Exhibition Spotlight: Salt Lake City
The Art of the Mask
Utah Arts Festival's Masquerade inspires local artists
The annual Utah Arts Festival (UAF) mask exhibition, now in its fourth year, opened Friday, Jan. 15, for Gallery Stroll at the UAF Gallery at Artspace, 230 S. 500 West, Salt Lake City. Featuring the work of 29 local artists, the exhibit is not only a display of creative design and artisan skill, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to get a one-of-a-kind mask for UAF’s Masquerade Party scheduled for February 20.
Aimee Dunsmore, UAF’s development director, says the mask show was conceived after partygoers began asking where they could purchase unique masks for the February event. UAF invited local artists to apply for the opportunity and participants include both established and emerging artists. “We’ve found that several of the artists really enjoy participating because they get to work in a different medium than they usually work in,” says Dunsmore. Stephanie Swift, for example, known for her digital artwork of iconic buildings and signs in Salt Lake City, made masks using leather and metal.
In the “unusual materials” category is a mask by John Rees. He uses old records, zip ties, and VHS tape to fashion a mask that looks a bit like Darth Vader. Though it appears uncomfortable, it is lined with soft material to protect the wearer.
Kali Mellus, who usually makes jewelry and belt buckles using metals and resin, created a billy-goat mask using white leather for the face, patent leather for the horns, and yarn fringe all around it. As she delivered it to the gallery, she made an unusual proposition. “I became very attached to this mask and don’t want to part with it,” she explained. “But I’ll rent it for $50 for the Masquerade Party.”
Amanda Carol created two masks using fabric, costume jewelry, bits of glass and other found objects. One, called Jubjub Bird (from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”) even lights up with tiny, battery-powered lights.
Cat Rogers, a spray-paint artist, started with a store-bought mask, removed all the glitter and embellishments, and worked her own intricate spray-paint design on the base.
Some masks are extremely lightweight, such as those made from paper clay, while others, like those carved from wood, might challenge the neck muscles. But aside from those special occasions, like the Masquerade Party, for wearing the masks, they can be hung on the wall or displayed on a pedestal like the sculptural works of art they are.
In addition to masks, the exhibit also includes paintings of masks by Grant Fuhst. Imaginative interpretations of tribal masks, the paintings are colorful and small enough to fit nicely with a mask collection display.
Both the mask exhibit and the Masquerade Party are fund-raisers that enable UAF to produce the annual Utah Arts Festival held at Library Square each June. For the exhibit, artists receive 30 percent from the sale of their masks and the remainder benefits UAF. Prices range from $35 to about $200. Tickets for the masquerade, to be held at Trolley Square’s Falls Event Center on Feb. 20, are $50.
Culture Converdations: Music
Tara Simoncic joins Ballet West
If you’re planning on attending Ballet West’s production of Romeo and Juliet this month, you might notice the company has hired a new maestro: Tara Simoncic. Artistic Director Adam Sklute has brought her in over the past several years for projects, but she was appointed as the orchestral conductor in November.
“I was attracted to Ballet West because it is an amazing company to work with,” says Simoncic. “It’s a company in which you feel like you are a part of something very special. I really enjoy working with the dancers, the staff, and the musicians.”
Simoncic’s interest in music started when she was only 6 years old as she studied the trumpet. She would later go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in music (in trumpet performance) from the New England Conservatory, a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from Northwestern University, and a professional studies diploma in orchestral conducting from the Manhattan School of Music.
She was born and raised in California, and admits that perhaps she was drawn to Utah because it has a similar, laid-back vibe. She likes that everyone is friendly and it reminds her of home.
Some might see being a ballet conductor as limiting because they are at the mercy of a choreographer and performers, but Simoncic sees it differently. “A conductor who works with ballet has to be able to interpret the movement of the dancers and must be able to adjust tempos accordingly to fit their movements and timing,” she says. “A lot of what you do depends on what is necessary for the choreography and for the story to unfold onstage while continuing to serve the music. It’s extremely challenging, and that’s one of the many things that I love about it.”
Not only does a ballet conductor have to communicate with the instrumentalists, she must communicate with the dancers onstage at the same time. “I communicate with the individual dancers when they are dancing solos or if there is a pas de deux,” Simoncic explains. “It’s important to know what the dancers prefer as far as tempo and the overall interpretation so that I can translate that into what needs to happen with the music. It’s the best feeling when you know that what you have done musically connects with the dancers. There is an electricity that can occur between the music and dance.”
Tara Simoncic fell in love with ballet when she first moved to New York City to attend the Manhattan School of Music and saw American Ballet Theatre’s production of Swan Lake. “Before that, I was mainly a symphonic conductor and ballet conducting didn’t cross my mind. During that performance, I was swept up in the story, choreography, music, and the beautiful art forms being combined together.” To this day, Swan Lake is her favorite ballet to conduct. She loves seeing how dance can change one’s perception of the music. “Dance can heighten music to an entirely different level. It can help the music tell a story and bring so much beauty, emotion, and understanding to a piece of music. The audience member is able to see the phrasing, articulations, dynamics, and colors through the dancers.”
Simoncic believes Ballet West is a special company. “There are very few companies who continue to use live music for their performances. The dancers and musicians are extremely talented and lovely to work with and there is a feeling that everyone at Ballet West is inspired to bring together a beautiful collaboration of the two art forms,” she observes.