Culture Conversations: Literary
saltfront's Brave New World
A Utah-based literary journal examines human habit(at)s
There is more than one definition of saltfront but the one adopted by the new Utah-based literary journal which carries the term as its name is this: an entrance to a non-discrete zone between defined ecosystems.
Saltfront, which debuted in September, is in fact a venture that finds its sense of literary place “in-between” systems, ecological and otherwise. Its submission guidelines, termed “bearings and positions,” attempts nothing less than a sea-change of the lexicon, the approach and the meanings of environmental writing and activism. Michael McLane, one of the founding editors, explains that the journal, which grew out of the work of graduate students in the University of Utah’s Environmental Humanities program, is “a reaction to an unsatisfactory discourse” in old school environmentalism epitomized by activist organizations like the Sierra Club and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). The bi-annual aspires to “stories,” says McLane, “of how people are living within these [ecological] changes…trying to remember the human element in all of this not just the catastrophe we’ve seen but that we are a creative and adaptive [species] through it all.”
Moving beyond conservation, traditional notions of “wilderness” preservation and the bio-regionalism of the revered novelist, eco-activist and farmer Wendell Berry, the editors of saltfront are, according to McLane, looking more to the notion of “embodiment rather than the environment.” The hope is that this bias for cultivating (and mining) the senses will propel the environmental conversation into a re-negotiation and re-navigation of what is essentially a new world.
The antidote to what sounds like a project spawned in a seminar of humanities graduate students on high doses of caffeine is the selections themselves, most of which, in the first issue, are from the pens of local writers. Celebrated environmental author and godmother of the UofU Program Terry Tempest Williams makes an appearance with her adopted Rwandan son Louis Gakumba in “Foramen”—reportage and personal reflections by both on two different genocide memorials, one in Kigali, Rwanda and the other on the Washington DC mall. Another short piece is included by the team’s husband/father Brooke Williams. More reporting—really mapping—in the form of poetry by Robin Rothfeder details “Tar Sands Country as Seen from Outer Space.” There is even a section of haiku.
One standout work is “Postcards from Fire,” a suite of downwinder prose poems by McLane himself addressed to his mother (“Your thyroid will be quickly forgotten. There will be pills, but that is charted territory”). Another is the compelling, extended novel excerpt from another contributing editor Eric Robertson (“Rebecca birthed every ewe in that herd. She was a young woman who had never been at a mother’s breast, never lulled to sleep, never picked up, only put down.”) Robertson is arguably the visionary behind saltfront’s stated intentions and the journal’s catchy tagline: “studies in human habit(at).” Among others represented are Maximilian Werner, Jeff Metcalf, Kelsey Sather and Annie Gilliland.
A new journal of this kind, themed as it is, (though, admittedly, somehow expansively nonetheless) begs the question of just how literary as opposed to academic saltfront will end up being. And too, just how revolutionary will saltfront be with its stated impulse, according to McLane, toward eco-lit that is animated by social justice? “We are deeply enmeshed,” he says, “in that place between the Think Globally/Act Locally movement and the idea that nothing is really local anymore, [especially] the structure of markets, etc.” In other words, he seems to be saying, humans matter. There is no ethic in this tribe to return to some pristine earth devoid of the species that has brought us both the Dalai Lama and Justin Bieber.
“We’re completely uninterested in the separation between humans and nature,” says McLane. “That duality isn’t useful anymore.” With this compass, the journal intends to reach new audiences, though, he admits, readers will still see some of the old jargon. “We’re trying to determine [just how much].”
Saltfront’s second issue, to be released in April, will feature a range of writers that extend far beyond the Great Basin. Early pieces that have been accepted include meditations on the tar sands of Canada to, again, Rwanda. And what about the new audiences for this new kind of eco-lit? Who are they? McLane recalls a turning-point class that many of his fellow-students-turned-editorial-contributors had with Tempest Williams at the U. One day they were watching a film about a 16-year old kid from Oakland, California who was narrating what it was like to live in a neighborhood rife with the environmental effects of hair product manufacturers and dry cleaners, and it occurred to the class, why should this individual care about the environmental movement as (then) currently constituted? “Rich white people want to protect wilderness,” the narrator says, “but they don’t realize what kind of pollution we all live with every day, virtually everywhere.”
Culture Conversations: Dance
Through the Eyes of a Dancer
Wendy Perron and 2013 in review
On December 2nd, The King’s English hosted Wendy Perron, editor of Dance Magazine, to read from her new book Through the Eyes of a Dancer. The reading encapsulated much dance history, fostering connections between those working in ballet, modern dance, and spaces between. The night connected the artists in the room on a national scale as Perron acknowledged that her New York performance career linked her to University of Utah professors Pam Geber & Eric Handman; that it was Linda Smith, RDT’s Artistic Director, who originally introduced her to Salt Lake; and that Kathy Adams, the Tribune’s dance critic helped facilitate the event.
As the reading unfolded, I reflected on my own (miniature) dance history and was disappointed that more of my peers weren’t in the audience. So much of the work I’ve seen in the past year would benefit from the context this book provides.
In 2013, much in Salt Lake continued as it has for several years: SB Dance continued developing “Of Meat & Marrow” and greatest hits concerts while Ballet West had strong presentations of classical ballet and took a dip back into the spectacle of reality TV. Other mainstay companies found themselves in flux: Charlotte Boye-Christensen departed Ririe-Woodbury to form NOW and Daniel Charon stepped in as Artistic Director, while RDT gained an Assistant Artistic Director and a handful of new dancers. Despite change, audiences for these companies still commonly know what to expect, while newer groups aim to challenge expectations of what concert dance looks like. Sugar Space, a space for independent works, continued their cooperative company (co.da) and series like the Sugar Show and SUITE, but also opened a new space downtown which supports dancing by smaller groups like Movement Forum, the Municipal Ballet, and more. My own work through loveDANCEmore’s Mudson presented 24 new works-in-progress by area choreographers ranging from graduate students to professionals who’ve recently made Salt Lake City home.
Perron’s book addresses this facet of Utah’s dancing landscape through the scope of her coverage. The writing demonstrates that what has a small (or underfunded) following in the moment can still become iconic in representation alongside larger theatrical traditions. Perron also spoke directly to how crucial different dancers can be in engaging audiences — that the way dance locates itself in diverse bodies will always be a fascinating and indescribable phenomenon affecting any work. Certainly the dancers in the works above matter and contribute to the dances as they situate themselves in our own time.
The book functions as a chronology of changing dance forms as well as attitudes. For example, at one point Perron identifies as a feminist who considered the ways in which women choreographers can be disadvantaged yet later found those views troubled as male dancers died so frequently at the hands of the AIDS epidemic. Utah dance is no exception, as culture and religion frequently become part of the conversation about what is being presented, and recently a lack of diversity has been criticized and considered among the many groups mentioned above.
Less seriously, but following national trends, 2013 saw a fluctuation in modes of presentation as performance in visual arts spaces increased. CUAC hosted Ushio Shinohara, the Rio Grande presented dance film, Kristina Lenzi began a Performance Festival, BYU’s Museum of Art shared dance at Work to Do, and 15 Bytes included a solo by yours truly in 35x35. Collaborations between choreographers and visual artists were forged by myself and Mary Sinner but also between Sofia Gorder and those working at Art Access and Design Week as Gorder presented two full-scale works outdoors.
In addition, dance was seen at ample sites, old and new, including the Cathedral of the Madeline, Ladies’ Literary Club, Utah Arts Festival, Craft Lake City/Gallivan Plaza, the Main Library, Rose Wagner, Capitol Theater, Kingsbury Hall, Central Utah Gardens and the Masonic Temple theater and ballroom among others. The degrees of difference presented here follow the more broad scale of Perron’s work and invite questions about what new territory will be explored in years to come.