While Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) is holding Regalia, its largest annual fundraiser, online for the second year ago, the event is no less audacious than its usual in-person format.
Four choreographers are assigned a group of dancers to create a short work (usually five but less than 10 minutes in length) in just four hours. The kicker is that the audience decides who wins the competition and receives the prize — a commission to create a complete work in the 2022-23 season.
Last year’s winner Kaley Pruitt created Hold, which premiered earlier this month in the streaming video on-demand concert, Emerge, which also featured new short pieces set by RDT dance artists. This year’s quartet of choreographers includes two internationally known ballet artists, one of whom is currently a graduate student at The University of Utah; one of Mexico’s most widely known artists in contemporary and modern dance, who also is a graduate student at The University of Utah, and one of Utah’s most active participants in the dance culture, who also is director of the dance program at Park City High School.
Dance always is about problem solving and RDT has managed to create a streaming video on demand version of Regalia while maintaining all of the elements of an exciting time-compressed competition. Each choreographer was assigned a team comprising RDT dance artists and guest artists from the area to work on Zoom during the prescribed time limit. Prior to the filming, choreographers had to submit their music (either public domain or with secured copyright and licensing approval), instructions for lighting, and duration of their composition.
The filmed pieces will be available for viewing from Feb. 27 through March 5 for free. The videos include interviews with the choreographers as well as clips of behind-the-scenes preparations. Audience members are encouraged to “vote by donating” ($25) to the choreographer they would like to see win the commission. Each vote is $25 and audience members can vote as many times as they want. There also will be an online auction where audience members can bid on various items and packages.
The winning choreographer will be announced on a video to air on RDT’s social media channels as well as in an email to the company’s patrons, after votes have been tabulated on March 5 at 6 p.m.
Regalia has been a major fundraiser for RDT’s arts-in-education program that has continued throughout the pandemic. The program reaches approximately 40,000 students and teachers in Utah annually. For more information, see the RDT website.
The Utah Review interviewed each of the Regalia choreographers.
Shane Urton, a North Carolina native, has had a wide-ranging international career in ballet, starting with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago and continuing on in New Zealand and Norway. Currently, he is living in Antwerp, where he is a member of the Opera Ballet Vlaanderen (Royal Ballet of Flanders).
In an interview with The Utah Review, Urton, who has been involved in several high-profile choreographer competitions, says that he has never experienced the “quite extreme pressurized time format” that is associated with Regalia. He won second place in Dance Open America’s Emerging Choreographer 2021 and was a top ten finalist for BalletX’s Choreographic Fellowship.
While he worried briefly about using Zoom to work with the dancers, he adds that he was “immensely impressed with the dancers who appeared confident in working seamlessly with the technology.” He says that he was concerned before working with the dancers that his Wi-Fi would not be strong enough or that his device was not as sophisticated, as he was staying at an Airbnb at the time.
Urton prepared to be as efficient as possible, taking cues from his past experiences where he made the most use of small windows of time whenever they became available. He approached the process by starting with a base pair of two phrases with six counts each, believing that by relying on a math-inspired blueprint he could establish a quick rapport with the dancers and start thinking about the aesthetic and poetic possibilities of setting the short composition. He says that he had never realized just how expansive the dance community is in Salt Lake City and he hopes to be able to visit within the near future to observe its many facets.
Urton has a diverse palette of influences and inspirations. They include the Belgian-Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Crystal Pite, who is well known for setting movement that augments storytelling, along with choreographers Ohad Naharin, Pina Bausch, William Forsythe and others. He also draws upon literature, science, research, psychology and sociology for inspirations. Urton explains that he especially enjoys how science, math and dance can intersect. He cites Merritt Moore, who earned her doctorate in quantum physics at Oxford while performing with the English National Ballet and London Contemporary Ballet. It is an example of the possibilities of not having to choose one field over another.
Urton is not the only Regalia choreographer with a strong ballet profile. An Appleton, Wisconsin native, Tyler Schnese recently returned to school for the first time in seven years. He is in the first year of his graduate studies at The University of Utah, working on his master of fine arts degree in ballet, along with a certificate in gender studies. Schnese was a soloist with the Hessisches Staatsballet in Wiesbaden/Darmstadt and later, Gibney Dance Company in New York City.
His career has been impressive in its versatility and experiences with works of legendary and contemporary choreographers. He was nominated in 2016 for the German Stage Prize (Der Faust) in 2016 for his interpretation of the title role in Tim Plegge’s Kaspar Hauser. He has facilitated workshops in movement as a therapy for survivors of trauma and he was worked as a choreographer, movement director, and dancer on short films and music videos for Steve Aoki, Sting, Damani Pompey, Naima Ramos-Chapman and Emma Sophia Caymares.
In an interview with The Utah Review, Schnese says that like so many of his new experiences including being a graduate student in Salt Lake City, Regalia is just as unique, as he has never made anything on Zoom before, along with the requirements that Regalia choreographers had to submit music, lighting instructions and length of work before working with the dancers on video.
At first, Schnese said there were a few awkward moments. “The biggest challenges came in realizing that you lose a little bit in momentum from teaching and observing from the screen and sorting out stage directions from the right and left hand perspectives. I realized that my camera was mirroring my picture before we sorted it out.”
Schnese started with a four-section framework, with the hopes of planning for one section in each of the four hours the choreographers had with the dancers. On a positive note, he says that the dancers were really well prepared and alert, and “they evolved nicely throughout the time they had.”
Reflecting on the experience, Schnese says the concept of Regalia is refreshing for its transparency and how it gives the audience the opportunity to make an important decision such as who will receive a commission but also how a dance composition is made. As for creating the work for the competition, Schese might have the most apt metaphor: “Think of it as the Instant Cup Noodles version — you pop it into the microwave, consume it and let it go and move onto the next thing.”
And, Schnese is not the only accomplished dance artist who is currently pursuing a graduate degree at The University of Utah. Stephanie García, one of Mexico’s leading dance artists, is a Sorenson Legacy Fellow 2021-2022 working toward her graduate degree in the university’s modern dance program. Internationally known and the recipient of numerous honors and awards, she is director of the Punto de Inflexión Dance Company, as well as co-founder and co-director of PROArtes México.
García is ideally suited to the purpose and aim of RDT’s Regalia, given her own extensive portfolio of making arts accessible in numerous ways, including international collaborations and exchanges with colleagues and educational opportunities. In an interview with The Utah Review, she says that she really enjoys being a student again, “attending lectures, studying in the library and finding new ideas to be creative especially in coming out of the pandemic.”
García says that she has never participated in a competition such as Regalia with its tight time format or on video. The closest experience was working on the first part of a choreographic collaboration via remote means for a Durango, Colorado art gallery. “We used video in working with a local choreographer to create a piece by working with children and their parents,” she says, adding that it was completed when she came to Durango and they put the finishing touches on the piece within a few hours.
García adds that having university classes on Zoom has given her the feel for how to use the conferencing technology to work with the dancers who were assigned to her for the competition. She came prepared with two movement phrases as a starter and this set up the process for some improvising moments as well as finalizing the movement cues for lighting and music.
With an extensive career that has been primarily centered in the megalopolis of Mexico City, García found her way to Salt Lake City, thanks to the guidance of Jorge Rojas. a locally-based artist and performer with whom she and her husband have met several times during his visits to Mexico. She adds that she is impressed by the “level of richness” in the local dance community.”
García likes the potential of accessibility that comes with Regalia. While in Mexico, arts organizations have the benefit of widely available public funding, they also compete for attention among various audiences and are encouraged to tour widely. There are gaps in many U.S. communities but García also sees opportunities to engage and bring more Hispanics and Latinos into the arts communities in Utah and especially in many of the state’s more rural areas.
Reflecting the comprehensive spectrum of possibilities in Utah’s well developed dance culture, Ashley Mott has taken on many roles as a master teaching artist, choreographer, yoga practitioner and dance performer. She is currently the dance program director at Park City High School. And, she is a performing member of Bone & Fiddle Dance Collective, a national group based in Ohio.
Mott is familiar to many different institutions in the state’s dance culture. Locally, she has worked at various times with My Turkey Sandwich, Sugar Space’s co.da, Wasatch Dance Collective and RDT. She has taught at, among numerous other venues, Westminster College, Utah Valley University and Salt Lake Community College.
While the limitations of Regalia are challenging, Mott says in an interview with The Utah Review, she has worked with limitations in other choreographic competitions, including one for Dance Theatre Coalition, which is well known for its Proving Ground Concert Series. For its MicroDance competition, the dancers and the work had to fit on a 32-foot platform. She set a duet, which was selected by a blind review panel for that concert.
Perhaps the most challenging limitation in Regalia for Mott was providing the exact duration of the piece and the music score for it, prior to working with the dancers during the four-hour rehearsal window. “Traditionally, when I am collaborating with dancers on finding the right movement vocabulary, I consider three or four scores and then settle on the one piece of music that will fit best for the dancers and their movement,” she explains.
Mott says the experience was “how amazing and surprising the dancers were in being open to suggestions and how they ran with it.” The adoption of Zoom also was not an issue, as she has become familiar with the hybrid teaching of combining in-person and video conferencing technology in her classes. She adds that she is grateful for the RDT format which teaches audiences about the process of dance making and what goes into crafting a work before seeing the finished product.
Mott says her inspirations are heavily based on music and by the creative processes those working in visual arts follow. She also has been interested in the creative possibilities of setting movement based on creative writing including short stories and poetry.
What she also enjoys about Regalia is its accessibility. She initially hesitated about informing her students at Park City High School about her involvement in Regalia but then was encouraged that the company is making the film of the work of all four choreographers available free for viewing (as patrons only need to purchase a ballot for casting their votes). “It is a great way for students to see how a teacher stays active in her field,” she adds.