Sample Tracks, an unreview

Before you read on I want to get out of the way that I think you should go see Sample Tracks at Sugar Space today (Saturday). In this writing I problematize the show without really describing it but I think it’s worth seeing.

I started this blog with numerous objectives. One was to find a place for dissenting voices and another was to find a place for documenting emerging voices. Both have happened, I think, with varying degrees of success. But tonight I watched Sample Tracks at Sugar Space and wondered why the audience was so scarce and why audiences in general aren’t as engaged by new work as by historic, and often more repetitively programmed, dance. Before I get ahead of myself I don’t think it’s an either/or situation, you can watch both sorts of dance, among others, but the issue seemed prominent tonight — the issue where we, as a general public, value perceived mastery rather than inquiry. That issue is not always the case, so before my imagination bombards me with the exceptions that might be noted, I’ll just say that regardless of them it’s simply still a majority view.

Sam Hanson, Leah Nelson with Cortney McGuire, and Movement Forum, are my peers. They are young artists working in SLC and they made things to be presented as part of Sample Tracks this weekend. Some people tonight saw their works as incredibly fresh, invigorating and unlike typical fare. Others saw them as haphazard and not very virtuosic. Neither group is right or wrong but that is beside the point; I could write about what each artist or group made and how I feel about it but it doesn’t seem really helpful. That sort of writing wouldn’t get at the problems I think we are all feeling in the current moment, where we all choose to watch dance when it’s convenient and not when it is complicated.

There are dances I enjoyed tonight and dances I didn’t. But I left with the understanding that I can’t expect dances to improve if the conditions for dance-making don’t improve. If, as part of a community, I choose to watch something that is cool by virtue of being European or being well-regarded in a long ago newspaper, I miss out on what the people around me are trying to make. Similarly, if I don’t start to comprehend the deficits left between academic institutions and presenting organizations in the city I can never make sense of why people with so few resources are unable to give dances the time they need to develop while also managing paying jobs among other facets of personal life. Some projects step in to close the gaps (whether intermittent programming such as this or others in the city, including those run by loveDANCEmore) but if, at the end, there is no audience to see the work and reverberate their energy, their questions and their interpretations, how can we imagine this will grow?

Of course in current funding models that is up to the artists and the assessment of tonight’s show is as simple as better marketing. But I think that it’s harder than that. I think it’s about the value we are placing on our fellow choreographers and the time they are worth. I think it’s about the expectations we’ve cultivated rather than the material we are seeing. I think it’s about us investing in ourselves before imagining that the general public ought to.

I will probably write more about this later. And, for the record, I think those who have seen the show should leave their own commentary whether about the work or otherwise. I don’t think I have all the answers, I just think I’m mapping the terrain that we all see but maybe haven’t begun to describe.

Ashley Anderson directs loveDANCEmore projects as part of "ashley anderson dances"