NOWHERE at Libby Gardner Concert Hall

Before collaborative was compelling marketing it was embedded in the making of concert dance. In the ’30s Martha Graham worked with Isamu Noguchi on Frontier and he went on to design the seat for Appalachian Spring. Merce Cunningham, who performed as “the Revivalist” in that work, went on to have collaborations from Andy Warhol’s pillows in RainForest to scores by Sigur Ros and Radiohead for Split Sides. More traditionally, classical ballet drops were hand-painted and music was carefully designed to house its movements. In these unspoken veins NOW-ID stakes its claim.

It’s true that Artistic Director Charlotte Boye-Christensen’s serious and sharp aesthetic is reminiscent of Graham’s more narrative work and her presentation of Jesper Egelund‘s songs is as magnificent as any ballet orchestra. But NOWHERE also identifies a divergent nature to contemporary collaborations; in the program you won’t only find thanks to cultural partners but logos for hair salons and magazine marketing agreements. In this shift the group finds success, mobilizing outward from audiences attending dance mostly because they are themselves dancers. The resulting evening is met with enthusiasm and projects a think-tank sensibility if a more slick veneer.

NOWHERE begins with Jesper Egelund and Laura Cutler seated symmetrically atop the concert hall frame and highlighting a human-sized hamster wheel. Their music opens space for a duet between Tara McArthur and Brian Nelson. From the moment McArthur enters, choreographic ideas of freedom through restraint are perfectly clear. Her performance throughout provides a haunting meditation on how we fast we might arrive in a moment only to vanish as quickly.

NOWHERE continues shuffling duets and solos alongside brief video from Adam Bateman’s walk home on the Mormon Trail. Bateman also joins the moving action as “The Walker” formally partnering an en pointe with Katherine Lawrence across the stage and relieving expectations by running on the wheel near the end of the work. With six exterior silver seats, the audience can guess just how many mathematical possibilities there might be between the performers which allows our predictions to dissipate, finding enjoyment in watching the action unfold.

Some duets have topical tension about how we arrive and navigate elsewhere. In others a stylistic tension develops between varied performance modalities. Katherine Lawrence is fiercely capable of technical command but some degree of vulnerability seems choreographed out of her reach — an opening chest, a fluid fall, or other liberated idioms. Perhaps this is engrained into the very idea of difference, something inherent to an exploration of place. Yet it’s likely that the company model of periodic convergence is related. With half of the performers arriving a handful of weeks prior to NOWHERE, a lack of time finds its way to the surface. There is certainly magic in a serendipitous moment: the muscle memories of McArthur and TJ Spaur inside crisp partnering, the knowing of Adam’s walking body, the space temporarily losing NOW’s signature blue light in favor of floods of red. But there is enough possibility resonant that further sifting of the material seems not only warranted but desirable.

Ashley Anderson directs loveDANCEmore programs as part of her 501c3 ashley anderson dances. She shares her writing here on 15 BYTES where she is the dance editor. In the spirit of full disclosure she is friends with Tara McArthur and is extremely jealous of Katherine Lawrence’s badass post-partum performance.

Iridescence at the Rose

As much as I ever have been, I was wowed by the six dancers who currently comprise Ririe Woodbury during the opening night of Iridescence (running through Saturday at the Rose). That’s saying something, given that I’ve been watching this group on and off since I was a little kid. Throughout, I found myself thinking a lot about how the company has shifted over the years and what has remained the same.

Iridescence opened with "Duet" by Bill T. Jones. It’s clearly a dance made not by the Tony award-winner we’re used to seeing on PBS, but a younger man, with different questions on his mind. Jones here is not dealing with anything overtly political as in much of his other work. At first the exploration seems very formal, the space is cut by masking tape that divides the floor into a grid. Jo Blake moves with a clear coolness I’ve never seem him employ. He’s isolating different body parts. But not with the fake, blank sense of “neutrality” some of us might associate with (a parody of) postmodern dance. Instead there’s a true sense of play, like he’s trying all the ways he knows to move each piece and as if for the first time. Tara McArthur walks in on the middle of all of this with a casualness that seems at once to complicate and explain everything Jo has done. There is a kind of accord with what at first glance might seem an arbitrary score. It set to “folk” songs from Madagascar, Iran and the Ivory Coast. This is coexistence, but not in the Cage/Cunningham sense. There’s an awareness of the otherness in this music within an American Modern Dance setting. In general, there’s a sense of felt space, real and metaphorical. There’s play between the steps and subtle humor as this man and woman feel each other while the choreography repeats itself, seeming to be rewritten on the spot to be more clever with each try. (Brad Beakes and Bashaun Williams will dance Duet on Friday. Elizabeth Kelly-Wilberg and Alex Bradshaw dance it Saturday.)

 "Duet" was unique within the evening in that it showcased individuality in the performers. All of the dances that followed (with the exception of one) included the entire company. "West" and "Those in the Desert" by Artistic Director Charlotte Boye-Christensen, sought to evoke places: the American West and the Middle East respectively. Both works featured her trademark use of balletic lines breaking and remaking themselves in rapid succession, pulling the dancers through long limbed partnering that seems directed by some unseen masochistic order. "Those in the Desert" was set to instrumental music by Ibrahim Maalouf which allowed the formalities and rigor of the choreography to dominate, albeit flavored with Arabic harmonies. In "West" however, these taut machinations were performed to (among others) Johnny Cash, Tom Waits and Cat Power. The choreography re-postured itself slightly against the backdrop of each new song, relating to the emotional bravura of Power and Cash and the fast paced word-play in Waits. Sadly for me, this train never really slowed down enough in any of these places for me to see where we were going. What I really wanted was to stop off to look around at the landscape.

"It’s Gonna Get Loud," by Karole Armitage, was ironically one of the quieter pieces of the evening, both in actual volume and in scope. It was similar to "West" in pace, but in a straight-forward, playful way. This dance, set to a triple electric guitar score by seventies composer Rhys Chatham, was trying to be fun and sexy, but it didn’t try too hard, and I think that’s why it succeeded to the extent it did. I was reminded of popular NY choreographers of the nineties and early eighties like Doug Varone and David Dorfman, men who move big across the floor and enjoy themselves immensely. The company enjoyed themselves too and didn’t take it too seriously.

Perhaps the most ambitious piece of the evening was by Keith Johnson, a Californian with strong Utah ties. "Secret Dark World" was full of dance-theatre tropes looking for a home. Throughout, there was an expectation set up that we would view violence. Muted aggression was performed, but never explained or developed. The tone of the work seemed to want to be abrasive and European in the way we might like to imagine European dance as being cutting-edge, but it wasn’t. Deep down it was a very American piece and even a pretty Western piece, more so than Boye-Christensen’s "West." Men and women dance together in couples and then in their respective groups of three. There are chairs in which everyone sits and then slumps as though shot by imaginary bullets. Some of these images seem to find themselves and others don’t. I didn’t feel any catharsis with what I think might have been the central images of the piece. At times this really bothered me. Why was Bashaun Williams crawling, then walking, at the behest of a taunting voice that spoke to him like a dog? And why did the same crawl-walk get re-enacted by Brad Beakes, just one more time, while wearing a dog collar held by Tara McArthur. At other times I didn’t care about the why, though I still wondered. Why did Elizabeth Kelly-Wilberg do that gorgeous, precarious solo while the chairs closed in on her? Perhaps it was just a beautiful goodbye, she’s leaving the company after this season and will certainly be missed.

Sam Hanson choreographs and makes dance film in SLC. You can see his newest project on

RW's Prism

When watching an evening of an artist’s shorter pieces, ranging from works in progress to older projects, it is hard to locate a place to begin writing. There is, of course, the desire to go piece by piece and offer the moments that seemed most filled with wonder (Tara McArthur hovering beneath a spiraling fan, the company being seen through and reflected upon layers of mirrors and Betsy Willberg finding new sensitivity in an older duet with Jo Blake) as well as the moments that leave you curious or skeptical. But that approach is hard to get to when considering the evening at large and the ways in which the concert, as a whole, is both wonderful and curious.

It is clear that as a choreographer Charlotte has worked on many projects since arriving in Salt Lake City and with each iteration she makes active decisions through even the longest project. Push (from earlier this year) seemed significantly edited and the use of mirrors in Touching Fire (2010) became more clear with time. It is nice, in this way, to watch and appreciate that she is rigorous in her practice and will continue to offer choreography that becomes more and more fully realized.

But as I watch the evening at large I notice some troubling aspects alongside these nice moments — similar costuming and musical selection throughout, music at precisely the same volume for that matter, and repetitive structures that ask the audience to watch the same lifts, falls and ultimate conclusions (with Jo balancing toward the sky in more than one work). In isolation from one another those lifts are alright and Jo balancing toward the sky is even sublime. But in repetition these moments have a tendency to be redundant and lessen the impact of those counterparts which do change from piece to piece (whether architectural elements or the projection of a sad, sweaty, standup comic).

In some cases it is more than the act of repetition that leaves me curious. The musical scores for example are consistently out-danced by the company (who are a strong unit and individually fierce as hell). Their movements are doubly strong as the Black Angels notes and their easy duets softer than the songs of Sigur Ros. Add to this that every BFA candidate has used these artists at every ACDFA since Merce checked them out at the age of ninety and I am left straining to find the dance within the context that they are massively exceeding.

Now, this isn’t to say I’m in the business of re-choreographing dances. I don’t know if there is an alternative to these choices, or if there is, what it would be. However, as a viewer I know the evening becomes cloudy as a result. And I desire for the clouds to part so I can continue watching.

I see some glimpses of a more evolving aesthetic with the newest work-in-progress, West, which the company worked on this year in Arizona. In these vignettes not only does the music seem more related to the context of the dancing but the group really finds their new relationships. Specifically, Bashaun Williams doesn’t appear to be dancing someone else’s part but his own. The material seems fresh and at the end the company watches one another, really watches, the same way I do. It reminds me that the act of watching, as an audience, is nearly as vulnerable as the act of dancing and being seen.

Ashley Anderson runs loveDANCEmore through her 501c3, ashley anderson dances. You can read her full bio on