Some of the most familiar music of the 1930s and 1940s comprises a delightful panoply of styles and genres, with names such as Artie Shaw, Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Billie Holliday and composers including Carl Orff and Samuel Barber. To highlight such memorable Music, Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) will celebrate the start of the 2022 half of its 56th season with Emerge: Sounds Delightful, a dance concert featuring premieres of a new commission as well as works choreographed by RDT’s dance artists.
It’s the right moment to put hope and optimism into a new year,” Linda C. Smith, executive and artistic director of RDT, says. “While it’s a bit of nostalgic homage to the music of this particular era, it also is a wonderful opportunity for the dancers to interpret it in a way that allows all of us to tap into our joy as a point of encouragement in this new year, even with so many current challenges.”
The concert, in its sixth edition, fulfills in part a major component of the dance artist’s contract for RDT. Since its founding 56 years ago, the company not only has dedicated its mission to preserving the historic canon of modern dance but also to create work to build a diversified repertoire. Many of the nearly 110 RDT alumni have become internationally known choreographers and some have founded their own dance companies producing works that have premiered on the RDT stage. Two performances of Emerge are slated for Jan. 7 at 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 8 at 2 p.m. in the Jeanné Wagner Theatre at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts.
Among the works to be presented will be a new commission by Kaley Pruitt, the winner of RDT’s 2021 Regalia choreographer’s competition. Pruitt has set a new work based on Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, as recorded by the New York Philharmonic led by Leonard Bernstein. The composer arranged the original second movement from his 1936 string quartet for string orchestra. From the first performance in 1938 of the new arrangement by the NBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, the Barber piece has become one of the most familiar pieces of American music. Even today, the music is heard on soundtracks of some popular digital games.
“Even before Linda [Smith] had approached me about the theme and my thoughts about fitting my new work into it, I was pondering the use of the Adagio because it is such an iconic piece of music,” Pruitt explains. “I was interested in what kind of effect this music would ring through with dancers and the audiences,especially now with the pandemic and the current moment.”
Pruitt says she remembers the music as a young dancer, “It’s an incredibly universal score that also is very personal to me,” she adds. In preparing for the choreography, she researched what the music has represented at various points in American culture. One of the most well-known moments is when it was played in a nationally broadcasted performance following the funeral of John F. Kennedy after his assassination in 1963. “I believe it harbors the sense of hope and it’s not a tragic score,” she notes.
In working with the RDT dancers, this was her first choreographic experience working with unmasked dancers directly in a studio since the beginning of the pandemic. Thinking about the movement for the composition, Pruitt says she focused on the simultaneous presence of doubts, fears and hopes while finding an opportunity to appreciate a joyous moment of life at least for the moment without the regret of thinking too far ahead. Indeed, she says it is meant as a healing moment, an opportunity to rebalance ourselves — dancers and audiences included.
With her company Kaley Pruitt Dance which was established a decade ago in New York City, Pruitt has presented work across the U.S., ranging from comedic dance theatrical works to site-specific compositions and abstract concert pieces. Among her artistic inspirations and influences are the West Coast choreographer Stephanie Gilliland, the groundbreaking legacy of German choreographer Pina Bausch, and the works of Monica Bill Barnes Company which are created for sites not usually considered for dance performances. Pruitt also cites several artists who are well known to Salt Lake City dancers and audiences, including Doug Varone and Kate Weare.
RDT dancers are taking various musical paths from the era to set their works. Lindsey Faber and Megan O’Brien are setting a duet they will perform, based on two of the most popular songs of the era: Star Dust by Artie Shaw and Small Fry by Bing Crosby. In an interview, Faber, one of the company’s newest dance artists, says she considers Pina Bausch, Martha Graham and José Limón among her choreographic influences. “These two songs are perfect,” she explains. “Star Dust has the right dose of excitement to create movement and the lyrics of the Crosby song fit for us, because sometimes in life, we do feel like small fry.” She adds that they will wear monochromatic outfits and use large piles of clothes strewn on the stage as props.
Kareem Lewis, who is in his second season at RDT, is turning to one of the most recognized pieces of music from the 20th century — the imposing resonance of O Fortuna, the signature chorus from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, which premiered in 1937. In an interview, Lewis says it is “a very powerful artistic challenge but it also is grand music with clear meaning.” Lewis adds he is drawn to the inexorable fate of the chorus verses in the music, which bookends Carmina Burana. Lewis, who is drawn to numerous influences including the Limón technique as well as classical and modern ballet, and welcomes every opportunity to set movement in a professional performance in terms of expanding his artistic palette as a dancer and choreographer.
For tickets and more information, see the RDT website. Audiences are reminded that masks must be worn during the concert. A recorded performance also will be available for viewing, with purchase, for one month, beginning Jan. 14.