NOW ID’S Collaborative Feast

by Amy Freitas

FEAST, NOW ID’s second production since its founding in 2013, began with a casual pre-show. Cellist Jesper Egelund, from Denmark, improvised upon the backdrop of the setting sun as it kissed the Great Salt Lake and all of the wandering guests at Great Saltair. As Egelund moved inside he complimented the location, saying it was one of the most beautiful places he has been privileged to play. The expectant audience was filled with food truck fare and ample socializing time within Mother Nature’s beauty, before gathering inside Saltair. Inside, a large table shaped like a runway served as a stage while also representing Utah’s Lake Bonneville. Chairs for the audience lined the two longer sides of the table in congested rows, allowing for only partial views in some spots.

At its inception, co-founders Charlotte Boye-Christensen and Nathan Webster stressed that their new company would be international, interdisciplinary, and collaborative, adjectives that aptly describe their most recent production. In addition to Egelund and a troupe of talented dancers from around the country, NOW ID added to the menu the words of New York-based playwright and filmmaker Troy Deutsch, performed by Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory’s Robert Scott Smith and Alexandra Harbold, both of Salt Lake City. Deutsch created what Smith calls a “rhythmic obstacle course for the actor.” They recited his lines on and around the table throughout the feast. The two actors held an expressive focus within their performance while being direct and dynamic with Deutsch’s writing. Regarding the process of having Deutsch as a collaborator, Smith says, “We purposefully wanted to keep it as vague as possible to see what would come out of just a few ideas we threw his way. Troy was up for the challenge and created a really powerful and specific-to-SLC work that allowed space for movement and interpretation.” The actors’ clear intent throughout the performance showed their pride in personal development with the script.

Dancers Yumelia Garcia and Jennifer Freeman initiated the show and their tension carried throughout, with a slow walk around the perimeter of the lake bed stage, eyes staring deeply at one another. Precise and pleasurable to watch, the two dancers performed grammatically correct movement vocabulary. With one facial expression and a stifled focus for each throughout the entire show, individuality and personal research were not displayed. They were less humans explaining ideas through movement and more figures transcribing choreography.

At one point in the work, a third dancer, Jo Blake, joined Smith for a duet, a successful mixing of mediums. Smith’s continued performance within the rhythmical obstacle course gave rhyme and reason to Blake’s expressive thoracic spine movement. Simultaneously, Blake’s focus and shifting intent created a dynamic visual story out of Smith’s words while the two artists moved athletically through a well-choreographed dance. Art mediums merged to create something new using clear and unique communication to deliver a poetic story about Salt Lake.

In opposition to this success was the final scene, a collaboration that wasn’t quite as seamless or integrated. While Smith monumentally lost his beard to a straight razor on one end of the table, dancers moved through choreography on the other end and Harbold walked between them. Unfortunately, each performer seemed to be telling a different story to themselves instead of employing their collective voice to discuss with the audience what was transpiring. Losing his beard was a surreal moment for Smith, he noted it as “a cleansing of the palate; a beginning or a welcoming of something new.” However, this shift was not consistent with all the performers, as the work seemed to lose focus and intent.

The fact that NOW ID is utilizing a variety of art mediums is a wonderfully positive step, and speaking after the performance, Smith described the NOW ID collaborative process as something that was personally and artistically productive: “From the beginning…everything came together in a very organic, energized and thoughtful place. It wasn’t always candy canes and gumdrops, but there was professionalism and openness that allowed for risk, vulnerability and support for one another throughout the process.”

The different art forms considered in FEAST were suited for one another, based on one another and created by, with, around, and because of one another. This cohabitation of mediums read as an interesting and enjoyable experience for all parties in NOW ID. Smith states, “the dancers were beyond supportive and encouraging. Jo was nothing but gracious as we navigated the opening duet.”

Harbold commented well on what she described as “the ongoing time-release value of collaborating with artists from other disciplines. . .In our distinct roles as choreographer, playwright, composer, dancer, actor, and musician, we were all pressing into one another’s territories and blurring the lines. Collaboration can be disorienting in such a        powerfully strange, and beautiful way. It was this way with FEAST.”

As the collaborative nature of Salt Lake’s creative community increases, it is important to decipher what to carry and what to bury so that artists may continue cultivating the most efficient practices of collaboration.

NOW ID’s Collaboration with the space is just as important as any other medium. There is beauty laid across long patches of salt just outside the stone innards of the Saltair. Being that this feast was about the salty landscape, accepting it and settling upon it, FEAST would have done well outside. Use of the Saltair added no production value to the main performance however much it added to the pre-show and after party.

The collaborative model also asks questions about how funding relates to what’s currently being produced. Leading Smith to ask questions about what new models artists may find, noting that, “it takes money to produce work at any level, but there’s an added cost with site-specific, high production values, using national and/or international artists…our friends and families can only fund so many of our endeavors and the non-profit business model for performing companies is struggling.” He’s confident that new models of funding and support for projects of this nature will emerge.

Continued collaboration can fuel inspiration while audience diversity increases, especially within the independent art scene. We are not alone in our desire to make or view good art. FEAST was good art and hindsight is a powerful tool that NOW ID can choose to utilize after two site-specific pieces.

The collaborative process brings up a reminder that performance is not a competition of who can get more spectators but is about working together to build community. It is also a reminder that collaborative performances extend beyond this one-night event and include Flying Bobcat’s new work at the Masonic Temple on September 26th with the Utah Men’s Choir. Habitual attendance to one type of show stifles collaborative fuel. Attend one of the numerous dance jams hosted by Movement Forum, poetry readings by the Wasatch Wordsmiths, or bands playing at any bar or coffee shop you can imagine. Watch and experience a variety of mediums to help build a rapport with potential collaborators, allowing creativity to grow and flourish in our community.

This article is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.org.

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