SALT’s Spring Season Presents a Trio of Moving Works

SALT Dance press photo. Dancers arrange their arms in a stacked shape while sporting a variety of yellow tones.

The beautiful hallways at Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center were filled with the pre-show buzz of an eager audience on the opening night of SALT Contemporary Dance’s Spring 9. My usual excitement was heightened by the fact that the show featured three world premieres, with works by distinguished contemporary choreographers Micaela Taylor, Olivier Wevers, and SALT’s artistic director, Joni McDonald. The show program did not include descriptions of each piece, leaving the task of interpretation fully up to audience members.

Following SALT president Michelle Nielson’s signature statement of welcome, Spring 9 began with Joni McDonald’s “The Quality Of.” The curtains opened to a stunning, regal image of all the dancers moving through various poses. The balletic, classical music accompanied the technical, lofty movement of the dancers beautifully. The female dancers wore billowing, pastel-colored dresses and all the dancers had beaming smiles on their faces, resulting in an unexpectedly light tone, different than we often see from SALT. “The Quality Of” was, however, filled with the incredible physicality, spaciousness, technical skill, and seamless partnering SALT is known for. The partner work in this piece felt playful, likely reflecting the process through which it was created. Within the larger-than-life movement floating across the stage, there were moments of viscous stillness that dynamically anchored the piece. “The Quality Of” did not invite a need to follow a storyline or interpret meaning, but instead left audience members to witness and appreciate what the title implies: The Quality Of the playfulness and grandeur of McDonald’s choreography and The Quality Of the joy and skill of the SALT dancers.

Heavy music, dim lighting and intricate group work made for an immediate shift in tone when the curtains opened to Micaela Taylor’s “Feather,” the second work of the evening. The backdrop was lifted for this piece, revealing a barely-lit brick wall that opened up the space. The simplicity of knee-length black skirts paired with white turtlenecks allowed the movement to speak for itself. Taylor’s signature style, featuring nuanced head movements, gestures, and extreme, intricate facial expressions, was executed beautifully by the SALT dancers. It was refreshing to see the company moving as a whole with such impressive cohesiveness and attention to detail. The momentum of the quick movement was paused with satisfying moments of loud breaths, coughing sounds, percussive hands, and humming coming from the dancers. These moments of sound were captivating in their abstractness and paired beautifully with the peculiar, unexpected facial expressions used throughout the work. Both the sound and the expressive faces cultivated a sense of raw emotion that did not follow a linear story, but pulled me into the humanness of each dancer. As the momentum of the piece built, the audience witnessed the stunning result of Taylor’s exploration of groove in a contemporary work such as this. “Feather” ended abruptly with the lights dimming while the movement continued, this left me longing for some semblance of closure.

“The Right Time to Let Go,” choreographed by Olivier Wevers was a beautiful, tender ending to the show. The lifted wings dramatically opened up the stage, a satisfying choice for the closing piece. The work began with a similar ominous tone to the previous piece, with an amoeba of dancers dressed in black, and a heap of neon yellow heels on the other side of the stage. The dancers eventually wore the heels, and their contemporary movement in them felt abstract and out of place in an intentional way. “The Right Time to Let Go” was the first time in the show that the dancers truly saw one another. There were moments of struggle and confrontation between them, but the interactions became more tender and nurturing as the piece progressed. One by one, the dancers spoke beautiful, hopeful, heartbreaking, and very personal statements into the microphone set at the back of the stage. This went on throughout the piece and opened up an emotionally vulnerable avenue rarely seen so directly in concert dance. The combination of fluid movement, emotional speaking, and the dancers witnessing one another revealed a more tender side of SALT than I have seen before. The captivating, emotional words of Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese,” played toward the end of the piece, as dancers Myles Tracy and Aubry Mason danced a skillful, intimate duet. I was amazed by their capacity to move with such expansive physicality while maintaining the intense vulnerability that had been infused in the entirety of the piece. The curtains closed on this beautiful duet, and “The Right Time to Let Go” left me feeling deeply connected to all of the SALT dancers who shared their hearts in Spring 9. 

As we stood and cheered for the beautiful work of SALT Contemporary Dance, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the arts community of Salt Lake City. As SALT president Michelle Nielson expressed at the opening of Spring 9, art like this is deeply special and important, and it takes each of our support and creativity to make this community what it is.f


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Categories: Dance

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