It sounds like a bad riddle, but what do you get when you mix mountain bikers with ballet dancers?
Try Moab.Mountain bikers, speaking with French, German and Russian accents, already have discovered southeastern Utah's slickrock treasure. Now, Geoffrey Panos, the director of the University of Utah's Fine Arts Center in Moab, plans to let Congress in on the secret.
At the invitation of Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, Panos will marry those two seemingly divergent images when he testifies Wednesday in front of the U.S. Senate's Energy and National Resource Committee, at a hearing of the Public Lands, National Parks and Forest subcommittee.
Panos, on behalf of the university and Moab officials, is pushing a proposal to build the Kokopelli National Theater, a performing arts facility in the heart of Utah's arched, one-of-a-kind national parks caliber scenery. The proposed $9.3 million facilities - for which Congress is considering a $6 million appropriation - would host music, ballet and opera performances. Some of the performances would explore contemporary and ancient Indian themes, Panos said.
And why Moab?
"We've already got an international audience streaming through the area," Panos said. "That's the reason that this whole thing is going to work. We have the audience. We certainly have the rare red rock terrain. And now we're going to put artistic performance in the middle of nature - and create beauty."
The university is working with Grand County and Moab officials to create a multifaceted performing arts mecca in southeastern Utah. The theater proposal, named for the humpbacked flute player who symbolizes fertility in petroglyphs found in the Four Corners area, is especially significant because it would be one of only four national facilities for the performing arts. The others, including the famed Wolf Trap Farm Park in suburban Washington D.C. as well as D.C.'s Kennedy Center, are east of the Mississippi River.
Already the College of Fine Arts and the Division of Continuing Education are shaping a unique quiverful of advanced arts classes based in the Moab area. While it's not unusual in educational circles to take field trips, the U. is pushing the walls of the outdoor classroom back even further. For example, consider rock-painting instruction taught under Fisher Towers in the Canyonlands region by an anthropologist and a painter, blending art and science.
In addition, the U. will continue to produce mobile wilderness performances, such as its popular Colorado River summer concert series, and next weekend's Greek theater performed near Corona Arch.
A spokesman for Garn's office, Mary Thiriot, director of community relations, said the Kokopelli Theater proposal is being introduced too late in the congressional session to expect much action. "But the senator is just pleased to introduce the idea to Congress."
Garn thinks the Kokopelli Theater could produce the same kind of positive economic effects for southeastern Utah that southwestern Utah receives from the Utah Shakespearean Festival.