To open its 25th season, the Repertory Dance Theatre has taken on a project to match its mountains - "Separate Journeys," a dance drama based on real-life histories related by members of five ethnic minority groups (native American Ute, Jewish, Japanese, Greek and Mexican-Hispanic) who live in and contribute to Utah.
This multimedia work draws upon music by John Mitchell, photography by George Janecek and Kent Miles, and spoken text selected from the Ethnic and Minority Documentary Project of the Oral History Institute, as edited by Lynne Wimmer and Leslie G. Kelen. Multimedia programming is by Arch Cheney, Jay Mower and Media Maker Multi-Image Productions, and multimedia staging by AV Design.Choreography by Lynne Wimmer will be danced by members of RDT and guest artists representing the ethnic nationalities involved, including groups such as the Zivio Ethnic Arts Ensemble, the Japanese Buddhist Temple Dancers and the Greek Dionysius Dancers. Narration will be delivered as much as possible by the individuals who have lived the experiences they relate.
"Separate Journeys" will be presented at the Capitol Theater on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2 and 3, at 8 p.m. Tickets ranging from $10 to $20, with discounts for students, senior and groups, are available at the Capitol Theatre ticket office, 535-7523.
Two years ago Wimmer, a charter member of RDT and nationally recognized dancer/choreographer, approached RDT artistic director Linda C. Smith with a sheaf of personal narratives from the documentary project and the idea for a multimedia presentation. The light dawned upon Smith, and the concept of "Separate Journeys" was born.
"I had been seeking a meaningful project to observe the company's 25th anniversary; I wanted to say something about who we are and where we live," said Smith. " `Separate Journeys' touched me deeply, it linked artist and audience, the past and the present, and contained the potential for significant drama . . .
"In our tradition of revering the past while exploring new territory, this dance unlocks deepset memory, reveals secrets, and confronts us with realities thatchallenge our comfortable routines and awaken our hearts."The Oral History Institute conducted its Ethnic and Minority Documentary Project from 1982 to 1987, encompassing 800 interviews with elderly members of eight ethnic communities. In addition, about 5,000 photos were taken by Janacek, Miles and Arthur Rothstein, spawning a photographic exhibit titled "Working Together: A Utah Portfolio" (now on exhibit at the Utah Historical Society) and a book, "The Other Utahns."
Far from being an unlikely subject for modern dance, Kelen concluded that "significant oral histories not only lend themselves to theatrical presentation, their content literally calls to be dramatized." He found that the statements, "some poised and reflective, others irreverent and unsparing, others expressing conflicting feelings . . . confirm a propensity toward candor, a belief that the pursuit of personal truth is part of a larger journey that involves all humankind."
Though Wimmer ranges the modern gamut as a choreographer, she feels a certain ethnic pull. Utahns may remember her piece "Village" (1979), about the work and play of a fishing village. She used a similar format with a narrative told by older members of a family, for "Small Legends," danced by Wimmer, Wimmer & Dancers, the company she headed with her sister in Philadelphia, 1979-83.
"I also made four pieces about the border between Mexico and the United States, and the conflict that imposes," she said. "I was in Mexico City in 1985-86, lecturing under a Fulbright grant, and I made one of the dances there. I did the other three after I returned to Miami, where I teach at the University of South Florida. The fourth of those really comprises the Mexican section of `Separate Journeys.'
"Something that preoccupies me is the whole concept of being a foreigner, of being on shaky ground. How do you survive, how do you make this new territory your own, how do you re-establish your past in your present life? An immigrant is something like a child in an adult body; he doesn't know how the society works, no one understands him.
"In this piece we represent the ethnic group with traditional movement, but often the individual voice is represented by RDT dancers, either in groups or singly, who try to show how the individual responds, survives, defines himself. For example, the last story tells about a daughter rebelling against the Greek values, and how she establishes her own identity, then returns to the fold.
"The words of this piece are as important as the movement," she said, "and the movement is sometimes simpler because of the words. Sometimes we reflect the text directly in dance, but more often I like to be abstract, to get at what underlies what is happening.
"In the Japanese segment the words are separate from the movement. I decided that had to happen at some point because it's hard for the audience to listen, watch pictures, see dance and absorb meanings all at once."
Wimmer has been in charge of all aspects of the show - dance, music, photography, narration, and multimedia - and it's been a day-and-night job, working with professional dancers all day and ethnic groups at night.
Nor was the narration easy to assemble. "We went over hundreds of interviews, and then often we had to reinterview people because the original tapes were not of good quality," she said. "After we chose an interview we liked, we had to edit down from say, three hours, to 10 minutes of script. Sometimes the people we chose had moved or passed away. Then when we asked our individual in to KUER to read, we had to work with them to sound natural, not as if they were reading."
John Mitchell has extensive experience composing for dance, in Florida, at the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., and across the United States. He generated his commissioned score on computer, after studying ethnic music of the groups he incorporates, and he interweaves the voices of narrators.
"John and I collaborated a lot by mail," said Wimmer. "We conferred via videotape, and both gathered source material, bits of traditional music. Sometimes we have worked from story text to music, then music to text to photo, then music to dance, considering all different aspects. Then we got together at Snowbird this summer for some really fruitful daily work with the dancers."
Wimmer's biggest concern - one that she's never had before - is the fear of giving offense. "This piece has kept me awake worrying about how living individuals will react to our interpretation of them or their parents," she said. "This is no documentary, and an artist takes liberties with reality. A theatrical work must make an artistic statement.
"Conflict is at the center of the theater, and how you deal with conflict. You can't make a dance about founding the B'nai B'rith, or building the Japanese temple. I may exaggerate, and how I interpret the narration may not be what my narrator intended to say. There are lots of little land mines in this two hours of dance/theater, but I hope the outcome will be worth the risk."