In addition to their performances and extensive schedule of leading dance demonstration and learning for students and the community, Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) company members also are expected to develop their skills as a choreographer, to fulfill their contract. Many of the more than 100 RDT alumni have become internationally known choreographers and some have founded their own dance companies producing works that have premiered on the RDT stage.
With Emerge, which will be performed twice on the first weekend of 2023, several RDT artists will present short works they have choreographed in a program slated for Jan. 6 at 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 7 at 2 and 7.30 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts.
For the seventh edition of Emerge, Linda C. Smith, RDT co-founder and executive and artistic director, has given the dance artists free reins to decide what they would like to choreograph with one condition. Keeping with the 57th season’s theme, which is community, the RDT artists set their works on dancers or groups in the community they wanted to highlight. The program will feature guest artists such as Fem Dance Company, Altitude Dance Company, Tanner Dance and dancers from Brigham Young University. Nicholas Cendese, RDT artistic associate and development director, will set a piece to be performed by dance teachers from Utah schools. This is the third time in recent years that Cendese is setting work for local dance teachers. Also, some participants from RDT’s intensive workshop Winterdance, which runs through Jan. 4, will have a chance to perform at Emerge.
“I always like to remind people that having artists develop choreography was one of the major reasons why the Rockefeller Foundation invited us to become a repertory company,” Smith says in an interview. Founded in 1966, RDT is the nation’s first modern dance repertory company which could be successfully sustained.
She adds that because the dance community in Salt Lake City as well as in other parts of the state is so diverse and broad, it is an excellent opportunity for RDT artists to expand their own capacities to develop their choreographic skills with dancers with whom they might not normally work as extensively as they do with their peers at RDT. Each RDT artist is given the same consideration as any choreographer who visits the company to set a piece, and these benefits include providing dedicated performing space, production assistance and work with the residence lighting designer (Pilar I.).
Setting her dance work on Fem Dance Company, Elle Johansen is paying homage to her grandparents who were in a band and covered popular songs. Her grandmother sang and the grandfather accompanied her on the harmonica. Using their recordings, Johansen says she was inspired to set a work with a folk dance sense as well as couple partnering. The six guest artists come from the locally based Fem Dance Company. “I was so impressed by the dance artistry in their last school,” she adds, explaining why she selected the group. “I really see the work as a tribute celebrating the wonderful energy my grandparents always had.”
Working with the guest artists has given Johansen the opportunity to finesse a choreographic approach that she has found effective in her development as a performer whenever guest choreographers come to the RDT a studio. “I realize the value of the informal decision making process, which encourages teamwork in the studio to work with the dancers in trying to figure out the best way to achieve what I am asking of them,” she says.
Daniel Do is working with 12 dancers from Altitude Dance, directed by Lauren Broadbent Richards. He has titled his piece Order to reflect how chaos and unexpected events (such as a pandemic) affect the order and discipline of a dancer’s life in and out of the studio. For the music, he selected a movement from Enio Bosso’s Music for The Lodger (2017), his fifth string quartet. Bosso, an internationally known Italian musician and composer, died in 2020 from a neurodegenerative syndrome, which developed after he had a brain tumor removed years earlier. Do, who is known for his high energy and long stamina athletic aesthetic as a dancer and choreographer, says that Altitude Dance’s “movement aesthetic is a beautiful fit” for Order, his newest work.
While he settled quickly on the musical material for the piece, he wanted to ensure that it also would make a meaningful connection for Altitude’s dancers. “One of the first things we did is talk about how they see order and chaos in their lives,” he says. “I was never pulled by one direction in thinking about how the piece will end up. It was a cathartic process and we found resonance about both the good and bad dimensions (and impacts) of chaos.”
For more information and tickets, see the RDT website.