Memorable dance programs for summer performing arts scene: Myriad Dance Company’s Dream Spark at new Dreamscapes location; Fem Dance Company’s State of Flux

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MYRIAD DANCE COMPANY: DREAM SPARK

Truly a gratifying collaboration in the best sense of the word, Myriad Dance Company’s Dream Spark could not have been a more fitting opening for Dreamscapes in its newest location. Now housed in the former Macy’s store at The Shops at South Town in Sandy, Utah, the immersive art museum has been an ongoing project of the Utah Arts Alliance.

Myriad’s dance artists were the last arts group to perform in Dreamscapes’ previous location at The Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City. That show Overslept: Obscura featured excellent choreography that aligned with the design and appearance of various chambers in the museum, which features many ingenious examples of upcycled materials that are repurposed for visual effect.

Myriad Dance Company, Dream Spark. Dreamscapes. Photo Credit: Todd Collins Photography.

In the newest show, Myriad does wonderful justice to the museum’s space, which is now five times larger than in Dreamscapes’ downtown location. Again, R.J. Walker, who provided the literary prompt for Myriad’s previous show, sets the stage before visitors enter the museum, with a story about Happyton, where is being affected by The Diminishing, a gradual loss of colorful memories and the unfortunate creep of dulled and desensitized imagination. It is the audience’s reactions to the dancers that hold the key to sparking and rejuvenating the power of dreams.

There is an elegant meta sensation to this show. The choreographed movement telegraphs the rebirth of dreams, as audience members navigate the enchanting chambers of Dreamscapes’s greatly expanded labyrinth in its newest home. Dancers appear in spaces, gently luring visitors through the chambers, using silent gestures to encourage guests to open up, for example, an old metal mailbox that has a miniature diorama. They position audience members for the best viewing spots, when they dance on cubes, move through a hall of mirrors, interact with a large dragon, or navigate a zigzagging maze marked by plastic ropes of neon lights. There are marvelous crowd-pleasing moments such as when the dancers dive into and frolic about in a tank pool filled with balls, which elevates the amusement arcade feel to an appealing aesthetic. It is reminiscent of the old Hollywood aquamusicals, which featured Esther Williams and synchronized swimming. The dancers segue into a showcase of their contemporary dance movement language. They are like the alluring sirens who saved Odysseus and his crew in The Odyssey. Only, in this instance, they are leading Happyton back to the ethereal ecstasy of dreams, which are essential to our viability.

Myriad Dance Company, Dream Spark. Dreamscapes. Photo Credit: Todd Collins Photography.

Myriad has effectively integrated the experiences of its past Dreamscapes shows to hone the graceful flow that is immediately evident in Dream Spark. The experience will delight audiences of all ages.

The show will be performed again on Aug. 25. Tickets are available for a staggered schedule of start times so visitors are assured the ideal experience. Start times are available, in 15-minute intervals, between 6:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. The experience can last between 60 and 90 minutes.

Kendall Fischer is the company’s artistic director and the company features the choreography of Fiona Gitlin, among others. For tickets and more information, see the Show Clix link.

FEM DANCE COMPANY: STATE OF FLUX

Once again, a Salt Lake City project-based dance company demonstrates why dance artistry comprises such an impressive segment of the performing arts scene in Utah. Presenting at the Leona Wagner Black Box Theatre in the downtown Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts, the Fem Dance Company featured two live works as well as two dance films (screendances), for its State of Flux concert earlier this month.

Her newest work, Kaley Pruitt’s нет войне (which translates to ‘no to war’ in Russian), in part, is a response to the war in Ukraine, now in its sixth month. But, Pruitt also astutely examines the events in a richer depth of sociological context, avoiding the usual binaries of good v. evil and instead focusing on how Russian citizens do not blindly accept the propagandistic claims of their government while trying to figure out how they can protest and subvert such messages and still manage to survive and carry on with their lives. Thus, she weaves in excerpts from the texts of two NPR Rough Translation broadcasts from earlier this year that epitomize these circumstances: The Scarf and The Snuffbox and A Letter of Unhappiness (which are read by Sara Hildebrand and recorded in Russian).

нет войне by Kaley Pruitt. Alicia Ross (front) and Christi Harris (behind). Photo Credit: Katie Bruce.

The choreography evokes the message’s purpose clearly, with the well-positioned bits of text and elements representing protests. The music is curated wisely, which includes material from locally based composer Michael Wall as well as Nils Frahm and Ann Muller, all versatile musicians whose compositions make for effective complements to the movement phrases and language. 

Pruitt’s work is important, especially when one considers the pervasive and impulsive reactions, especially when Russia invaded Ukraine last February. There were numerous social media posts castigating the Russian people to rise in mass protests against the Vladimir Putin regime. We often forget in history that war propaganda has a double edge to it, which leads regrettably to framing an entire nation’s peoples as part of the enemy. Pruitt sets the platform for audiences to comprehend that, indeed, there are Russian nationals who have found creative ways to pierce the propaganda shield. For example, A Letter of Unhappiness comes from Naira Davlashyan, a Russian ex-pat who lives in France but is distressed to learn that her family back home has accepted the hardcore propaganda the government has published. To break the shield, she uses a chain letter to help communicate an anti-war message that will resonate appropriately.

нет войне by Kaley Pruitt. Christi Harris and Jess MacDonald.
Photo Credit: Katie Bruce.

The other live work was Alicia Ross’ Always Becoming and Unbecoming, inspired in part by verses in i am complete simply because i am imperfect by Rupi Kaur, which is in Home Body, a recently published collection of her work. Ross’ rendering of this poetry ebbs and rises with the structure of Kaur’s poetry, which is especially known for its conversational features, as instapoetry for social media. There is the unashamed acceptance of shortcomings and desperation that leads to the sensation of helplessness but then there is the emerging presence of empowerment – which embodies the concert’s title State of Flux precisely. Like Pruitt’s piece, Ross’ musical palette deftly infuses material from Wall as well as kangding ray and Olafur Arnalds. 

The two remaining pieces were short dance films, both of which emphasize the potent combination of two of Utah’s greatest visual assets: dance excellence and the state’s natural wonders. The opener was Bloom, set by Jessica Baynes (also available in a stage version), which was performed and filmed on the Great Salt Lake Salt Flats and featured original music by Nicholas Maughan. The film, with videography by Keith Fearnow, included Maughan and fellow pianist Ruby Chou performing on the production site. It set the tone perfectly for the evening. The second screendance Alicia Ross’ Memento Mori features a solo dancer (Lexi Hauck) in a meditation about how an individual, knowing that each passing day further limits the time left before death, decides to use that time to maximize the satisfaction and meaning of their existence. It was an effective companion piece to the live performance of her other work. 

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