The dance gene is a strong one. Just ask the nine women featured on this program. Their obsession with that art form has spanned more than half a century.
"Ladies of the Dance," a film documenting a little of their exploits, is the centerpiece of this fall's Performing Dance Company concert. You will laugh with these women, love them, and probably shed a tear or two as they reflect on the effort, the joy and the glory that have been modern dance at the University of Utah for the past 50 years.Loa Mangelson-Clawson and Brian Patrick have put together this artistic and significant film, which contains a good deal of history, some precious old film footage, many intriguing stills of the major figures as girls and young dancers, and mini-interviews with Elizabeth Hayes (who after 50 years at the University still moves with grace and spirit), Joan Woodbury, Shirley Ririe, Clawson, and Ann Riordan.
Clawson conducts a tour of the old dance building with its deserted studios and empty offices, and raises its ghost - a moody Terpsichore (Sarah Bogard) who dramatically underscores the poignance of leaving the old and dear behind, then bounds across the lawn to take up residence in the Marriott Center. The film also pays tribute to Kingsbury Hall, where dance has resided ever since the hall opened.
Also in the film are "third-generation" teachers Phyllis Haskell, Abby Fiat, Susan McLain-Smith and Donna White. Then the filmed dancers come to life, wearing costumes of brilliant autumnal colors that suggest the ripening of their artistry, and one by one make unique little offerings of movement.
This would be a very hard act to follow, and sensibly enough the Performing Dance Company chooses to precede the film rather than end the program.
PDC, with Ford Evans as artistic director, appears to be in fine form and fettle again this year. Some dancers are back, good new ones are in evidence, with a high level of technique and artistry. The program they are dancing is a light-hearted one, offering some appealing new works and artists.
From visiting choreographer Lynne Wimmer comes "Tehillim" (Psalm), a dance that uses the minimalist music of Steve Reich to underscore repetitious movement suggesting religious ritual and feeling, as the dancers intertwine, group and re-group. The mood is Middle Eastern, the movements strong and emphatic, and often quite sensual. All in all, a pungent, vital dance that engages the viewer's full attention.
"Episodes" by Joan Woodbury has the advantage of a vital new score for piano and percussion, composed by William Wallace, a visiting composer at the U., and performed with great energy and artistry by Jeffrey Price and Angel Williams. Indeed, its energy cries out for the vital sort of joy-in-movement that Woodbury and the dancers have devised - a vibrant, exciting dance with a lyric second movement, which brings out the best in everyone.
"In Passing" by Phyllis Haskell has another good score, this time an electronic one by Jon Scoville. It's a Sunday in the park sort of dance with everyone in white, the girls in ruffled skirts, peeling off across the stage in exuberant leaps. Indeed, it's a dance built largely upon one leap, but a good leap, a unifying device with a great deal of variation.