Below is a two-for-one review of a couple of the many dance performances this past weekend in Salt Lake City. The works discussed below share having been produced outside of theater spaces. First, Emma Wilson tackles Two Boots’Dylan Dances. Below, Breeanne Saxton discusses NOW-ID at the UMOCA.
Dylan Dances… in an alleyway, donning denim, naturally
Katherine Adler and Samantha Matsukawa’s artistic collaboration, Two Boots, presented this late-night show, Dylan Dances, for which Bob Dylan’s music scored most of the show. Upon entering the dimly-lit alleyway where the performance was held, I felt the unexpected buzz of human bustle and finally found the warmly lit alcove next to a high-rise parking lot where the dancing was to be held. I was asked for my ID and a donation by Amy Freitas of Porridge for Goldilocks, and was then nudged further into the alcove, handed a plastic cup of beer, and encouraged to mingle amongst hanging lights and happy people. Matsukawa and Adler know how to create a serene environment; I was ready to metaphorically train hop with them anywhere. These two blooming choreographers describe their work and goals on their facebook page in a whimsical yet succinct way that mirrors their choreographic style. Here’s their statement:
With clean hands and dirty paws we are human beings doing human things, modern day troubadours who aim to connect the dots and trace the red strings between us all, transcending time and place. We tell stories of familiar voices in an unforgiving age under the guise of dance and movement. Preserving verses and twisting tales, we invite our audience to be open to enlightenment or confusion, fact and fiction, and always empathy. We act as pied pipers opening interpretation to short truths.
Adler and Matsukawa, both University of Utah graduates with BFAs in Modern Dance, worked primarily with people who are affiliated with that program, so I was curious about attendance at the show. Would it be a typical performance with the usual audience of dance-minded people? No. There were many “family members” of the University modern dance department, but the show’s prime placement within Gallery Stroll, in an alleyway near up-and-coming venue Diabolical Records— and Two Boots’ collaboration with local musicians— made the show accessible and intriguing for passersby and other people who wouldn’t normally go to a dance performance.
There were moments when the action was lost amongst the equally alluring sounds of bumping dance music across the alleyway and a band jamming at Diabolical Records. Some audience members standing behind me drifted away during a duet between Adler and Matsukawa. The number necessitated a certain kind of voyeurism on the audience’s part that I think they just couldn’t relate to. One section in the duet involved repetitious solos juxtaposed against each other. These simultaneous solos took the pair from upstage to downstage in a tidal way that was mesmerizing, but perhaps alienating for some. Matsukawa had another, equally mesmerizing solo that contained many angular positions interrupted with spirals and precarious balances that she weaved through effortlessly. It also perhaps lost attention because of downcast eyes and an introspective nature.
Matsukawa and Adler were loyal to their artistic integrity, prompting me to ponder the issue of how to make dance more accessible for non-dancers. One way is to perform with complete conviction— here, most of the time, everyone did. An extremely dynamic duet between Sterling Anderson and Natalie Border involved satisfying eye contact with one another and with the audience. There was also a section in which all of the denim clad dancers and musicians stripped down to their underwear and frantically traded denim variations, provoking thoughts about identity and individuality. We’re all different, but really the same, and everyone looks good in denim, dancing to Dylan.
Another moment: Eliza Tappan coached Molly Heller to shotgun a Pabst while straddling the newly opened box of beer. Then the rest of the beer was distributed to the audience. A brief intermission followed allowing for general conviviality. The show ended not with another recorded Bob Dylan song, but with the three musicians playing “Wagon Wheel” while the dancers executed a phrase in a circle around them. At first, the song choice seemed like a non-sequitur because I had only heard it sung by contemporary musicians, but I later discovered that Dylan was actually the first to sketch out the song, though he never officially released it. The choice to circle the musicians felt much too sentimental, but I was won over by the memory of all that came before that scene and the quintessentially folksy nature of the song.
Many dance artists and performers feel entitled to the audience’s attention because they know how much work they put into their performance. The audience does not always know this. They can mentally or physically check out at any time unless they are engaged in some way. I do not know exactly how many audience members checked out of this performance, but I do know that there was quite a crowd of non-dancers after the show, excited to commend and discuss what they had just witnessed. In that respect, the first evening with Two Boots was a success. Adler and Matsukawa managed to produce a performance in an alternative space, create a unique treatise on the romanticism and adventure found in many Bob Dylan songs, and attract a diverse audience. Dylan Dances had an unmistakable and multi-faceted personality whether anyone liked it or not. Two Boots is a collaboration worth watching.
Charlotte Boye-Christensen’s NOW-ID at UMOCA
The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art’s current exhibit, Bikuben, features contemporary Danish artwork that explores a diverse variety of themes. It was a real pleasure to meander through the exhibit. The work was surprisingly interactive. One piece was a large book with a progression of very simple and minimalist prints that evolved as I turned the pages. I also climbed up a small white tunnel barely big enough for one, which led me to a soft place when one could lie down and peer up through a small square cut out.
In the same gallery, Charlotte Boye-Christensen presented a duet for dancers Jo Blake and Kate Crews Linsley. Christensen commissioned an Icelandic composer and opera singers from her hometown, Copenhagen. The piece took place in front of a large wall of fastidiously placed pictures of craters. The downstage-right corner was filled with white shapes that reminded me of hollowed out tree trunks. The space created by the visual artists was cavernous and inorganic, and the performers brought it little sense of the organic. They entered with rigid spines, their chests taking shallow breaths as they slowly approached one another head first. A contemporary pas de deux evolved with as little life as the photographs in the background. Crews Linsley projected her performance far beyond the audience, who were in fact in very close proximity. In other words, Crews Linsley lacked the subtle performance awareness necessary to engage a more intimate space. The choreographic relationship to this captivating space was unclear, as was the performers’ relation to each other.
Having viewed much of Boye-Christensen’s work with Ririe-Woodbury before, this duet felt so familiar that I quickly lost interest. The pas de deux was followed by solos for each of the two dancers. Blake’s solo was the highlight choreographically and performatively. His limbs flew with a forceful momentum that was nearly out of his control, but would always arrive in a place of precision and accuracy. Blake allowed himself to have a subtlety that invited the audience as well as impressing us with virtuosity and athleticism.
Emma Wilson serves as the loveDANCEmore intern and performs and choreographs regularly, having shown work several times at Mudson and at other venues in SLC. Breeanne Saxton is a dance major at the University of Utah.