Culture Conversations: Dance
A conversation with Yebel Gallegos & Tara McArthur
On joining the company...
TM: I started dancing in Northern California. At a young age I was doing jazz, ballet and all that good stuff. I showed up to Cal State Long Beach in Southern California and was introduced to modern training which is where I fell in love with contemporary movement. I had two professors at Long Beach, Keith Johnson & Andy Vaca, who choreographed for Ririe Woodbury so as I started looking into companies, it was one of the first places I auditioned. I started in 2008 doing the Nikolais repertoire and joined the main company in 2010. And here I am.
YG: I was first exposed to dance being part of a Latin family. Socially, dancing was always the main event; it was always the thing to do. There I was as a 4, 5 and 6 year old boy dancing with my aunt, she was teaching me the classics. It never occurred to me dance was something I could do as a career until I took a class in high school and fell in love with it. I decided it’s what I wanted to do in college. I started training at UT Austin and in four and a half years got a BFA. While at UT Austin I did an exchange with the professional dance school of Delfos Danza in Mazatlan Mexico. That’s how my link to Mexico started to build. After that exchange I came back to Austin and finished my degree but moved back right away to Mazatlan and graduated with the school. I met Lourdes Luna, a pretty well-known choreographer in Mexico. She invited me to work with her new company in Yucatan and I stayed for five years. I was looking for more and looking to learn so I moved to California with my partner Alvin and got an e-mail about the audition for RW. I thought, “why not?”...I wasn’t really sure what I’d do in the states but thought it would be a great way to start this new stage of my career. I needed to network and meet new people. Luckily, I got the job. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most with RW is training every day and taking class every day without looking for space or teachers. It’s nice to have that comfort, to arrive and take class...nice to be challenged as a dancer with so many styles of repertory. It keeps us on our feet. Because I’d worked with one choreographer in Mexico it was all her style and I got the point I could read her mind. I kind of plateaued.
TM: I’d say that’s mostly what I will miss most about the company. When I joined it was exactly what I wanted: to train consistently, to have the variety of voices in the repertory, but also to be able get in the mind space of a single choreography [the Artistic Director]. To have that all in one job was great. I enjoyed the teaching as well. I felt confident in my teaching and knew it was a good skill to have. Having this myriad of experiences under one roof I will miss. I will miss the support and connection with all of these dancers. We are a really tight knit group, we basically live together.
On a recent tour…
TM: We recently toured in Colorado and as with all of our tours, it’s striking to me how far reaching the company is. You go to these small towns and someone always has a connection with Joan or Shirley. There is...there is…
YG: A force
TM: Yeah, it’s a force that precedes you. Where everyone welcomes you with open arms.
YG: As people come out of the audience knowing Gigi [Arrington, Education Director] from elementary school, it gives you an idea of how much outreach and how many connections these women have built. It’s good to be a part of that.
TM: When we go out of state it’s different than working in Utah. The public schools here are familiar with getting access to the arts and that’s great. But as we travel to schools doing lecture demonstrations in California or Colorado the kids aren’t necessarily getting that stuff.
YG: You can tell it’s the first time they were exposed to it. Utah students are already an audience.
TM: For me, these changes refresh the lecture demonstrations a bit….the repetitiveness of doing them. I enjoy having audiences where it’s the first thing they’ve seen.
On dancing together….
YG: The only creative process we fully shared was a new duet by Stephanie Nugent.
TM: This duet [which premiered at Momentum in December], was a process. It was a lot of improvisation within a structure Stephanie gave us.
YG: It would’ve been ideal for me — but it was difficult because we never had the time to explore all of it. Every time we touched base was quick and immediate.
TM: We were always exploring the concepts in performance.
YG: It got better through the performances.
TM: It was trial and error but I feel satisfied. We just did it again in Colorado. That last time I think we finally nailed it in some ways. So I’m satisfied we finally learned how to perform together in the moment but it’s too bad we can’t continue.
YG: But that’s just like life. You just get a taste and then it’s done. It will be one of my favorite pieces because it’s so different than what I’ve done. It’s quirky.
TM: Stephanie said we are both languid movers and this forced us to be staccato.
YG: And it had varieties of movement…short and quick but lengthening again and fnding expansion.
TM: I am so glad we overlapped. I think your fluidity and articulation in the body is a quality we haven’t had in a male dancer in a long time. It added new flavor to the mix.
YG: Tara was one of the first people I was able to connect with. She’s a great person to get along with and anyone will say that. We share a sensibility. We are both sensitive people. We were able to understand each other very quickly and it feels easy to dance with Tara. I hope it will happen again in the future sometime.
T: We are both Cancers.
On arriving and departing…
YG: It feels like Ririe really prepares us as dancers. It’s maybe scary for you to leave, Tara, but you have so many tools under your belt. Teaching, choreographing, dancing for so many choreographers. It’s scary but it’s all there and it’s kind of exciting
TM: I don’t think I will ever feel prepared but definitely feel different than when I graduated six years ago and hoping that I can carry that with me as I head into the future. I feel like I’m free-falling. It’s not good or bad but a contrast to the past four years of life being very planned out in terms of the type of dancing, structure of taking class every day, working 9-5. I have embraced that schedule and am now feeling it’s time for a shift. In an ideal world I just want to make myself available for projects that I will feel fulfilled in. Because I’ve had such great exposure to many different aesthetics I know much more about the kinds of projects and movement that are fulfilling to me. I’ve learned more about myself and my body. I feel like I can go out and seek those collaborations.
YG: It’s been a great first year for me so far. I feel I’ve learned a lot but it’s been a little hectic because it’s the 50th Anniversary. I came in and it’s been non-stop. It’s been great because I feel like I’m learning but next year I hope to feel more settled in, like everything is sinking into my body. I hope to feel more connected to the community too because I haven’t been able to get to know too many people in Salt Lake. I want to feel part of something in the city, not like someone who just came in. I think also with the 50th anniversary as all the alumni came, I was able to see the lineage of dancers who were here and know I get to be a part of that.
TM: I feel like it’s a great time to jump in to the company but it also feels a good time to leave.
YG: The changes….
TM: The changes are so rich. It’s a great send off or a great welcome. Although...I’m sure it was intense...
TM: It feels so much more satisfied leaving with this celebration.
YG: Leaving with a bang. It felt easier for me that Daniel [Charon, Artistic Director] was coming in at the same time as me because it wasn’t just one person dealing with something new but everyone was dealing with change. The dancers were able to mesh together and find each other more efficiently. It allowed the other dancers to welcome me and say alright, let's do it, rather than coming into something really set.
TM: That’s true. In the past it has been hard when just one dancer joined an otherwise set company with an Artistic Director who had been with us as well. With Daniel coming in it was fresh for everyone. It was also poignant timing to have a new director for the 50th.
YG: I’m hoping my time with the company will feed me with art and new tools. i hope to be able to give something to the company for as long as I’m here.
TM: I think you already have.
YG: Just like you did. Whoever comes in will have big shoes to fill. It’s amazing.
TM: I’m able to look from the outside just a little more when we are performing or taking class. Taking all of you dancers in. I got so used to dancing with the same people I wasn’t even watching them any more.
YG: Tara is obviously a beautiful dancer. When I saw her at the audition I wanted to dance with her. I wanted to be lucky enough to dance with these people. When Tara decided to leave, maybe a week after that, I saw a change — something bigger and even more beautiful. The weight was off your shoulders with the decision being made, she was taking it all in and enjoying dancing with us. That’s a wonderful spot to be in as a dancer — to just be there. It’s not easy.
TM: I don’t know if I feel that way but I’m going to try and embody it because you said it.
YG: You were right at the cusp of all this change and I’d feel happy about that. The company has been refreshed. Joan and Shirley have opened up their baby to see where it can go. With their vision it feels like it will push through for another 50 years.
Culture Conversations: Dance
Responding to the Land
RDT's Land in dance and art
One of Utah's best artistic resources is its landsape. 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.
Culture Conversations: Theatre
Confronting the Whys
3 Insightful Plays by Eric Samuelsen at Plan B
Family Home Evening it isn’t. But Eric Samuelsen’s world premiere “3″ at Plan B Theatre Company is still as Mormon as it gets.
That doesn’t mean anyone of any belief system won’t enjoy it immensely. But it will help if you’ve spent some time in Utah.
These are three insightful short plays about women confronting their own often conformist culture that center on universal whys: why do we make the choices we make, why do we do the (often-intrusive) things we do. Is it all about appearances?
Rarely pretty, but sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and always incisively written, the plays are cast with just three women with references to other important people – various ward members, a husband — who don’t appear onstage but oddly seem to. Samuelsen wanted the plays to appear “populated” and they do.
In “Bar and Kell” two apparently well-meaning ward members (Barbara and Kelly) intervene in the life of Brandie, a young single mother of several who has just moved into the neighborhood, is in an abusive relationship and, of course, “must” marry this man, become active again in the LDS Church, and get her GED. But is this proffered “friendship” because Bar and Kell genuinely like this disarrayed young woman or merely because Brandie is their church community’s “charitable” project? Teresa Sanderson’s transformation from Bar to Aunt Dot was eerily effective.
Community arises in a different sense in the second play, juxtaposing the re-release of the movie “Titanic” and an old Utah obscenity trial to explore issues of sexism. While the three actresses play multiple roles extremely well, Stephanie Howell, winning in all three productions, was especially so here as Janeal who describes a time where as a juror she had to watch pornographic films to determine what was and was not the “Community Standard.” That experience made her realize that her husband objectified her as a woman – one who had to get down to 105 pounds within a month after having each child to still be the most attractive woman in the ward – and so influenced her vote in the trial.
“Duets” is about marriage between a straight LDS woman and a gay man and also the test of a friendship – or really two. It’s strong stuff and was well saved for the final play of the evening. The interplay between two fine actresses, a quite convincing Christy Summerhays and Howell (and an absent but very present dazzlingly smart and handsome husband) makes this particular production under Cheryl Ann Cluff’s careful direction a standout.
Randy Rasmussen’s food storage set was a perfect backdrop. Phillip R. Lowe’s costumes (cleverly changed onstage during blackouts between plays) lent verisimilitude to the roles. Jesse Portillo’s wonderful lighting design (particularly good for “Bar and Kell”) was troubled by a persnickety bulb on the night we attended.
The play runs through April 6. Thursday and Friday at 8, Saturday at 4 and 8, Sunday at 2, at the Rose Wagner Studio Theatre, 138 W. 300 South. 3 is part of #SeasonOfEric, Plan B’s 2013/14 season dedicated to the work of Eric Samuelsen, a Mormon playwright and former professor at BYU. You can see our profile of the playwright in the February 2014 edition of 15 Bytes.
Culture Conversations: Film
Unusual but Entertaining
Searching for more Trent Harris
Does being a Utah Filmmaker make one an eccentric filmmaker? I’ve certainly known local filmmakers who have their eccentricities and one that I admire a great deal is Trent Harris. Probably best known for some unusual but entertaining films like Rubin and Ed (1991), in which two men wander in a desert looking for a suitable place to bury a frozen cat and Plan 10 from Outer Space (1994), a satire of Mormonism, Harris has established himself as an icon of the Utah film scene.
When I learned that the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA) was hosting an exhibit titled Trent Harris: Echo Cave (from January 17 through April 26), I made my way downtown. I was greeted by a surprising peek into the mind of one of the Utah’s more interesting filmmakers. The “Echo Cave” exhibit isn’t just an exhibition of Harris’ work, it also takes us into his past, showing a some of the things that influenced him into becoming a filmmaker from a very young age. In addition to some of his short films, we have the privilege of viewing some of his other artwork—including drawings and photographs.
We are also greeted by props from his films, most notably the mummified cat from Rubin and Ed and the beehive shaped alien head from Plan 10 from Outer Space. I missed the opportunity to see a screening of this satirical film when the exhibit opened but after taking this tour through the mind of Trent Harris, I’m definitely going to seek out more of his work. I’ve already enjoyed his Fling A Ding series on YouTube and had the pleasure of meeting the man himself at a filmmakers gathering circa 2002. And I'll be sure to be at the premiere of his Luna Mesa, on April 25th at UMOCA.