Provo Sites: A new venue for dance in the Southern reaches

The third iteration of Provo Sites, a mobile dance series, took place last Monday at the Central Utah Gardens, which is an unassuming oasis somewhere in Orem. Choreographer Ashley Anderson, whose loveDANCEmore umbrella produces the series in partnership with Kate Monson and Kori Wakamatsu, opened the evening with “holiday”, a short solo performed by Repertory Dance Theater alum Chara Huckins. Though she’s been out of the company for two years, Huckins still dances with an understated facility that far outstrips most of her former colleagues. Monday night she wore a simple peasant dress that was the same striking green as her eyes–– the last thing revealed as she slowly rolled up through her spine from the folded over position in which “holiday” began. As she unfurled herself, tiny silver pellets fell from inside the folds of her dress. It was a miniature hailstorm, rife with metaphor, set to music from an “unmarked Christmas album”. The dancing that followed made magic out of repetition. Arms and legs reaching through familiar pathways slowly revealed something precious and strange about the lone woman on stage. It was “dance as a vehicle for the performer” at it’s best.

After “holiday”, Movement Forum lead us out of the amphitheater to an area called the gathering space which became a pedestrian traffic circle. Simply titled “an improvisation”, there was an easy, meditative quality to the whole affair. The audience, which included many sprawling families and older folks, promenaded behind the dancers. Movement Forum crawled and fell in and out of each other’s negative space with a rambling casualness that’s hard to achieve on a proscenium stage. The sun was setting, and Nick Larson of the Salt Lake Whalefishers was strumming a banjo, while crooning one of his brilliantly playful and sardonic lyrics. It was a dance for the summer. MoFo wasn’t breaking new ground here, but I think they ushered a lot of people into seeing dance in a way they’d never have signed up for if they’d had to think about it. Watching the people of Provo and Orem discover what it was to follow an unfolding dance around a corner was a pleasure in itself.

Then we arrived in the lower part of the garden where three more dances awaited us. Love duets by Kori Wakamatsu and Pat Debenham struck me as underdeveloped and predictable. Though I am sure they were a positive point of entry for many, I’ve just seen one too many dances featuring one woman, one man and two benches. Perhaps they also suffered from seeming presentational and flat after MoFo’s offering. Wakamatsu’s “Inicio”, had been commissioned by a Brazilian artist as a basis for a dance scene in an animated film. Perhaps if the final product could have been seen in tandem with the live performance, the piece might have held more interest.

The night’s most ambitious effort was Kate Monson’s “Women/Femme 10”, a suite of three dances for the formal garden and the model landscapes, which were quite literally a suburb in miniature. (The Gardens’ laudable mission is to teach the residents of Utah county how to use less water for landscaping.) In Part 1: Hand Wash in Cold, Leave Overnight, Jon Thomas stood still, facing the audience with a dead expression while the wryly comic Maylene White sipped water from a champagne flute, regarded her partner and grew increasingly exasperated with her costar’s unwillingness to dance. White’s style was jocular, even broad, but it worked surprisingly well as a vehicle for Monson’s choreographic agenda. White plucking each finger with a fork prong or sawing a butter-knife into her wrist had me thinking of much more earnest works from twentieth century art history. I was surprised to be reminded of performance artists like Martha Rosler, or even Marina Abramovic and Ohio choreographer Susan Hadley, who’s work has frequently been seen locally on Repertory Dance Theatre. The tone of this work was just right for this audience, but still carried a clear, feminist voice that had the children laughing and the crowd charged with that palpable, generative tension that means they’ve been forced to think.

Most Salt Lake City dance aficionados won’t venture down to Provo to see these shows, but they shouldn’t dismiss them. With or without us, these artists are carving out a place for themselves in an environment that looks even less like downtown Manhattan than Salt Lake City does. The attendance, enthusiasm and work were all comparable to what’s going on here in the capitol, and as someone interested in the ecology of dance, seeing that process unfold is an engaging way to spend an evening.

Sam Hanson regularly contributes to loveDANCEmore