Cat+Fish Dances concert of Forge reflects on accepting, transcending vulnerability

The recent wave of dance concerts in Salt Lake City has produced gratifying experiences that supersede dance’s inherent ephemeral nature. Choreographers have encouraged work that deepens the audience’s capacity for translating the body movements they see on stage without the necessity of an intermediary interpreter. An individual’s persona can electrify — along with how dancers in an ensemble relate to each other — the potential for viewers anchoring their own kinesthetic empathy at a performance.

Under Cat Kamrath’s role as artistic director, the Cat + Fish Dances Company has achieved a nuanced, understated finesse for such emotional connections. Assembling a fine cast of dancers who have made their own marks elsewhere locally, Kamrath is sensitive in her egalitarian aesthetic. While the technical demands may not necessarily be as rigorous as in other concerts of recent note, the vigor of the physical execution calls for an expressive emotional character that occasionally is more theatrical than choreographic. In the company’s latest performance, there were prominent moments of movement in silence that reinforced the contemplative aspects of the dance compositions.

Conner Erickson and Molly Cook. Anna, by Natalie Gotter. Cat+Fish Dances. Photo Credit: Zach Nguyen.

In Forge, its first independently produced concert, the company presented five works. Three compositions by Kamrath were joined by a duet, choreographed by Natalie Gotter, and a solo piece for Kamrath, set by Daniel Do, who also is in his second season as a dance artist with the Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT). Do is one of the founding members of Cat + Fish Dances, established in 2015.

Fortitude, the work choreographed by Do, was elegant in its understated form, offering a revealing choreographic portrait of Kamrath. Set as a reflection of five works in the company’s repertoire, each represented by a colored balloon on stage, Fortitude becomes Kamrath’s unique statement about her own creative process. Its timing is significant: Kamrath will be leaving SLC, as she has accepted a full-time assistant lecturer position at the University of Wyoming’s Department of Theatre and Dance, beginning in the 2019-20 academic year.

Mar Undag. Strong Back, by Cat Kamrath. Cat+Fish Dances. Photo Credit: Zach Nguyen.

There are emotions of doubt, frustration and discovery captured in the pensive movements Do set for his colleague. The work includes musical excerpts from Slow Meadow, Ezio Bosso, The Buxusconsort Strings Orchestra and Emptyset.

The three Kamrath pieces carried titles inspired by a quote by Casandra Brené Brown, a nationally known social work researcher based at the University of Houston. The quote reads, “We are all tough and tender, scared and brave, grace and grit. The most powerful example of integration is strong back, soft front, wild heart.” Brown’s TED Talk from 2010, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the five most watched talks in the TED project’s history. It is an apt proxy for all serious creative producers.

Conner Erickson. Strong Back, by Cat Kamrath. Cat+Fish Dances. Photo Credit: Zach Nguyen.

Strong Back, the first piece, featured Do, Conner Erickson, Emma Sargent, Kenzie Sharette, Alicia Trump and Mar Undag. The work is a generous token of gratitude Kamrath offers the dancers who have placed their confidence in the artistic mission of Cat + Fish Dances. A quick-paced collection of solos (fetauring Do, Sargent and Undag) and ensemble movements, the work features cosmopolitan electro music by sources such as Jaffna, Shook and Utah. The energy in this piece reminds of works the company has presented in appearances at the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival — Flicker (2018) and Filament (2016), the latter of which won best-of festival honors.

Soft Front, perhaps the strongest of Kamrath’s three pieces for Forge, is a marvelous statement about vulnerability, especially as Brown has articulated it in her TED Talks and writings. A prominent movement symbol in Soft Front articulates the sensation of swimming upstream and navigating stubborn currents. The trio of dancers — Micah Burkhardt, Madaline Maravillas, and Ursula Perry (also an RDT dance artist) – clearly establish the contrasts with sinewy, gritty, athletic movements that symbolize tenacity against the softer touches of mutual empathy that allow us to endure those moments of blame, shame, and judgment.

Cat Kamrath. Fortitude, by Daniel Do. Cat+Fish Dances. Photo Credit: Zach Nguyen.

Likewise, a Brown quote shapes the final Kamrath piece Wild Heart, performed by all nine company dancers and featuring various music excerpts – mainly electro — including Hammock, Utah, ATTLAS, Imaginary Softwoods, Christian Löffler + Francesco Tristano. Brown’s quote is: “The mark of a wild heart is living out these paradoxes in our lives. It’s showing up in our vulnerability and our courage, and, above all else, being both fierce and kind.” This is an astute statement about Cat + Fish Dances and virtually every other dance institution in Salt Lake City that has made this particular art form so fresh and dynamic. Dancers and choreographers should never linger in their comfort zones for too long – a lesson artists in other creative venues should heed more freely.

Anna, the duet choreographed by Gotter, featured Erickson and Molly Cook and music by Salt Lake City’s Michael Wall along with selected excerpts by Matt Carlson and Moses Sumney. Both dancers, attired in matching costumes, move and stay close to a paper banner tapped to the stage floor, upon which they draw, trace and mimic each other’s activity. Their space eventually becomes tighter and more intimate. As the light fades, they sit across from each other, drawing on each other’s faces. While we might believe that it is easier to accept the conventional narrative schema given to us in setting a relationship, Anna tells us that, indeed, we can define the schema in whatever way we please.  

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