Navigating Graham Brown’s Sonder

Keanu Brady & full cast of a previous performance of You by Graham Brown, courtesy of the Sonder fb page

Sonder, a collaborative immersive dance theater experience choreographed and directed by Graham Brown and produced by Sackerson will run for two weekends at the Eagles Hall. This historic Salt Lake City site was built in 1911 and has served as a place to house social and cultural activities, provide medical services, and in the 1990s was reopened as a nightclub called The Bay. It is a space that feels both magical and neglected, begging to be used once again and become the holding place of stories.

For Sonder, Brown uses material from his work You which has had previous iterations: one as a proscenium stage piece set on a BYU student-performance group, and the more recent one as an immersive experience in the Rose Wagner. Like the show this weekend, both versions included professional and university students.

Modern Dance tends to move away from what is and what has come before. Sometimes that takes place in the construction of the body but it also means shifting how performances are presented. There have been several shows of late in Salt Lake City that have been housed (literally): NomadDollhouse, and Municipal Ballet at the McCune Mansion, not to mention those using outdoor space, like The Mists or On Site at the SCERA public pool. And, of course, these local examples come in context of ample national projects.

Taking dance out of the theater has its hurdles; smaller audiences, ADA accessibility, and visibility (hello sight lines!). However, the possibilities of these spaces are too exciting to pass up, and using them creates new paradigms to explore and gives fresh context to the moving body.

The challenge with Sonder is the attempt, in this particular space, to show narrative with specific character development. What worked well at the Rose Wagner was sometimes lost at Eagles Hall. At the Rose, the audience was confined to one large space to experience the progression of plot and unfolding characters; at Eagles Hall we were directed to choose our own path and experience the scenes that we wanted. This was liberating, but also jarring, when plot points happened which were not developed by our own personal choices.

This difficulty notwithstanding, the show is well crafted and has stunning moments. If you go, you might not experience the following, but I suppose that is the beauty of the idea: knowing that your choices led you to your favorite moments (a modern dance Magellan).

  • Eliza Tappan as Charlie and Jordan Simmons as Warner form an arresting duo.  I came upon them “hashing it out” in an unlit space, which made the whole scene feel more spontaneous. Tappan is precise and lush without being overly dramatic, and Simmons is cool and casual, with a strong sense of self. Together they make it all seem special, and I wanted to see more of their interactions.
  • Ira Field, dad to dancer Laja Field, sticks his tongue out at me through a window when I’m watching an otherwise mundane solo.
  • Breeanne Saxton as the young girl Alex expertly plays her role. She is demanding and unaware, energetic but focused. At one moment she requests John Allen and an anonymous woman to help her create a science fair volcano (“Science!” they say, with a ports de bras). However, when it is time for an athletic group phrase, her real age emerges, and her dancing prowess is on display.
  • Francisco Avina as Marco is grounded and mature. He delivers a touching monologue highlighting the experiences of becoming a parent and how those experiences morph as your child grows. Shawnee Jo Haycock is Pascal, both mother to Alex and wife to Marco, showing a woman struggling to balance these two identities, while hardly finding room for anything else.
  • A woman breastfeeds her baby during a lively group dance and her baby subsequently observes and models a trio — toddling, moving and bending to the beat, unaware that they had become the action for me as a spectator.
  • Talking with Ashley Anderson and Ellen Bromberg throughout and in between the action, wondering whether we were missing something and whether that was OK.

Sonder soars when Graham’s fast-paced, full-bodied movement is featured in this dynamic space. Get your tickets because they are going fast.


Sonder is fiscally sponsored by loveDANCEmore.Performances run nightly March 24-April 8 at a variety of times. Individual tickets are $20 and can be found here.


Categories: Dance

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