Sugar Space’s most recent event, SUITE: Women Defining Space, was an odds and ends compilation of three choreographer’s works. The show lacked a through-line, but the individual pieces were also unclear in their purpose, making the performance confusing and ultimately frustrating.
With a purpose as lofty as presenting some of Salt Lake’s “emerging women choreographers”, facilitators of SUITE might have made sure that the choreographers commissioned for the show were representative of Salt Lake’s dance scene, which has its brilliant moments. The choreography was a display of apathy; little development of ideas and uninteresting movement were features of all five pieces in the show (choreographed by three women, Joan Mann, Emily Haygeman and Elise Woodruff).
Joan Mann describes her piece kills as an exploration on “80’s gore karate films and experiments with ocular orgasms”. I would describe kills as a stationary study on inactivity. Dancers Caitlin Warren and Chutta walk onto the stage seductively, but immediately separate with passive indifference. Warren is a shining statuesque figure, due mostly to the gold glitter covering her body (full disclosure: I attend the University of Utah and am in the same class as Warren). Chutta is a splayed body on the floor. A projection of a field of golden poppies displayed on the back wall fills in the space between the dancers. If only images could make a dance. Warren’s feet are virtually glued to the floor, with upper body movements that stay close to the torso; occasionally a flick of the wrists sends glitter into the air. Mann may have been aiming for a minimal aesthetic in kills, but the piece is flat—a nice painting, maybe. Mann may have an eye for one dimensional art, but dance is inherently 3-D.
Haygeman’s Rites and Returns was an unassuming piece which got lost within the glaring muddle of the rest of the show. The most memorable part of the dance was a sense of fear I felt each time dancers climbed onto a wobbling platform which threatened to topple. The platforms themselves were innovative, playing with Sugar Space’s awkward theater that hides any movement on the floor from much of the audience, so that elevated figures were more visible. It is regretful that Nell Suttles performed in this piece. A performer who I looked up to as a freshman at the U (she was an upperclassman in the Modern Dance department) Nell’s confident gaze and gentle movements were not utilized in the repetitive choreography in Rites and Returns.
I relaxed into my seat when the arresting image of Chelsea Rowe’s back slowly became illuminated in the Haygeman’s duetRendering 2 (with Michael Watkiss). However, I soon was leaning forward to be able to discern what was happening onstage; what might be deemed “mysteriously dark” lighting actually just left the audience squinting to see what could have been a beautiful image- Rowe standing on a platform with an exaggeratedly long skirt flowing to the floor, her bare back exposed to the audience. The extended lines made by the costume would have been interesting, had Rowe not stepped out of the skirt by the time the lights had lifted. The rest of the dance was an uneventful exploration of back muscles. Yes, backs are beautiful. Yes, muscles ripple. But if rippling and shrugging of the shoulders are dancing, then what are dancers training for? Any layman could do that (albeit with less muscle tone). Haygeman kept Rowe’s face hidden for the entire dance, distancing the audience from the performer. I was disappointed by the casualness of the choreography, and by how easily Haygeman seems to be distracted from a potentially interesting idea.
Choreographer Elise Williams tried her hand at humor in both Denial and Ode To The Restaurant Business, with little success. Relying heavily on pantomime and props, both dances were mimicries of stereotypical characters. Ode To The Restaurant was a lengthy dance, but the time and effort put into it was wasted due to lack of any kind of editing or self- criticism. The seemingly endless piece takes place in a restaurant. You can tell it’s a restaurant because there is a chef with a chef’s hat on, chopping plastic vegetables with her hands. Or maybe you can tell by the two waiters tying their ties in the mirror as a manager spanks them naughtily on their asses that tip you off. (Interestingly, SUITE claims that the show “addresses the misconception that men make dances and women perform them”. This may be, but when a woman choreographs misogyny into a dance, is it any better than if a man had?) A pointless story of diners dining and women flirting ensues. You can tell they are eating and flirting because they literally eat and flirt. No subtlety or metaphors for Williams. Dancing is almost solely used as a way to travel across the space; apparently, people travel with random jetes now. Slapped on smiles (which wavered into a grimace with any teetering pirouette) and an incredible panoply of props (cardboard cars! silverware and trays and plastic food!) attempted to distract the audience from a lack of dancing and an abundance of bad acting, to no avail.
Choreographers for SUITE were young artists, and this performance may have been their first foray in presenting work for a more diverse audience. These dances seemed like sketches, skeletons of what they might become. No work in the show was satisfying as a whole, but some moments glimpsed at interesting artistry. I wish that “emerging women choreographers” of Salt Lake had been represented by more mature audiences, but perhaps now we can watch these three women grow.
Sofia Strempek is a student at the University of Utah who regularly writes for the Chronicle.