Jaclyn Brown’s husband, Terry, may not be a professionally trained dancer but she says that her husband, “has expressed some strong opinions about [the] choreography” he sees when she and her colleagues perform on the Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) stage. “He often has many detailed questions about why choreographers made certain choices, and disagrees with many, then proposes ‘better ideas’,” she says. “He is a business guru by profession, but also is very inventive and isn’t much of a rule follower. He has an entrepreneurial spirit. This has challenged me to consider my choreographic habits and has opened my mind to new possibilities I wouldn’t have considered without his input.”
For RDT’s Emerge, Brown along with her colleagues will present new work they have choreographed. In fact, Trifle, her new work, will include her husband, in his first public performance as a dancer.
A perfect concert to open the New Year, Emerge underscores an essential element of RDT’s mission that was part of its 1966 founding with a Rockefeller Foundation grant. As Linda C. Smith, current executive artistic director and co-founder, explains, “the company was founded in part as a laboratory for dancers to develop their choreographic skills.” She adds that everyone’s contract included the tasks of creating new work, which fellow dancers judged. Many of the more than 100 RDT alumni have become internationally known choreographers.
Three performances of the premiere are scheduled: Friday and Saturday, Jan. 4-5, at 7:30 p.m. and a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts in downtown Salt Lake City.
Brown says the piece she is creating with her husband follows the trajectory of an emerging relationship through its various stages from individuals who might be competitive at first to a successful relationship where compromise and cohesion along with trust and intimacy become possible. As the piece builds on more intense physical contact as it progresses, Brown says that she wants to use her husband’s strengths. “He is a tall, strong guy. So we are doing some exciting lifts and trying to keep momentum rolling,” she explains. “He had some literal ideas for the beginning of the piece that I wouldn’t have created by myself, so I’m not really sure what to expect.”
Indeed, every dancer is starting from a deep personal source of inspiration. Lauren Curley was sparked by a line from one of her favorite books, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. “I came across a passage that I had highlighted years back that read ‘isn’t it true that an author can only write about himself?,’ she says. As a dancer, I can only ever speak to my own struggles and triumphs. As a choreographer, I can only ever convey my own desires and fears. I think the thing that drives anyone to choreograph or to perform is that innate need to share the parts of yourself with the world that are too complex to articulate with words. The ugly, beautiful, delicate and wild bits that make us each our own.”
She has choreographed a solo featuring Daniel Mont-Eton, who left the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company last season so he could take care of an injury. “This will be his first time performing since stepping away from dance to take care of an injury, and we have been exploring movement that is closely tethered to a single chair,” she explains. She has selected music by Michael Wall, a local composer who provides an extensive catalogue of work for choreographers and dancers.
Elle Johansen’s piece emerges from her passion for bouldering, a bold form of rock climbing without any ropes or protection from falling. “My hope is that the climbing community sees a dance show with something they can relate to, and the dance community gets to experience the physical world of climbing,” she explains. The work is choreographed for three dancers: Johansen, Curley and Hannah Marks, who recently moved to SLC from California. To prepare for the piece, the dancers went on a bouldering expedition. “Some of the vocabulary is quite literal in the sense that we grab the air as if we are holding on to a piece of Little Cottonwood’s infamous granite boulders,” she says. “An important part of the piece for me was that all union not be perfect. Everyone climbs different even if they are doing the same problem and I wanted that to be reflected.” She will be using the song A Cloud for Climbing by Dala.
For MASC, his latest work, Dan Higgins explores the ideas of masculinity from all angles and what it means to be a man. Higgins, who is in his fifth season with RDT, says the piece reflects about his time as a dancer “has differently informed me,” especially since his days as a high school athlete in California. “Even some of my friends have been blown away by how I have changed,” he explains, especially by the possibility that a dancer’s physical performance and expectations are not only similar but just as grueling for what is required for sports. “For some, it’s hard to wrap their minds around it,” he adds.
Higgins has choreographed his work as a trio, featuring himself, Dan Higgins, Kaya Wolsey and Micah Burkhardt. Set in three sections, Higgins has selected three pieces of music: Weary by Perera Elsewhere, Port Holes by Entropy Worship and Hymn by Luke Howard. Weary and Port Holes are impressive electronic dance songs while Hymn is a marvelous fusion of electronic music, improvisation and the composer’s passion for Bach and classic Anglican hymns in a non-religious setting.
Emerge will include works by RDT’s newest dancers: Megan O’Brien, who also is the company’s education specialist, and Daniel Do. O’Brien will perform a solo – a choreographic soliloquy that reflects the recent experiences of her two roles in RDT. “I settled on a solo because I was a bit afraid to set a piece on other dancers,” she says. “But, I have some ideas about exploring myself as a dancer that I want to communicate. And, as a soliloquy is a perfect moment for self-reflection, I wanted to set the piece in a very personal way.”
One of her strongest literary influences is the poetry of E. E.Cummings who subverted the syntax of conventional sentences and phrases in the English language and refreshed the architecture of literature and poetry in a new format. Likewise, contemporary dance offers new perspectives on movement language and vocabulary, a mission in which RDT is immersed. Likewise, Shakespearean soliloquies that expose the interior monologues of characters are inspiring. For music, O’Brien turns to the roots of her Irish and Scandinavian ancestry.
Daniel Do, who is in his first season with RDT, will present A Collective Resilience, a work he says is inspired by how a community responds to all sorts of horrific events. “I’m interested in exploring the ideal of safety through dance and tensions of the fight or flee response,” he explains.
Do counts Doug Varone and Crystal Pite as among his choreographic role models. Do, well-known for his facility especially with whole-body movement, focuses on achieving a synergy of mental intensity and physical demands almost to the point of complete exhaustion in his work. Do’s work includes dancers Angela Lee, Cameron Mertz, Natalie Jones, Jonathan Kim (an artist with SALT Contemporary Dance) and Edromar Undag (an artist with SALT Contemporary Dance II).
The music for his work include Tres Dominé by Hammock and The Violent Bear It Away by Moby, which convey aptly the thematic impetus. For example, in Tres Dominé, the lyric reading, “My soul’s become undone, my soul it just won’t heal” is juxtaposed against the soaring trumpet instrumental.
Do and O’Brien also will be featured in a witty, quirky duet choreographed by Nick Cendese, RDT’s artistic associate featuring Yiddish music.
Smith is creating a solo for Efren Corado-Garcia, who will be leaving RDT at the end of this season for new pursuits. “I like the idea of working with him and the wonderful relationship we have enjoyed during his tenure,” she says. The work expresses the idea of navigating the daily highs and lows as an artist, and how those experiences shape a dancer. In the spring, Corado-Garcia will set a program as part of RDT’s Link Series.
This is the third year for the Emerge concert, which will include appearances by 26 dancers. New work also will be presented by Tyler Orcutt and Ursula Perry. In addition, as part of the Winterdance workshop (Jan. 2-4), participants will have the opportunity to perform a piece Higgins will set in the creative lab portion.
Brown neatly summarizes the personal dimensions of the Emerge experience. Last year, in Jammies, she danced with Layla, who was two and a half months old at the time, along with Lacie Scott, an RDT alumna, who danced with her daughter. “We tried to make a statement that being a dancing professional with a family life is a unique challenge, but certainly fulfilling and important,” she says. “I am trying to make that same statement ring true again. People choreograph about what is most important to them: political conflicts, hobbies, etc. One thing that will always be most important to me is my family, and I am passionate about sharing that message in a world where family isn’t always honored and respected. I feel strongly that you shouldn’t have to choose between a career and a family. You can have and succeed at both!”
For tickets and more information about Emerge and Winterdance, see the RDT web site.