Dancer stands in black
Mouth open yelling
the streetcar leaves
dusk is coming, clouds backlit, urban landscape
another dancer approaches
Nomad presented a handful of new works by recent University of Utah graduates Natalie Border, Austin Hardy, and Elle Johansen at the Nomad Network, a collective arts space that sits alongside the Sugarhouse street car. The event began outside with a duet between Border and Micah Burkhardt in which Burkhardt is free to use the space while Border is confined to the platform at the entrance. There are a series of lifts and integrated partnering, and at one point both dancers stand looking west to the mountains as if in an urban rendition of Appalachian Spring. The rest of the duet doesn’t necessarily support this image, and like the opening image of a suppressed scream, it is not revisited. The dancers pause and stare as the streetcar whirls by, providing the only accompaniment to this section. As the audience sits and stands informally, we get to enjoy the (end of summer, looming fall) evening and the two dancers highlighting the utilitarian aspects of the venue.
We are eventually led to an upstairs space with a small stage, a rope swing, a stair case, and seating on three sides; it is intermission, and snacks and drinks are provided. The show commences with Johansen swinging, Ashley Creek drawing with pink chalk, and Marli Hughes gesturing. What follows is a series of vignettes, some in silence, others with recorded music. The highlight of this section is when a door opens stage right and reveals a trio juxtaposing the movement happening center stage. It immediately made the space more dynamic, as if we were in a ‘choose your own adventure’ and surprise rooms and numbers could appear at anytime. Those who were sitting on the opposite side of the stage most likely missed this moment, as others missed certain aspects of the procession it took to arrive in the upstairs loft. That is both the beauty and the beast of Nomad: some things will be missed, but, for those who do find an experience, they feel they've discovered something special.
At times the actual choreography felt young, and perhaps needs time to distill and refine; however the use of the space, and how the audience was guided was both innovative and magical. This is a new-ish model of dance performance that is emerging in Salt Lake City and it is departing from the tried (and maybe tired) model of the traditional proscenium space. The recipe: get people together, provide drinks and/or snacks, expose the community to a new location, have some live music (in this case provided by Pablo Blaqk) and last, show a body of work. Within varying degrees this model is working and the security is if one of the elements isn’t to fruition, there are other aspects that buffer and keep the evening afloat. It's hard not to enjoy a night out with a lively community, refreshments, and performance.
Erica Womack is a Salt lake based choreographer and adjunct faculty member at SLCC.