Repertory Dance Theatre's 'Embark' merges community, technology and dance

By Melissa DeMoux

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Sept. 29 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

Dancers Sarah Donohue, Rosy Goodman, M. Colleen Hoelscher, Chara Huckins-Malaret and Toni Lugo glide into a Michio Ito piece for the performance of "Embark."

Repertory Dance Theatre

Why would professional dancers approach the public looking for new dance moves? It may sound crazy, but that is just what Repertory Dance Theatre decided to do in preparation for its premier performance of the season, “Embark,” which will run Oct. 4-6 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

RDT invited anyone with an itch to dance to hop in front of a video camera for eight seconds at the Utah Arts Festival in June. Community members were encouraged to donate a piece of movement to then be used for this performance.

“Some donations were very pedestrian,” Linda Smith, RDT’s artistic director, said. “Other people just froze on camera or came up with spontaneous actions. Some had planned out their movement and some contributed martial arts. … There is so much variety, everyone was having fun.”

More than 75 people of all ages and abilities donated dance fragments that were then handed off to RDT dancers to translate into a performance piece.

“The dancers had to figure out ‘how are we going to use this movement,’ ” Smith said. “We really had to come up with a kind of formula to look at everything. Each dancer was given a DVD with eight or nine segments of these eight-second pieces and they would create their phrase of movement from that.”

From there, RDT dancers Nicholas Cendese, Sarah Donohue and Aaron Wood organized everyone’s different creations into a cohesive piece.

“We are still refining. Each section you see this fresh juxtaposition of movement that was given to us, and I think the language (the dancers) have come up with is wonderful. Every time I watch a rehearsal it is thrilling to me. It invites the dancers to go into territory that is unlikely,” Smith said.

But RDT’s entire season is based on the unlikely. It has labeled this season “A Season of Heroes,” and “Embark” is sure to deliver.

“The focus of ‘Embark,’ I think, is to salute innovation and the revolutionary spirit of artists,” Smith said. “Modern dance artists have always been pushing the boundaries and defying the status quo. ‘Embark,’ to me, is a wonderful look at dance language. It kind of reflects a development or change in language over a period of about 100 years.”

Besides the piece inspired by brave community contributors, RDT will also perform diverging dances created by heroes of choreography from this century.

“How to Kick, Pass, Fall and Run” is the vibrant creation of avant-garde dance master Merce Cunningham.

“(Cunningham) is kind of abstract and intellectual in general, but this piece is delightful,” Smith said. “He was labeled an avant-garde artist and was pushing the boundaries of his art form, creating the new.”

Cunningham’s approach to movement was unheard of in his day.

“You can kind of predict someone’s movement in ballet because you can tell when they are going to turn or leap, but with Merce Cunningham you never know what will happen. It is full of surprises. It is unique every time it is performed. It comes together in a landscape that is really unpredictable and playful. Even today his work is fresh and wonderful.”

“Hello World” is an interdisciplinary, multimedia collaboration. It is based on the phrase “Hello World” taken from computer programming. This piece marries dance with digital imagery to create its own kinesthetic language.

“ ‘Hello World’ combines dance and video in a whole new world of thought,” Smith said. “It is a piece that reflects contemporary society. It is an electronic collage of movement.”

Finally, the dancers will perform selected works by acclaimed choreographer Michio Ito. Ito’s revolutionary vision changed the fabric of modern dance.

“Michio Ito worked in the early years of the 20th century,” Smith said. “He created his movement language basically by creating a kind of movement calligraphy. He developed 10 symbolic gestures of the arms that he compares to the 12 notes on a piano that he would then take and create dances using those 10 gestures, almost like composing a piece of piano music.”

With such an array of dance to share, RDT is sure to inspire audiences.

Advance tickets are $20 for the Oct. 4 performance and $30 for Oct. 5-6 and can be purchased online at www.arttix.org or by calling 801-355-ARTS. For more information or to see a video of RDT performing Michio Ito’s works, visit http://rdtutah.org/upcoming_embark.html.

Melissa DeMoux is a stay-at-home mother of six young children who lives in West Valley City, Utah. Her email is mddemoux@gmail.com and she blogs about her adventures in motherhood at demouxfamily.blogspot.com.

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