Since creating the loveDANCEmore blog in 2010, I have shied away from writing about student work. When young artists are involved in a process of discovery alongside valued mentors, I don’t want to interrupt. But I have been there, carefully witnessing many student and faculty concerts along the Wasatch Front. About some I couldn’t help but offer my thoughts and about others I remained a happily curious observer. When watching Monica Campbell’s “The Final Hours” at Sugar Space, I wavered between both feelings, having ideas to share about a well-crafted and engaging work, and a desire to insulate what was a magical experience for students.
“The Final Hours” originally was choreographed by Campbell as an artist-in-residence at Sugar Space in 2009. Through a new residency this year, the work has been deepened and co-presented with the Contemporary Dance Ensemble at Utah Valley University, which Campbell directs. Featuring 11 dancers spread among two casts, “The Final Hours” explores the Hungarian Revolution of the 1950s.
Despite the inclusion of two monologues detailing experiences in Budapest related to the Soviet occupation, a program note makes clear that the choreography will not retell the revolution through narrative. Instead, the ensemble, frequently breaking into duets and trios, investigates ideas of hesitance, waiting and unrest.
Small groups weave in and out of ensemble dancing and all events take place in a sunken stage designed by Evan Ritter. Dancers can move on the perimeter, overseeing the action and adding solemnity to the often quiet moments accompanied by local percussionist Mason Aeschbacher, among others. The perimeter also periodically allows soloists to drift closer to the audience, taking advantage of the intimacy available in the warehouse theater.
It’s the space which offers a true degree of difference for UVU students. The BFA candidates typically perform works by faculty, guests and peers in a large university theater that doesn’t always simulate what their performance career might look like, particularly if they stay in town. Sugar Space bridges the divide, bringing the work of teaching artists like Campbell to a more public space and moving students into a shared community where they may work in the future.
In relationship to those ideas, the combined efforts of Campbell, Sugar Space and UVU allow for an effective use of resources to develop and construct a set which amplifies the 2009 iteration of the work as well as employ musicians and sound editors who create an unquestionably thorough evening. An evening in which students take clear and deserved pride in sharing a complex subject matter through difficult partnering and weighted gesture.
Campbell is not alone in her identity as a professor who is also an artist, with many faculty members at area universities considering ways to move their work with students into broader contexts. While this experiment worked on many levels, the audience did seem to be made up of the family and friends of the student cast, begging questions about whether or not the idea of changing spaces more radically informs young artists or their associated audiences.
This article is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.org
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.