylistically, this sort of structuralism is a breath of fresh air in Utah. I hope that Short––who now lives in San Francisco––comes back for another 12 Minutes Max.

Finally, Mary Winsor read from her essay “Rock-a-bye, Ute,” which wove together themes of illness, mortality and family. It was odd to suddenly find one’s self at a reading after the two abstract, heady pieces Winsor followed, a fact Winsor made light of by changing into running shoes to add a performative aspect to her prose. All in all, it was great to see so many people who I usually don’t see together, pulled to the same room for 36 minutes of new art. 12 Minutes Max will doubtless become an important addition to the ecology of opportunity for artists in our city and state.

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Dancers participate in Natosha Washington’s The Penguin Lady. Photo: Brandon Young

“Honestly, the Penguin Lady started as my senior project for my BFA, but I haven’t done anything as her since 2004.” It was around this time that Natosha Washington, then known as The Penguin Lady, burst on to the national scene at American College Dance Festival Association with House of Timothy. Timothy is one of the few dances I’ve ever seen that effectivelyand chillinglyaddressed domestic violence and the impasses of communication between men and women. The work had all of the rawness, discomfort and violence we often see when this subject matter is addressed in European dance, but seemed uniquely to be speaking to a US American sense of class and sexuality. I’ve followed her work ever since. 

Ten years later the Penguin Lady is working in an entirely different vein. I am sitting on the edge of a black box theater inside Judge Memorial Catholic High School. Natosha Washington is next to me casually watching her troupe rehearsing a series of dances they’ll perform at the Rose Wagner this September. She’s proud of her cadrea group she characterizes as a who’s who of talented dancers working outside the city’s major dance companies. Washington, who has also made collaborative choreography with Nick Cendese as RawMoves, is clearly honored to be striking out on her own with the people she knows, trusts and loves. 

“We have seventeen dancers in the show, and most of us are in our mid thirties or older,” she says, the exception being savant U of U sophomore Megan O’Brian. “Most of us are educators, so being on stage isn’t something that comes easily.” Washington’s cast is riddled with interesting talent. Some have indeed been out of the limelight for a while. “Sarah Donahue [of Repertory Dance Theater] is the only person you see on stage regularly in a company.” Rosy Goodman, who for years was the strongest dancer in RDT, is on leave after the birth of her first child. Tyler Kunz, also know as DJ Tidy, works administratively at the University of Utah. Others simply work in more underground dance outfits. Eileen Rojas, Corrine Penka, Sarah Franco, Danell Hathaway and Erin Romero, dance in Movement Forum, which just brought the inimitable Ishmael Houston-Jones out from NYC out to set a work also slated for September.

“There’s been this whole shift in everybody’s lives, she says. “I’ve known many of these people for eight or ten years … most of us are full or part-time educators … so being on stage isn’t something that’s always easy. It’s fun to see how life and time changes everyone’s dancing.” As I talk more and more with Washington, it seems like that’s what this show’s really aboutthe diverse cast and creating a structure where they can bring themselves and all their adult complexity to the fore. 

“I don’t feel like we’re given the opportunity to celebrate what is good about humanity because we’re so inundated by messages about what’s wrong,” says Washington. “This has been awesome for me because I’ve been able to bring to light the different beauties we each possess. I feel a real need to pay attention to what we do bring to the tableand I do include myself in that.” 

My favorite of the several pieces I saw during my interview with Natosha Washington is yet untitled. It begins with the sound of a heartbeat, but somehow evades the cliches that you’d think would follow. According to Washington, it’s inspired by things that make her performers’ hearts beat faster, “running a marathon, sex, getting nervous because you don’t hear your baby moving at night … it’s all in there.” What I see in this work is a formalism crossed with a confessional tone that reminds me of some of the best early modern dance I’ve ever seenI think of RDT’s renditions of several works by Anna Sokolow, or even some of the more placid of Anna Halprin’s dances. In this bevy of solos that saunter towards the audience, telling the story straight-on instead of hiding in diagonals or fancy lighting cues, I see the people at work here more than the stepsand that’s to Natosha Washington’s great credit. 

Washington has a lot of fundraising to do to make her project a reality and if you’re interested, you can help her out. This Saturday, May 31, The Penguin Lady is holding a launch party which is likely to be one of the most interesting dance events of the summer. Tickets include dancing, live performance by several local musicians, including Eileen Rojas (also a dancer with the collective), Trevor Price and the Salt Lake Whalefishers.

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Feast broaches the topic of Utah’s sometimes insular characteristics. (L–R) Yumelia Garcia, Jenn Freeman, Jo Blake. Photo: David Newkirk

O, Utah! Should I stay or should I go? That’s the question at the heart of Feast, last weekend’s evening-length performance from choreographer Charlotte Boye-Christensen’s NOW-ID. Feast, isn’t really the hipster-multimedia-dance-theater circus it markets itself as. The meat of the work is an intimate duet for actors Robert Scott Smith and Andra Harbold, whose collaborations at The Leonardo I’ve enjoyed immensely before. (In fact, the writing is not credited to these two, but to Troy Deutsch, though I sense that the actors may have had collaborative input). Their little drama is pestered, haunted and interrupted by Boye-Christensen’s cast—Jo Blake, Yumelia Garcia and Jennifer Freeman. Prissily formal, their inscrutable pure-dance ablutions never quite come into focus, and fade quickly from memory.

Near the beginning of Feast, Robert Scott Smith paces the length of the great table that serves as a stage. “This is the place,” he begins and then trails off, King Lear style. Smith is very talented, and relishes these first lines, the strongest in the work, which contemplate his character’s powerlessness over the “kingdom” as well as his impending mortality. The language, as it will be throughout, is poetic and often intentionally ambiguous. He does reveal that he’s waiting for someone who’s been sent away for answers—his salty domain is falling apart as fast as he is. He worries that she won’t be back in time.

The lonely monarch isn’t left alone to die. Soon enough, Andra Harbold falls from the sky (the bar area above the main floor). The prodigal daughter returns with much gusto—and shock at the diminished state of her foil. Sadly for Smith, she has little to offer in the way of wisdom, culture or “help” from “the outside.” She gifts Smith a fork—to him, an exotic trinket. He stabs his own hand, and contemplates suicide. She says she’ll help him if he first sits down, and tries the souvenir out at a proper sit-down meal. Instead, a barber (whose trendy logo is featured auspiciously in the program notes) hops up and removes Smith’s beard. Smith gets melancholy, and tells Harbold he feels like he’s holding her back. Dreaming aloud, he muses that she’s the bird “and I am the cage … or I clean the cage … or I pay someone to clean the cage.” Florid digressions peter out, and he refuses her entreaties to leave with her. Who would stay to clean the cage? Fin.

It’s obvious that the dying kingdom is a hyperbolic metaphor for Utah. The dying patriarch is everyone in the audience. (It’s an open secret that many of us here, especially those with the means to leave, beat ourselves up for not getting the hell outta Dodge. We just can’t do it, or worse, we won’t, and we despise ourselves to varying degrees.) Feast’s poetry successfully distills this unique local brand of self-hate to a few of its most potent symbols. The salty, dry landscape is at turns a consolation, and a specter that reports how far we are from “civilization.” Patriarchy, in grotesque caricature, reveals itself to be impotent and regressive, faltering in the face of modernity like the Mormon Church. It’s too perfect that actor Robert Scott Smith’s name ends in Smith.

It’s a clever place to start. The problem with Feast is that it’s all so serious and self-indulgent. Like its target audience, it fails to go anywhere. Neither are we ever encouraged to actually laugh at ourselves for our endemic neurosis, nor is a solution to the predicament proposed. The king and the return missionary (as we might call Harbold) wallow in their mental illness. We are invited, vicariously, to wallow in ours.

The pitfall this script falls prey to is that in depicting a very universal experience—that of self-pity—the author loses track of the very specific situation for which the action is serving as a metaphor. At one point, Harbold’s character—who, I think, is meant to be a sort of feminist hero—taunts the xenophobic Smith by comparing herself to a litany of famous, “empowered” women. “I am Sacajawea,” she boasts, in a list that also winkingly contains contemporary figures like Beyoncé, Jodie Foster and Sandra Bullock. The sad irony is in how palpably clear it is from context that there’s really no room in this magic-realist remixing of time and space for a Native American—except insofar as she exists in a canon of pop cultural babes that are too cool, stop off between the coasts. This is one of many missed opportunities in Feast. The work fails to contemplate the relationship between the (largely upper-middle class, white) angst of the king and the audience, and any other real people or real events in history. In my book, it’s not such a crime to never leave home, or to come back here to make a life. The crime is to fail to look around and realize that even “home” is bigger and more complex than your personal story.

All we can really glean from the text is that this desert, oppressive to at least one of its inhabitants, is getting worse. (Perhaps this is the point where we’re supposed to congratulate ourselves for making the real Utah “better” by participating in cultural events such as Feast). Yet, to what vision of another, better place are we aspiring? New York? San Francisco? Portland? Berlin? Copenhagen? Little is clear in Feast about “the outside.” In a long aside, Harbold’s character remembers the great world in terms of the feasts she’s consumed on her travels. She’s munched in “slums,” in “living rooms,” in “palaces”—but we don’t get to know even what it is that she’s eaten. She has seen people much poorer—but also much richer than herself—so what? In the end, even travel, the radical act of self-displacement, becomes another opportunity for navel-gazing.

Amid these failures in the text, the dancers might have filled in the blanks—alternately for the exotic, or for the local menaces of distance and conservative culture. To me, Charlotte Boye-Christensen’s voiceless performers just look very earnest—like lost deer—as they traipse in and out of Smith and Harbold’s domestic melodrama. Right down to the costuming, it’s as if Blake (still shirtless), Garcia and Freeman wandered right out of Christensen’s last befuddling dance, The Wedding (of which all but Freeman were a part). And now they have found themselves at a very uncomfortable dinner party.

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Land showcased different works that evince Utah’s unique landscapes. Photo: Nathan Sweet

Attending Repertory Dance Theater’s “Land” felt like visiting an old house, the home of someone who’d lived in Utah a long time. She loved the idea of the West as much as she loved the landscape itself, and had surrounded herself with objects, books and memories that recorded a history of her sentiments. A landscape by one of the early Mormon painters who studied in France might be a prized possession, sharing acclaim with animal skulls and Pendleton blankets. Each of the dances in “Land” was a memento that would fit in such a collection.

In Zvi Gothiener’s “Erosion,” one sees the aesthetics of the early ’90s, as much as the Utah slot canyons that are projected behind the dancers. There is no sense of the environmentalist urgency spoken of in press and program notes. That’s not all bad; it’s not uninteresting to look at these two kinds of time—cultural and geologic—on display together.

The most engaging work in “Land” has the least to do with the West. Ze’eva Cohen’s “Rainwood” reminded me of one of my favorite things—Merce Cunningham’s “Beach Birds for Camera.” Where Cunningham revels in total formalism, Cohen flirts with abstraction, but intermittently returns to a more representational vocabulary. In these moments, “Rainwood” recalls the flocking choruses of German expressionism and the playground spectacle of early Pilobolus. This work offered the best of case within “Land” for the company as tight-knit group. Here, they felt in sync, though “Rainwood” offered much less actual unison than other pieces on the bill.

RDT’s propensity to repeat favorite works more often than other companies is a mixed blessing. For example, one piece I’ve seen them do at least four or five times in the early ‘00s is Laura Dean’s minimalist masterpiece “Skylight.” I enjoyed watching each successive cast perform this work. It’s one of the most rhythmically complex dances I’ve ever seen. New parts of it’s contrapuntal structure reveal themselves through different performers each time. I saw it mounted by students at the American Dance Festival in 2008, and found myself pining for Chara Huckins’ luminous performances I’d seen a few years before here in SLC.

Sadly, Shapiro and Smith’s interminable “Turf,” which closed “Land,” is no “Skylight.” The metaphoric value of “Turf” within this evening—commenting on land and water disputes in the West—is at best a stretch, and in no way justifies the work’s excessive length. Its one saving grace is how well it shows off Ursula Perry. Her spare, seductive solo is as welcome as an oasis in the desert.

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Publik Coffee
Publik Coffee
Publik—third wave coffee roasters in Salt Lake City. Photo Credit: Darryl Dobson Photography

Tuesday morning, the inimitable Alex Ortega and I had the pleasure of touring a new coffee shop and roastery on West Temple between Ninth and Tenth South. It’s called Publik, which according to co-owner Matt Bourgeois means “community” in Dutch. The voluminous building, which also contains a giant event space, replete with dark wood and frosted glass, used to house a printing press owned by a Dutch couple. That day, the FBI was upstairs, making use of the shop’s for-rent meeting facilities, which give local hotels a run for their money on corporate business. As our tour guide Katie Eldridge put it, it’s the kind of space that makes you want to throw a big party (or in my case, curate a dance show).

Alex and I each got one of the two coffees they were featuring that day. We preferred my Sumatra Blue Batak over his Ethiopia, though both were lovely. Alex noted the coffee’s intonation of green peppers. I was thinking about a peaty glass of scotch, even though it was still miles before noon. The Blue Batak’s vegetal qualities were almost sweet against the earthy backdrop common to coffees from Sumatra. Roaster Ryan Gee offered some context. Many, he speculated, would roast this a bit darker, which in a batch of this quality would yield a rich buttery flavor that’s easy to sell—and harder to screw up.

Our coffees were brewed on an Alpha Dominche, a machine you might have seen if you’ve ever visited Nobrow. Like an espresso machine, it has a few distinct “groupheads” or separate brewing chambers. In terms of the flavor, it delivers a range of different consistencies and textures. Some of its products are more like siphon brewed drinks, others more reminiscent of pour-overs or french presses. Publik Coffee also has an espresso program and its own espresso which, like many third-wave blends, consists of a proprietary mixture of African and Latin American beans, with crop that is directly traded with a farm in El Salvador. Accompanying the drinks is a menu of artisan grilled bread plates which feature an impressive variety of local spreads on Red Bicycle Bread. It’s worth mentioning to those who rush to point fingers at pretense, that everyone we met at Publik has a healthy sense of humor about their compendious “toast menu.”

Foodies I’ve talked to are clearly thrilled to have another addition to our city’s growing array of cafes and roasters. Momentum in this scene is clearly building. Two more shops under construction await coffee geeks, critics and, well, the public. On Third South, in the old Slowtrain space, man-about-town Nick James, former owner of the nearby salon Jouissance, is opening a new cafe in the next few months. In a former life, James worked at Coffee Garden. A little further south, at the Holladay Village Square, Derek Belnap, also veteran Coffee Garden barista, is opening his own locally-sourced shop. Onward, ho.

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Penguin Lady
Penguin Lady
Rosy Goodman performing in Exit from Eden. Photo: Chelsea Rowe @ cprowe.com

The premiere of Natosha Washington’s new dance collective begins with a plea from the self-styled Penguin Lady herself. In the dark, a pre-recorded address to the audience opens the evening. Washington asks us to invest in what we are about to see on a personal level, beyond the formal elements of choreography in which people are often interchangeable parts.

Washington’s voice continues as the curtains open. There she is, standing still, facing away from us. The text becomes more personal. We learn that she was born in Georgia, and renamed Natosha by her father, after the high-heeled Soviet spy from Rocky and Bullwinkle. She elaborates on being a “black woman with a Russian name in Utah”—detailing a surreal trip to the DMV where she was asked to choose from a list of racial self-identifications that included “Negro” while being served by a woman who thought her name must be “Latosha” or “Lanosha.” She also speaks of professional “disappointments,” stemming from the further Othering that comes from not fitting the balletic body shape still normative even in Modern Dance in Utah. With a dry sense of humor, the text ends on a self-affirming note. Whatever happens, “I am black and I am beautiful.” (This statement segues into the rest of the score, a sound-poem crafted by Tracie Morris for the 2002 Whitney Biennial.)
In movement that echos the wit, rhythm and word play in her and Morris’ texts, Washington’s selfhood is expressed through gesture. At times, her gestures are oblique, even absurd, a personal language that draws one in. (I’m reminded of the fake foreign tongues uttered in an earlier Washington work, Babble.) In other moments, such as when she briefly cups the heft of her own breast, the meaning is less ambiguous—she’s reclaiming herself. It’s a great pleasure as someone who has followed her work for years to see the steps coming from their ultimate source—she is one of those choreographers who dances her own work in a way no one else quite manages. I sincerely hope we will see more of the Penguin Lady dancing herself.
What follows is a mixed bag of short pieces. Some, like the opener, are statements about identity. A smattering of such include a love duet between Tyler Kunz and Nathan Shaw and a neurotic solo by Corrine Penka. Both are promising studies, which perhaps we’ll see fleshed out in future evenings. Two more solos feature women standing still, facing us in a spotlight as their disembodied voices speak about pregnancy (Rosy Goodman) and aging (Jennifer Beaumont). In particular, Beaumont’s is surprisingly affecting, in spite of its simplicity. Then there’s the inclusion of the group’s Kickstarter video, and another static solo performed by a wooden penguin statue painted to look like the group’s logo. These are unfortunate choices that cause the evening to lag and feel a bit like someone else’s family reunion.
Unrelated to the theme, but worthwhile in their own right, is a new sextet piece performed to the recorded sound of heartbeats and two reconstructions. The older work was made before Washington’s first professional venture, RawMoves. These works flaunt casts who visibly relish the chance to move together. What’s also clear in a work like Exit from Eden is how they draw strength from a diversity of backgrounds and approaches to movement practice.
Washington has revisited House of Timothy several times locally and nationally since it was made in 2004. Here it is performed by Monica Campbell for the first time, and by Nathan Shaw, who has played the male role every time I’ve seen the work. I have always found this duet, which portrays a violent, futile heterosexual relationship, to be a chilling yet necessary antidote to (Post)modern Dance’s preponderance of this issue, which largely includes yet fails to explore the meaning and context of violent physical struggles between men and women. The dancers excel as usual— creating a portrait of abuse in which both parties seem dimly aware, but unable to escape their situation. Shocking this Thursday however, was the reaction of the audience to this iteration. They seem to think that the work is a gag. Although there is certainly a sense of mutual complicity in the situation, there’s nothing playful or fair about the fight— and there’s certainly nothing funny about seeing Shaw drop Campbell over and over again.

 

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(L–R) Choreographers Katherine Adler and Samantha Matsukawa of Two Boots reconfigured Bob Dylan in a modern dance iteration. Photo: Kylie Lloyd

This past weekend, Two Boots, comprising two young choreographers, Katherine Adler and Samantha Matsukawa, presented an evening of dance outside, in the middle of Edison St. between 200 S. and 300 S. When I attended on Friday night during the middle of Gallery Stroll, Salt Lake City felt about as alive as I can ever remember it being. The strung-up lights that criss-crossed the little alley within an alley (between the Broadway theatre’s parking structure and the building to the north) made me feel like I was walking into a party. “In a few months,” I thought, “I’ll probably remember this as one of the last moments of this summer.” And there was free beer.

Adler and Matsukawa’s collaboration this past weekend wasn’t full of surprise, and I mean that in a good way. It reminded me of an experience all too lacking in dance which is often the province of literature. Dylan Dances, which actually felt like one big rambling dance, reminded me of the experience of diving in to the third or fourth novel by an author you really love. The themes and maybe even the plot lines are much the same, but it’s no less worth hearing again in a slightly different way.
I’ve been watching Adler’s (and to a lesser extent, Matsukawa’s) dances for quite a while now. Visually and in casting, much of of what we see in Dylan Dances appears to come from Adler’s earlier work. Throughout the evening, everyone is wearing denim, and, at the risk of restating the obvious, dancing to Bob Dylan songs. It’s superficially reminiscent of the original version of Adler’s work year before last at Daughters of Mudson. However, there’s something in these dances that departs from the ’80s Gap-ad slickness of those Dylan etudes. As much as it is Adler’s dream we are seeing here, I think we are seeing Matsukawa in the execution of dance phrase-craft. That’s where the real joy of these dances lies, in grooves and fissures where sentence-long narrative, word play and kinesthetic puns pop in and out of existence as the tight layers of steps, nostalgia, and sung words tear at each other like sand paper. It’s Adler’s fantasy; Matsukawa is the ghost writer, her unique way of cutting up rond de jambes slipping even into the way Adler moves.
The strongest moments in this evening are the most abstract, reminiscent of the some of the American visual art of Dylan’s heyday, playing with formalism and pop. I remember vivid solos by Matsukawa and Molly Heller, in which the dictionaries of modern dance and ballet seemed to have been upended into Dylan’s particular thesaurus. In one passage, performers took turns dancing in front of a floor made of paper as it was being constructed, panels of butcher paper rolling out just like Marley floors are laid out in a traditional theatre. This was a moment of genius—John Jasperse on a budget. Another unintentional, but equally brilliant moment was when Dylan briefly gave way to Kelis’ “Bossy,” which was playing at one of the nearby bars. The dance soldiered on, ignoring the context shift.
The night also featured some more overtly interactive moments. At the ending of one section, the cast handed out PBR to the audience, everyone dressed and undressed for no reason, and finally, the three would-be Bob Dylans—looking like blithe college boys in varying states of beardedness—played “Wagon Wheel” (which I didn’t know had been sketched originally by Dylan) while the women performed a pseudo-pagan circle around the men. While these moments to me highlighted what was arguably homogenous and predictable about the evening, they certainly added to the party vibe that made the event what it was.
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