One of Utah’s best artistic resources is its landscape. From the high-mountain country of the Uintahs to the wetlands of our inland sea to the redrock cliffs of the Colorado Plateau, the place in which we live provides a limitless source of material for artists. And not just for the plein air painters who flood the trails and byways whenever the weather permits. Abstract artists like Doug Snow and Lee Deffebach expanded the urban aesthetic of abstract expressionism to express the vastness and versatility of the west, and influenced generations of local artists. And today artists working in a variety of media, and coming from diverse philosophical backgrounds respond to the land in their work.
The influence of place extends to the realm of Dance as well. In May, NOW ID will premiere its second major project at Saltair, with an eye towards the remnants of the once mighty Lake Bonneville (more on that in our next edition). And this month Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) celebrates a long-standing relationship to land and place with their season finale Land. The evening features four dance pieces that celebrate, interpret and respond to the land, as well as an exhibition of work by local visual artists curated by Hadley Rampton.
To those who have followed RDT, many of these pieces will be familiar. “Erosion” was commissioned by Israeli-born choreographer Zvi Gotheiner for RDT in 1993. Inspired by the Colorado Plateau, the work investigates the physical presence of steep inclines and treacherous places, building to a climax as dancers stetch strips of ribbon across the stage and release them at the height of their tension.
Joanie Smith’s “Turf” was commissioned a few years later, and is representative of the popular and light-hearted work of Shapiro & Smith. The piece is a playful turf war in which dancers both fight and collaborate as they make their way across the stage on mats and carpets, culminating in a movment in which the dancers defy “gravity with strong leaps, effortless lifts and athletic poses,” as Scott Iwasaki wrote in the Deseret News after a previous performance.
The most recent commission (2005) is Molissa Fenley’s “Desert Sea” which Karen Anne Webb has said, “has an interesting mathematical aesthetic to its construction” that takes multiple viewings to fully appreciate.
Ze’eva Cohen’s “Rainwood” fills out the evening. The 1977 work was not commissioned by RDT, but has been in the troupe’s repertoire. The piece is performed to a score of natural sounds, including bullfrogs, birds, thunder and the patter of rain on leaves; meanwhile the dancers imitate the rhythms and natural movements of plant and animal life. If the “wet” feel of this piece seems foreign in our high desert home, there may still be one or two nooks and crannies in our landscape you need to discover.
To accompany the evening’s performance, local artist Hadley Rampton has curated LAND-2-LAND, an exhibit of works by fourteen local artists that will hang in the Jeanne Wagner Gallery at the Rose Wagner Arts Center. The artists selected for the exhibit reveal a range of styles and approaches to the land, from traditional interpretations to abstract evocations.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.