the very BEaST


In anticipation of attending last night’s concert, I imagined the VERY BEaST of SB DANCE to be a unicorn—a mythical beast of which I had heard fantastic stories, but had yet to see with my own eyes.  Since moving to Salt Lake City in 2008, well-intending people have suggested on more than one occasion that I should check out SB Dance.  Three years later, here was my chance.

The VERY BEaST of SB DANCE is a sampling of the company’s greatest hits from 1997-2006, including one hit from each of the selected 10 years.  As excerpts of longer works, each piece offered a glimpse of what SB Dance must have been like in its glory days.  Through the use of his adept dancers, props, and lighting (kudos to Glen Linder), Stephen Brown creates an entire world in a matter of moments.  He is a choreographic master of images.

Like catching a glimpse of a unicorn through shadowy evening mist, I see Juan Adalpe’s shining face staring into a silver bucket that seems to glow from within.  I see Nathan Shaw and Jenny Larsen gliding across an eerie green stage via an industrial kitchen table on wheels.  I see Stevan Novakovich dressed in a long flowing blue skirt, tumbling in the wind of an upstage corridor of light.

Other moments were less like glimpsing a unicorn–Corinne Penka sporting a ball gag and Nathan Shaw baring all–but I presume Brown’s world must include some dark magic as well (perhaps this is the “adult themed content” I was warned of at the box office).  In fact the last three pieces centered on the theme of nudity, which I found to be a bit of an overkill.  However, Shaw’s full-frontal in the final piece of the evening, Waltz of the Dog-faced Boy, offered a cheeky discussion of the use of nudity onstage that reminded me of Dorothy and her gang venturing behind the curtain at the climax of the Wizard of Oz.

In the program notes, Brown writes, “SB Dance’s funding has drooped to a 10-year low.”  I wonder, which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Has the company not made any new work in the last five years because of low funding or is it the other way around?  Either way, my guess is that The VERY BEaST of SB DANCE is a call to galvanize SB Dance supporters for new work to come.  Overall the evening was a wonderful tease, like a series of decadent hor’dourves with no entrée to follow.  Now that I have seen the magic Brown can create in a moment, I am hungry to see how he sustains that over an hour.

Elizabeth Stich completed her MFA at the University of Utah

What Type are You at the Rose Est.

“WHAT TYPE ARE YOU?” brought together talented local choreographers Juan Aldape and Sofia Gorder at the Rose Establishment in downtown SLC.  Each choreographer created a work, with a 10-minute intermission in between to absorb the material and grab a cup of coffee.  The two works have in common a thread of social commentary, and the evening’s name is aptly presented in the form of a question, as each piece begs of the audience a certain degree of introspection about their own role in the surrounding society and culture.

A Comic Hero of Two Cultures by Juan M Aldape/DANZAFUERZA examined the relationship between México and the United States as seen through the lens of one individual straddling the two worlds.  Juan integrated text and movement, a difficult thing to do successfully in a performance.  The text, both live and recorded, was one of the strongest aspects of this piece.  The opening text was recorded, and sounded mechanical, detached, as it asked intimate questions about marriage, in the form of a naturalization interview.  As an audience member it was impossible not to begin to examine one’s own relationships with a lens as wide as Big Brother’s.  “What do you like most about her?  What do you like least about her?  If you had cancer, do you think she’d stay with you?”

Comic Hero illuminated the experience of an individual oscillating between marginalization and thriving, living in a place in which the surrounding culture makes up only one-half of his cultural identity.  Emotionality and empathy were elicited in the last section, in which the recorded voice impassively described what was clearly a very charged experience for Juan, an experience described as a “racial bike drive-by.”  Juan’s clever wording of the material and earnest execution of the movement helped the piece to not feel too heavy, while still maintaining its integrity.  The text provided poignant messages about identity, self-realization, culture and love over a backdrop of piñatas, Lucha Libre masks and more.  Perhaps a lot to pack in to one evening’s work, but it felt cohesive.

At one point,  Reggaeton-inspired movements gave way to more traditional modern dance-inspired cadences as the music transitioned to a droning rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  The metaphor here was most likely clear to the dancers in the audience, but I found myself wondering if there was another way to express this thought in a more accessible way.

When She Becomes Un-Easy by Sofia Gorder opened with three women wearing cutoff jean shorts, printed aprons and colorful tops.  The three created a mosaic of bright plastic smiles to a soundtrack of an old record talking about how to “gain an appreciation of your role as a homemaker.”  The soundtrack provided a humorous backdrop to the frenzied movement of the dancers as they baked, pressed, cleaned and prepared.  Their smiling exteriors and increasingly anxious actions conjured images of the Stepford Wives.  True to this form, the three collapsed by the end, apparently overtaken by their efforts to maintain the perfect household.

Following the collapse, the rest of the dancers entered the performance area as a crew, efficiently maneuvering those that had “failed” off the stage.  The remaining six took turns dancing out of a line, and being helped and adjusted by the other women.  Eventually, each dancer was painted with permanent marker, in a clear allusion to plastic surgery.  The zombie-like expressions of the performers indicated acquiescence, if anything.

The most intriguing section was actually the most difficult for me to watch as an audience member.  All nine women huddled close to the middle of the performance space, and began to dance when one yelled out “yes!”  A Brittany Spears song then played while the women took turns dancing in the middle of the stage, in a way much like “Brittany” probably would.  The others yelled, in fierce support or defensiveness of what was taking place.  Eventually they all collapsed.  The through-line became clear here, and the point that even though we as women may feel liberated from the “stifling” past in which we were expected to cook and clean and please “our men,” overt societal expectations still abound, which we actively endorse.

Gorder proved to be an effective communicator regarding women’s perceived role in society, and was able to raise significant questions regarding whether certain expectations remain relevant, or even more so, in the current social context.  Her movement vocabulary was succinct and well-executed by the talented cast of women involved.  While the issues raised here by Gorder are important to consider in any social context, the piece at times seemed quick to revisit already familiar territory, rather than to consider the material in an innovative way.

About halfway through A Comic Hero of Two Cultures, Juan spoke the words, “All writers only ever write one story- their own.”  This is true of all art, and was well-reflected in “WHAT TYPE ARE YOU?”  Both Sofia and Juan drew on their personal stories to create their art; Sofia’s, of being a woman, a mother, and a provider for her family, and Juan’s, of being a man who identifies with two cultures, in two places nearby in geographical proximity but perhaps worlds away in reality.  I much appreciated being able to listen to these stories.

Emily Haygeman is a graduate of the University of Utah dance department and a graduate student in psychology. She regularly choreographs and performs in SLC.

5 days new at urban lounge

Wednesday night I went to Urban Lounge to see Five Days New. As the name suggests, everything in this group show was supposedly made in the first five days of 2011. Erin Haley, a local artist and provacatuer, gathered about ten artists for the experiment. They were mostly musicians, a few illustrators and a few dancers.

The greatest thrill of the evening for me was Juan Aldape’s solo performance. Aldape explored his own relationship to Mexico, as an identity, a possible home, a foil to America, a place to go or not to go. Set to a score that sounded to me like sampling from local Mexican radio stations, a lot happened in this solo that couldn’t have been more than ten minutes long. There was a beer-fueled Tarot reading, a deconstructed Macarena that reminded me of early Trisha Brown, and a rearranged version of Ginsberg’s “Howl”, addressed not to Moloch or America, but to Mexico, where the artist was born.

I wish Aldape would post his performance text on the internet so you could read it and I could read it again. There was humor and urgency as he mused on the Mexico’s problems and broached his desire to one day live there with his wife. He also noted that the couple were about to go not to Mexico but to Europe instead. He promised to bring Mexico back secret knowledge from the 400-year-old city of Belgrade. Although he was quoting Howl, the experience was really a lot more like another Ginsburg poem “America”, part love-song, part appeal. The joking and the witty referential humor was rife, but there was an undertone of seriousness, a sense that these were things that Aldape needed to find a way to say these things out loud to this particular audience.

I’ve been watching Aldape’s dancing for many years now, since we were both in high school. I also saw his acclaimed show last year at the Sugar Show. In this five day old solo, Aldape found something I’ve never seen in his dancing or choreography before. There was this tremendous informality about the way he carried his body, a kind of sexy, skinny sloppiness that reminded me of James Dean. He’s embraced this great sense of comic timing that he’s always had that has sometimes been subdued within his more formalist dancing. Aldape was also playing to effect on the simultaneous familiarity and exoticism that Mexican pop music has for white boys from Salt Lake like me, who comprise the mainstay audience of a place like Urban Lounge. In short, his dancing offered an excellent, thought-provoking beginning of a self-portrait.

There was another, less successful integration of music, spoken word and dance that included University of Utah trained Ashley Creek and Bayeshan Cooper and another woman who I didn’t recognize (anyone know her name?). The dancing was strong, but suffered at the hand of bad Beat-era nostalgic text offered by the musicians. Also worth mention from a live performance perspective was Alison Martin’s musical performance “She”, a haunting evocation of a dead family member that for me became a sort of hyper-honest musical-spectacle. Martin’s emotion on stage was refreshing, and while I wasn’t sure how much of it was real and how much was put on, I found her way of approaching that dichotomy to be quite interesting to watch.

I’m looking forward to seeing Haley’s next curatorial endeavor. Sometime in February she’ll be lighting a fire under a few more local procrastinators to make something for an evening at Kilby Court. Let’s hope dance is represented as well at that event as it was at this one.

Sam Hanson is finishing his B.U.S. at the University of Utah