A choreographic journey of spiritual, social and natural connections, Sojourn, Repertory Dance Theatre’s (RDT) forthcoming concert, will feature a world premiere by the 2022 winner of the company’s Regalia commission competition and a newly acquired work from 2012 by an internationally acclaimed choreographer, along with reprises of two RDT commissioned pieces in recent years.
Three performances of Sojourn will take place daily Nov. 17-19 at 7:30 p.m. in the Jeanné Wagner Theatre at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts.
For unset, the new commission that Tyler Schnese, the 2022 winner of Regalia, is setting on RDT dancers, he says in an interview with The Utah Review that he settled on “live, upbeat and joyful” to “get them out of breath and sweating.” He explains that watching one of the summer’s brilliant, multi-hued sunsets over the Salt Lake valley inspired the short work.
Still a relative newcomer to Utah, Schnese says that the intensity of the sunset demanded a creative response. An Appleton, Wisconsin native, Tyler Schnese had returned to school for the first time in seven years. He is in his second 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.
He knew immediately what type of music he wanted for the commissioned piece. But, he wondered if the artist would agree to permitting the music track to be used as scoring for the piece. The disco-inspired track was Thoughts Wasted by Róisín Marie Murphy, an Irish singer, songwriter and record producer.
“I follow her on Instagram and I messaged her that I was a huge fan of her work and was curious if I could use this track,” he recalls. “She messaged me back and said that she would love it.”
The track has a techno symphonic feel perfect for the sort of choreography Schnese envisioned. He also designed the costumes for the work, including tights dyed in various shades of blue and patterned nylon tops. “It’s a classic example of the budget friendly aesthetic of dance culture,” he adds.
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.
A recent acquisition to RDT’s repertory, Triptych by Cherylyn Lavagnino was choreographed in 2012. Triptych features Reverence an original score by longtime RDT collaborator Scott Killian along with Finis Jhung. Internationally known for her choreography and work with Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance, she recently was a visiting dance professor at The University of Utah.
In an interview with The Utah Review, Lavagnino says that while she is not religious, she always sees “dance as a spiritual place for me, where I have always felt most grounded, full and inspired.”
Triptych emerged from her extended stay in Mexico. “I was so impressed with the generous humanity I encountered and the deeply spiritual and religious aspects of their lives,” she explains. “Many moments in Triptych resonate with my experiences of living down there. She remembers, for example, the “wonderful simplicity,” as she describes it, where the absence of convenient utilities was not a hindrance but an opportunity to connect with the beauty of the place and community.
The work echoes some of her favorite memories from Mexico. These include nighttime camping in the desert on the outskirts of a former silver mining village and a scene just outside of a cathedral where parishioners enter by crawling on their knees. “The icons in the work come from a human, not religious standpoint,” Lavagnino adds. The female solo part might remind some of the Virgin Mary, but Lavagnino casts the part as representing any woman who has borne a child only to lose that child before their time. Another might echo the scene when Judas betrays Jesus but she casts the dancers instead as an abstract representation of a relationship between two men where the bonds of commitment have been broken by betrayal. The image of males and females crawling on their knees is not perceived just as a sacrificial act of religious supplication but as a reminder of the flip side of the potential dangers of blind faith where the individual is led falsely to believe in the redeeming values of self-punishment or flagellation as the path to salvation.
Lavagnino says that she is thrilled that RDT has added the work to the company’s repertoire. To set the work on RDT artists, Lavagnino brought Claire Westby, a dance artist from her company who has performed the female solo in Triptych. “It is a remarkable company to work with,” Lavagnino adds. “They were so invested in the work and emotionally available. What is special about them is that they have the ability to create emotional resonance without overdoing it. They were both vulnerable and articulate enough to enter the work with sophistication and professional maturity.”
Also appearing on Sojourn will be Say Their Names, set in 2018 by Natosha Washington, a choreographic response to the injustices of the “stand-your-ground” laws. In a 2018 interview with The Utah Review, Washington stated, “I am a very optimistic person…But, I also didn’t want to hide the problem in this work because I have had many frustrating and questioning conversations about something that is so close to me. Yet, there is a need for hope.” As she states in her program notes, “Where will you stand when you hear their names?”
Washington marshals the formidable powers of dance and music (experimental composer Max Richter and Luca D’Alberto’s Consequences, a 2016 release that juxtaposes punk-inflected electronics with acoustic classical instruments) without the necessity of text or political speechifying to put the full human face and impact on the issue. As important as the protests and candlelight vigils are in activism, the white-clad dancers manifest an unforgettable vision of the victims of unjustified, inexcusable, racist violence whose memories will not be erased and who will not rest until we confront our own silence about it.
Sojourn also will feature Hold by Kaley Pruitt, the winner of RDT’s 2021 Regalia choreographer’s competition. Pruitt set the work based on Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, as recorded by the New York Philharmonic led by Leonard Bernstein. The 1936 work is one of the most recognized from among 20th century American composers.
In an earlier interview with The Utah Review, in 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.
The result was a faithful interpretation of the musical structure in the Barber piece. There is a tentative, almost thoroughly uncertain, crochet movement that ascends in the music and is passed around to the various players. The rhythmic foundations shift as the music builds an arch and the dance artists open up the movement space, replicating clearly the crossovers suggested in the music.
A streaming-on-demand video offering, available with a purchased ticket, also will become available Nov. 26. For tickets and more information, see the RDT website.