Dance as an Opportunity to Examine Society at Large

Elizabeth’s Waters’ Castor and Pollux (1956), photo by Sharon Kain.

After contemplating Dominica Greene’s questions in a recent loveDANCEmore podcast regarding the purpose of dance reviews in our community, I craft this review of RDT’s Homage from a perplexed place. What is the role of the loveDANCEmore reviewer, considering the intimate and delicate bonds in the Salt Lake dance community? How do reviewers encourage dialogue about a performance, not only share their opinions? Is it more important to provide an honest response to an artist’s work or to consider the artist’s feelings? Particularly for this performance, I wondered what I could say about the dancers of RDT and the works in Homage that hasn’t already been said.

The classic, historic modern dance works presented in Homage fulfill RDT’s stated mission of performing and preserving dance treasures. José Limón’s Suite from Mazurkas (1958) opened the program, and was followed by his mentor Doris Humphrey’s Invention (1949). Before Donald McKayle’s Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder (1959) appeared on the screen, we were presented with a brief excerpt from a documentary in which McKayle shared his inspiration for the piece. Elizabeth’s Waters’ Castor and Pollux (1956) included, before the dance, an introduction to the work’s musical composer, Harry Partch.

As dance enthusiasts, you’re likely familiar with the aesthetic and movement vocabulary of these mid-twentieth century works. As supporters of Salt Lake City dance, you’re also likely familiar with RDT’s dancers and their strengths. Dance is not only a form of personal expression, an art to be critiqued, or a physical activity to participate in. It is an opportunity to examine society at large. Therefore, instead of forming and sharing an opinion of what I witnessed in Homage, I invite all of us to further research the decade during which the aforementioned works were created (1949-1959). What happened outside of the choreographers’ time in the studio and on stage? What did they encounter when they walked down the street? What content filled the conversations between their friends and families? What beliefs of this particular era in U.S. history did they portray through their choreography, and, does choreography need to do this? Who can escape “making a statement” through their art and who cannot? Even more lighthearted questions — what were people watching on TV, what novels were they reading, what was the number one hit song? — can lead to captivating discoveries and realizations.

Our ruminations on historical works can inspire questions about the present day as well. How does Utah’s current culture play into what our dance companies choose to include in their repertoire, and what they choose to define as “dance treasures?” What and whose value systems are communicated and prioritized through these choices? How does our arts funding affect what and who is remembered or forgotten, both historically and in this very moment?

I’ll say that you should watch Homage, mostly because I think we (dancers) need to support each other. We should consume each other’s work as often as we can. Whether we are freelance artists or employed by larger arts institutions, we should ask ourselves what we are “saying” by showing up or not showing up for other artists’ work, what we are “saying” by encouraging or not encouraging others to show up as well.

You can still watch Homage at RDT’s website until June 30.

This article is published in collaboration with

Categories: Dance

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