The Sugar Show

Now in its 5th incarnation, the 2013 Sugar Show featured choreography that was short and sweet and in my opinion the strongest collection of work in my three years of attending this event.  The panel discussion that followed, however, was unfortunately long and arduous. I feel like much of my frustration over the event is because I see so much potential in it for nurturing emerging choreographers and cultivating audiences of dance enthusiasts. Therefore, I applaud Brittany Reese and co-producer Stephen Brown for continuing to experiment with the format of the show.  While I don’t think they’ve landed on the exact right formula yet, I am glad to see that they are continuing to let the show evolve and adapt to best suit the needs of the local dance community.  I also want to acknowledge Reese in particular for her selfless contributions, of which the Sugar Show is just one, to dance in Salt Lake City.

The opening piece of the evening was a sumptuous duet entitled “Nightsong” by choreographer Monica Campbell. Largely inspired by performer Ismael Arriata’s original score, it explored the “haunting magnificence of the night” and the “ritualistic existence of two lonely vampires.”  In the velvety shadows of the stage, the adept pair enacted a rich language of fully embodied gesture.  I particularly enjoyed watching Mindy Houston’s performance as she flowed easily between attending to her partner and addressing the audience.  I have seen several pieces by Campbell over the years and this work stands out as a fresh choreographic exploration.

“Dance of the Greedy”, choreographed by TaCara De Tevis in collaboration with performers of local hula-hoop troupe Hula Hoopology, brought a unique genre of performance to the concert dance stage.  The piece began with the striking, albeit brief, image of nude bodies huddled in a pool of light.  I could have watched this shape morph and evolve for far longer, but the dancers soon broke apart to manipulate their individual hula-hoops.  As the program notes and title suggest, the theme of the piece addressed the human experience of greed.  The bulk of the dance vacillated between literal representations of greed and interesting collaborative shapes created by the connection of human bodies through multiple hula-hoops.  I think it is unfortunate that the panel discussion seemed to glance over this piece as I feel it stood to benefit the most from the constructive feedback process.  While clearly less choreographically sophisticated than some of the other works in the program, this dance opens up a new avenue of investigation for the fusion of hula hooping and concert dance and the earnest performers seemed eager to engage with feedback.

Tara McArthur’s work “Skewered”, in collaboration with Efren Corado Garcia, created a landscape of illumination and darkness through the use of several freestanding electric lights.  In the opening solo, McArthur highlights Corado’s mercurial flow via hand held work light.  The two proceed into a circular and egalitarian duet, each lifting the other in turn.  Simply put, I love to watch these two bodies move.  Watching them move together and mimic each other’s distinct movement styles?  Even better.  I also particularly enjoyed the bold colors and disjointed prints of the dancers’ costumes.  So often in modern dance costuming seems to be a game of avoiding the issue rather than a task of artistic choice.  It was refreshing not to see dance pants and tank tops in muted tones blending in with the backdrop.  As far as what the piece was about–I’m not sure and that doesn’t really bother me.  For me it was enough to relish in the images of golden light and waves of movement comprising McArthur and Corado’s intimate world.

The program concluded with the powerful all male ensemble “Sojourn” choreographed by Michelle Player and Tami Whatcott.  Men in khaki pants and black T-shirts flooded the stage alternating between moments of randomized, individual movement and unison.  Repeatedly, interesting ideas erupted and dissolved back into the group with an unsatisfying easiness.  I would have enjoyed seeing the choreography hold onto these potential moments of tension and select specific ideas to flesh out more fully.  Thus, the piece lacked a clear sense of progression and seemed like a soup chocked full of delicious ingredients that had not yet had the time to meld into a full-bodied flavor.  The connection between so many dancers sharing the stage, however, elicited a wonderful emotional response for many in the audience that reminds one of the role dance can play in bringing people together in community.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the creative presentations of the evening, the ensuing panel discussion was disappointing.  From the onset of the feedback process, facilitator Stephen Brown deferred to the “expert opinions” of the selected panel members.  It was nice to have several visiting guest artists included in the panel; however, three of the five were connected to Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.  When asked a question regarding bias, Brown commented that Salt Lake is a small community, but I think that more of an effort could have been made to include artists of different backgrounds and aesthetic viewpoints.  Even more frustrating was Brown’s facilitation style.  After listening to multiple panelists speak in jargon ripe for a graduate-level composition class, he offhandedly invited the audience to contribute to the conversation as well.  All in all, the “discussion” seemed more didactic than engaging and it discouraged me from sharing my thoughts and opinions, of which I had many, on the works.  If I were an audience member with less dance experience, I can only imagine how much more uncomfortable I would have been to think for myself and connect with the work on a personal level.

In the end, the audience voted in favor of “Sojourn” and the panelists for “Skewered”.  Given the tie situation, producers Brown and Reese made the final call and awarded the $1,000 cash prize to Michelle Player and Tami Whatcott for “Sojourn”.  In last year’s Sugar Show, although a single choreographer was chosen as the winner, the award money was shared between several choreographers.  It seemed curious that given the tie situation, this year’s format could not accommodate the idea of financially supporting multiple artists in their future artistic endeavors.

My final thoughts on the evening are that the Sugar Show has a great amount of potential, but that the producers haven’t quite figured out what the goal of the show is yet and in turn, the format to best support this goal.  In spite of all of this, I look forward to seeing next year’s installment.  And hey, maybe they’ll read this review and invite me to be on the expert panel!

Elizabeth Stich is based in Salt Lake City. You might find her teaching at various universities, Aerial Arts of Utah or performing at venues all over town.