From Bicknell, Utah, to Vienna, Austria - that's where 25 years with the Repertory Dance Theatre has taken her, said artistic director Linda C. Smith.
"We visited Bicknell during our first season," she said. "And now we have been engaged to dance at the Vienna Tanz Festival in March 1992, all expenses paid, plus a fee! They want three programs - an all-Humphrey evening, a collection of our historical works and a contemporary program."Those who booked us said they had heard about us for years, and they had seen everything modern dance-wise in Europe. Now they want to learn about the roots of modern dance, which originated in America."
Just back from a month of touring, Smith is putting finishing touches on the company's 25th anniversary concert, "American Masters," scheduled for the Capitol Theater on Friday and Saturday, March 8 and 9 at 8 p.m. Tickets at $10-$20 with discounts for students, seniors and groups are on sale at the theater
Works on the program are by Jose Limon, Merce Cunningham and Laura Dean, towering choreographers who have made or are now making powerful impressions on the field of modern dance.
"When I asked myself what my 25th anniversary dream program would be, I said, I want a present," said Smith, who has experienced every minute of the company's existence. "And I was successful in getting works from all three choreographers' company repertories, though it was difficult, because hardly any company lets its treasures out to other companies.
"Where else can you see a pieces by three such giants in one evening? And our company is the only one I know that challenges itself to leap from one style to another. We have a wonderful repertory, like an art gallery, which now contains works from these three great people, each totally different.
"I have long wanted a piece by Cunningham - I have called Merce every year - but he always refused. Then I served on the dance video and film panel at the National Endowment for the Arts, and realized that Cunningham was going back, doing archival preservation of his old pieces. He had revived his `Septet' from 1953, the first year of his company, and agreed to let us have it.
"Cunningham is the father of avant garde dance, the abstract expressionist, whose dances parallel the modern painters," Smith explained. "He was the first to advance the hypothesis that music and dance could exist independently, and come together by chance, on different levels.
"When he began working with composer John Cage, the musicians would play the score with chance happenings within a time limit, and the dancers would rehearse according to beats. Thus sequences could happen by chance, but the choreography was very exact.
"I once heard Cunningham say that ballet is for people who like New Year's Eve, the predictable countdown element. His dance shatters all such predictability. People were locked into patterns, and he broke the mold.
" `Septet' is on the edge of that newness, but still a conventional dance, set to music of Erik Satie. It's very fresh and witty, even off the wall at times, but quite classic as well, with beautiful lines and design. And though it doesn't look so today, there are transitional elements that made it revolutionary for its time.
"In 1953, conventional thinking was that dance should be led by the music, or music should be the accompaniment for dance. Cunningham felt that the music and dance have equal weight, that anything can accompany dance, and any movement can be a dance movement. He would let his company dance to traffic noises in an intersection, on a rooftop, or a stairway.
"People say they are confused by Cunningham. He thinks he's very simple. You go out and hear the birds singing, the grass grows, the cars go by. You accept all that, so you should accept diversity in movement. He doesn't donarrative movement, tell stories in dance. He deals in pure movement in space, creating a new vocabulary."
Laura Dean writes her own scores, and spinning is her trademark. "Why do you spin?' Dean was asked in China. `Because the Earth spins,' she replied.
She is to dance what Reich and Glass are to music, a minimalist who becomes enamored of fragments of movement, and likes to explore trancelike states. "Dean turns a movement this way and that, repeating and repeating, with hypnotic quality," said Smith. "She is a supreme craftsman, who initiates a pattern, then explores it exhaustively. Her works are fascinating and compelling.
" `Skylight,' the title of Dean's piece, has reference to connecting with the sky. When we danced it on our recent tour of Idaho and Colorado, we had standing ovations.
"Ours is the only company that has a dance from Dean's own company repertory. She will make original choreographies for others, but her own she keeps. But when she learned we had endured for 25 years, as she has, she wanted to give us something to mark the occasion."
"There is a Time" by Jose Limon is a beautifully crafted piece - "simple but straight to the heart. It's poetry in movement," said Smith, who danced briefly with the Limon Company in 1960. "It has such dignity, such wonderful, perfect movement. It became a signature piece for the Limon Company.
"It's based on scripture from Ecclesiastes, so beautiful, and our company has gone through all the emotions of this piece - a time to be born and to die, to plant, to harvest, to mourn or laugh, to embrace, to love, to make peace. It is a healing piece. When you move together in that big circle at the end, you know that things will be all right."
Though the company had the services of name choreographers in its early days, during the lean years of the early '80s "it was a challenge just to stay alive," said Smith. "RDT couldn't afford expensive choreographers, so we created a lot of our own work locally. Being able to secure dances of this stature feels like putting on a designer dress after making your own clothes!"
Smith has been with the company since its inception. "In 1966, the Rockefeller Foundation gave money to found this company, through Virginia Tanner's influence," she said. "I was approached when I and my husband were in Detroit, with a new baby, and asked to join an artistic democracy, to share in the decision-making process.
"It was a wonderful opportunity, unprecedented elsewhere. I was asked, do you want to dance? and get paid for it? work with great choreographers? live in Salt Lake City? All that we have done, yet during the past quarter century we have paid a high price in effort for our accomplishment.
"Our mission was to be a repository for existing choreographies, to experiment with the art, develop young choreographers, bring modern dance to audiences that had never before seen it. We've danced in nearly every state, in New York and Washington, D.C.; and with forays such as our recent tours to Caldwell and Sandpoint, Idaho and Durango, Colo. we're still taking our kind of dance to those who have never seen it before."
After the demise of the NEA's dance touring program and years of slim pickings, touring is again on the rise. RDT has had 14 weeks of touring this year, and next year 18 weeks on the road will take them to places as diverse as Nebraska, California, and Buffalo, N.Y.
Smith is encouraged that presenters are finding the money for dance, assisted by regional and state arts councils. "And they recognize a bargain; we offer our presenters wonderful packages, three or four days in a community, working with all ages," she said.
"Next year we lose our barracks building at the University, where we have been since the beginning, but the U. has been so fantastic in their support of us. I know there will always be challenges with this company. But I am so proud of those who have made a contribution - dancers, technical support, board members - people who caught the vision, dreamed the dream. Many said we would fail after the Rockefeller money ran out (1972). But we are still here."