I attended the closing night of Wasatch Contemporary Dance Company’s fall concert, Blue Skies. The intimate theatrical setting of the Underground Social Hall in Provo was full of eager and attentive audience members, and the choreographic transitions between rooms showcased how dynamic the space could be.
Blue Skies was an immersive dance experience. Before entering the social hall, we were treated to a playful duet, “Hold Please,” featuring two mischievous ushers dancing in the ticket booth. The duet was a fantastic way to introduce the audience to an interactive show, and took every opportunity to explore and make full use of the unconventional dance space.
The show started casually with live music, conversation, and a corner bar for sweet mocktails. This set a nostalgic, comfortable ambience. The dances that set the concert in motion emphasized jazz rhythm, swing-style choreography, and improvisation.
Alyssa Richardson’s “Roots” began in silence, slowly building a rhythm with clapping and ending in a crescendo of live djembe drumming. The dancing incorporated staccato spoking motions and beautiful level changes, with hints of African dance motifs. It felt like a celebratory nod to the history of jazz, the dancers wholly committed to the full-body movement style.
The concert cleverly developed a narrative about jazz and the culture of the 1920s while feeling accessible and contemporary. I particularly enjoyed the partnering and footwork in Heather Norton’s “Swingin Scat,” with lifts reminiscent of famous Lindy hop stunts. The dancers’ synchronicity had a pretension of vaudeville flair. “Make Something Up on the Spur of the Moment” was a creation of structured improvisation. While spoken word was utilized for clarity, it never became prosaic, supporting the choreography without guiding it.
Throughout the concert, the performers showed no apprehension to being viewed so closely, easily breaking the fourth wall and making eye contact with each audience member. The patrons were free to roam or view each dance from a new angle. Any time the crowd followed the dancing action to a new part of the social hall, the chairs and furniture would be reset in the corresponding room. I was impressed that stage magic in this open space continued to happen without the benefit of a blackout or scene change.
The second half of the show highlighted a politically feminine fierceness in Roxanne Gray’s “female.” and Mikayla Phillips’ “The Secret Society of Short-Hair Ladies.” Both dances featured soloists contrasting with the group, keen shifts in stillness, sweeping motions, and a sense of frustration, strength, and emotional resolve.
“Newcomers” actively engaged the audience through mirroring and improvisation. Each performer would ask an audience member to dance with them, creating a seductively calm environment that was arrestingly broken by the ingress of the next dance, “Nearness of You.”
Blue Skies culminated in a collective celebration, the audience joining in for a dance party. Overall, the dancers’ technique and performance skills were superbly articulate and joyfully evocative, and the choreography meticulously and clearly crafted with the jazz-era theme in mind.
Fiona Nelson holds a BFA in Modern Dance Performance from Utah Valley University. Currently based in Salt Lake, she has performed and choreographed with Body Logic Dance Company, Co.Da (Sugar Space), and currently collaborates with Myriad Dance Company.