Michele Massoney, recently retired from the Repertory Dance Theatre, has spent 14 years with the company. That's more than half of the time RDT's been in existence, and a big chunk out of Michele's life, too.
She came to Utah as a very young woman, with her first dancing job, and here she developed into an especially strong, lyric dancer."I graduated from Arizona State in dance," she said, curling up on an old bench typical of the battered comfort in RDT's barracks quarters at the University of Utah. "Then I had a scholarship to the Alvin Ailey school, and then came to RDT."
She's been married for five years to David Chambers, long associated with the Sundance Institute, who is now administrative director of the Sundance Children's Theatre workshop, coming up next summer. Also scheduled for next summer is their own joint production - a baby boy or girl.
"It was time to leave," she said. "We had 13 weeks of touring lined up, and David spends three months each year at Sundance. Between his absences and mine, we weren't seeing enough of each other."
Since leaving RDT she's settled happily into "exploring the retail aspect of life," working for the Images of Nature art gallery in Deer Valley, a job she found immediately through a neighbor near her Parley's Summit home.
Asked what she values most about her RDT experience, Michele responded without pausing for breath, "the good feelings and camaraderie among company members. So many companies have internal conflicts, but we've never had any of that."
She's glad that RDT is on an upswing. "I couldn't have left during the lean, hand-to-mouth years," she said. "I wasn't ready, and I would have felt too disloyal."
Asked to name her favorites among company repertory, she quickly settled on the milestone concert of the late '70s, which traced the history of modern dance. "It was great, working with Ernestine Stodelle on the Ruth St. Denis piece, and with Annabel Gamson on Isadora Duncan movement - getting to know people like that, who have such love for dance," she recalled.
"Another highlight was working with Mary Jane Eisenberg on her `Avalon,' a choreography for women in the Limon tradition. `Pigs and Fishes' by Elisa Monte is a wonderful group piece, the dancers have to rely on each other, play off each other, draw energy from each other. I love Doris Humphrey's `Night Spell,' and "Special Delivery' by Beth Corning, which pushed us technically and dramatically. `Prelude and Water Study' by Isadora Duncan was a challenge; so was Bill Evans' hillbilly `Hard Times,' in a different way! And I've especially enjoyed several of Marina Harris's choreographies."
Did she ever think of joining another company? "Oh, yes, I was sometimes tempted by the talent and charisma of this choreographer or that. But I was kept here by the environment, both in RDT and in Utah. I never wanted to live in New York City, and I often found upon investigation that there was backbiting among the members of tempting companies.
"Then too, you might grow tired of doing just one choreographer's works, no matter how good, whereas with RDT you have so much variety. Among our many choreographers, some have been horribly difficult to work with! But we learned to take the bitter with the sweet.
"RDT has arrived at its 25th anniversary, it's where it is today because of much sacrifice," she reflected. "I never felt even in the worst times that the company would go under. We had too much substance and reputation. We would work for nothing to keep it going, to carry on the work so we wouldn't fold, sometimes even sponsor ourselves.
"And RDT has come out into a clearing. It has as much touring lined up for next year as in the first year I was here. It has had good National Endowment support, good Utah support, good booking representation and efforts."
What has she learned from her years with RDT?
"Not to take anything for granted," she said, turning her thoughts inward. "I learned that it feels good to work hard, to devote yourself to a cause. You learn about yourself, and about human nature, and sincerity. You learn to treat people according to the golden rule.
"I am glad I pursued an unlikely career. And as I look ahead, the skills I learned are transferrable. I learned about the creative process, about how to learn. I learned company management skills - scheduling, costume management, teaching classes (we all do that in residencies). I've also worked on the archives and history of RDT.
"I learned how to make TV commercials, I acted as an assistant director at the Salt Lake Acting Company, I have choreographed fashion shows for ZCMI. It's been a wide-ranging experience."
What does she foresee in her future? "I like to teach, but only where people want to learn," she said. "I've worked often with both the state and national artists-in-schools programs, but I prefer a more structured, less impromptu situation. Perhaps later I can teach for RDT, or for the Children's Dance Theatre, or the University."