This past weekend, unsurprisingly, I had to choose between several dance performances in Salt Lake City. I saw two shows, The Penguin Lady Presents at the Rose Wagner and Transfusion Hype’s evening at Sugar Space. In the next three weeks, there are at least four other dance concerts happening, most of which are large undertakings with numerous performers and guest artists.
One thing does surprise me as I navigate this growing scene. Much of the time, the audience is made up of the same faces, as though we all walked from place to place together. Then all of a sudden, I’m surrounded by people who I have never seen. The latter was true of Transfusion Hype’s Lucid Jubilee. The concert was choreographed primarily by Ashlee Vilos with some work by partner-in-crime Temria Airmet. The group’s performances, which tend toward the commercial, have met success at venues such as the Urban Arts Festival and the Utah Pride Festival. Many in the group are popular educators, some teach at the new Millenium Dance Complex in the 9th and 9th area. Jubilee was a foray away from their usual commercially-oriented fare. Though its circus-infused narrative encountered some of the problems endemic to formalism, for me, it was a breath of fresh air within the often stagnant system of “concert dance”.
Given my sense of anonymity as an audience member, I was able to experience the show without many limiting expectations. I found myself completely captivated by Ashlee’s presence as both a choreographer and a mover– it seems inexplicable, but she’s a cross between Doug Elkins and Ann Liv Young’s “Sherry” character. (If you don’t know who I’m talking about, google these artists and find out.) She drew everyone in with total charisma, moving between styles with fluidity and nuance. She also comfortably transitioned between monologues as an ancient mermaid and dancing for the sake of dancing, improvising through technical malfunctions in a manner that was nothing other than dynamic.
Ashlee’s wild personal energy extended to some of the other numbers including “Shake that Devil,” which starred Brady Swenson juxtaposed against Ashlee, Temria and Kate Overholt. As Brady danced to the strained voice of Antony Hegarty of “Antony and the Johnsons,” the red-clad women replaced one another, taking turns offering a still counterpoint to his desperate movement. Although I wasn’t sure how the work fit into the overall narrative (Brady was “Felix the Fox”, one of the characters in the circus), I felt this dance successfully addressed the idea that our identity can be immutable, no matter what we put on for an audience.
Most at the show that night seemed to enjoy hearing popular music and seeing the kind of dramatic sequencing popular in contemporary dance-on-television. Even I loved watching everyone dance to Beyoncé and throw glitter in my face. I loved watching those who could commit ferociously to acrobatic dance styles that I am simply unable to do, but it wasn’t without some difficulty on my part as a viewer.
There are questions, for example, about why several of the dances fall into television tropes, including the use of complex but arguably excessive narrative. Most of Ashlee’s work is musical and built upon a collective desire to watch effortless difficulty. The creation of a formal, yet ultimately fractured and underdeveloped narrative about a circus doesn’t add anything essential to the mix. In fact, it creates a number of problems. While certain characters are compelling–– Ashlee’s mermaid for starters–– I don’t feel there was a strong sense of what the plot that animated these figures really was.
Throughout, I enjoyed the passionate dancing, the care with which music was chosen and the investigation of unison. I felt that “Shake that Devil” was one example of a piece which succeeded on all of the levels on which the show was attempting to function. I look forward to more in that vein as Transfusion Hype locates itself as a fixture working in both commercial and concert dance practices.
Ashley Anderson’s non-profit ashley anderson dances houses loveDANCEmore.