Despite the common perception that dance is most frequently found in performing arts venues, Utah’s dance artists have always stepped outside of theater settings to find new venues for their work. Sofia Gorder’s recent work with inFluxdance at Art Access and Danell Hathaway’s direction of Movement Forum at the Utah Arts Festival are only two examples of location shifting audience expectations to produce unique experiences.
At June’s Gallery Stroll, Art Access, in partnership with Brolly Arts, was host to an interdisciplinary evening of art exploring issues of social justice. The Friday night opening included a curated exhibit by Terry Jackson-Mitchell, choreography by Sofia Gorder of inFluxdance and other projects/performances by groups including the Drum Bus.
Art, and particularly performance, has a complex relationship to social justice. In dance, it can be difficult to use the moving body to relate topical concerns; something so inextricably linked to identity is already so layered and multi-faceted that to explore it directly often becomes heavy handed. inFluxdance in particular has dealt with this problem, trying to mount the dance “Justice for Some?” over the last few years at various settings in Salt Lake City, Virginia and Montreal. Criticisms of these performances have consistently reflected that the dance, while relevant and well-intentioned, is not producing new information about the conflicts of choice and equal rights it addresses.
At Art Access these criticisms fell away. The setting of the Artspace City Center parking lot allowed the issues explored to cast themselves into the larger space rather than falling flat in the theater. In the open air, Gorder’s work read as an earnest exploration of the intersections between abortion, religion, sexuality and poverty as she opted to focus on personal narratives of performers, including Ariane Audd, Scotty Hardwig and Alison Spehar, rather than the historical footage of past iterations. Narratives were delivered to a microphone much as at a protest and played alongside simple and repetitive structures reminiscent of a body swallowed in a larger revolt.
Inside, the tone was similarly direct. Rather than being left to ruminate about the visual art’s relationship to justice, visitors had the opportunity to engage with the artists, who were on hand discussing their process. Jackson-Mitchell notably shared her history as a survivor of the racist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, which has inspired her work.
While this collaborative format addressed particularly complex issues, the following day at the Arts Festival, improvisation group Movement Forum was able to share their work in a much lighter way for new audiences. Performing some of their improvisational scores alongside the music of the Salt Lake Whalefishers opened up their form of improvisation in a casual way. Similar to inFluxdance, Movement Forum has received criticism (most recently in SLUG magazine) for presenting a grab bag of improvisational strategies, so the Arts Fest was a perfect fit for their work. Their performance was able to hold the attention of the crowd while allowing space for reflection on how it may relate to the more formal performances on the main stage. Similar to the protest language of Gorder floating across the Art Access parking lot, the movement jokes of Movement Forum were engergized by the festival environment and a great live band, something that would have been lost in the quiet solitude of the theater.
Ashley Anderson is a choreographer based in Salt Lake City. She is founder of loveDANCEmore, a blog and biannual journal about dance in Utah, and currently serves as 15 Bytes’s Dance Editor.