One definition of love is "something that you've been through with somebody." If so, the nine women highlighted in a semidocumentary film, "Ladies of the Dance: A Half-Century Tradition in Modern Dance at the University of Utah," are well qualified to love each other. For they've been through a lot together in bringing to pass the thriving department at the U. and developing it into a national center for teaching.

Their accomplishments will be celebrated and the film premiered as part of the Performing Dance Company's fall concerts, taking place in the Hayes/Christensen Theater at the Marriott Center for Dance on Thursdays-Saturdays, Nov. 8-10 and Nov. 15-17, at 8 p.m.The film is one aspect of a three-part project undertaken over a two-year period by Loa Mangelson-Clawson, who also wrote and presented an article for the Utah Historical Society and created a dance espressly for these women to perform live on the PDC program.

In addition to the film and dance, the Performing Dance Company, with Ford Evans as artistic director, will dance three works.

Among them is "Telhillim" ("psalm" in Hebrew) a celebration of movement by Lynne Wimmer, visiting choreographer who has also worked with the Repertory Dance Theatre this fall. Phyllis Haskell contributes "In Passing," a lyric work that touches lightly on the exuberance, fears, friendships and rivalry of young dancers. From Joan Woodbury comes a collaborative piece for six dancers, set to piano and percussion music by William Wallace, visiting honors program faculty member.

Ranging in age from 37 to 79, the nine "ladies of the dance" are Dr. Elizabeth R. (Betty) Hayes, professor emeritus; Joan J. Woodbury, Shirley R. Ririe and Clawson, full professors; Anne B. Riordan, associate professor; Donna S. Smith and Abby Fiat, adjunct associate professors, Susan McLain-Smith, adjunct assistant professor; and Phyllis A. Haskell, associate professor and chair of the department.

Working under three faculty grants and a Dee Faculty Fellowship, Clawson researched almost 100 years of dance at the University, focusing particularly on the 50 years since Hayes founded the department. She has not covered history of the Repertory Dance Theatre or the Children's Dance Theatre which, though housed at the University, function outside the department.

Her interest in the project was spurred by the modern dance department's move from its antiquated 80-year-old structure to the new state-of-the-art building funded by the legislature and the Alice Sheets Marriott family.

Clawson believes that the U.'s modern dance department is one of the best in the country, an assessment confirmed by the 1990 edition of Barron's 300 Best Buys in College Education, which calls the university's ballet and modern dance programs one of the "star divisions."

"In the film, five of the women tell their stories," said Clawson. "Each discusses her particular time period and shares her choreographing philosophy." Brian F. Patrick, associate professor of art and theater, has co-directed, photographed and edited the 30-minute film. It's the second time he's worked with Mangelson; he also documented the 1979 PDC tour of Great Britain in "Dance Journal."

Clawson's research included many interviews and inspecting hundreds of photos and old dance film footage. The aim has been to approach the women as individual personalities and capture their spirit of camaraderie and support for each other. "In the film it's secondary that they are dancers, choreographers and teachers," said Clawson. "Over the years there has never been jealousy, just a wonderful feeling of cooperation among us.

"Modern dance is an American art form pioneered about 100 years ago by women. It's a tribute to visionary leadership that the U. has always been on the cutting edge of dance, ever since Maude May Babcock established dance as part of the physical education department in 1906." Clawson's film shows how modern dance has been transformed since then in style, sound usage, costuming and staging.

Clawson began her teaching career at age 14 when she opened a dance school in Fillmore and Delta. She graduated from the U. of U., has danced with Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, and was a charter member of the Repertory Dance Theatre. She is past artistic director of Performing Dance Company, and has choreographed more than 50 works, many of them in the repertories of university and professional companies across the nation. Some have been performed in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

She has been a movement specialist for the National Endowment for the Arts and has been on the boards of directors for the National Dance Association and the American College Dance Festival.

Besides Patrick and Clawson, credits for the "Ladies of the Dance" film include Maggie St. Clair, interviewer and writer; Beth Mehocic, composer; Marina Harris, costumes; and McCarty Agency, makeup. Additional funding was provided by College of Fine Arts Dean Robert S. Olpin's research fund. The film was produced by the U.'s film studies program.