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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Christopher Lee, left, Suzanne Wirthlin, Kate Wirthlin, Sadie Carhart and Jill Edwards will perform in "Wackadoodle."

For 60 years, the Children's Dance Theatre, the performing company of Virginia Tanner Creative Dance, has touched the lives of children and their families.

From the humble beginnings at the McCune School of Music and Art, when Tanner was appointed director in 1940, to moving to the North Temple Bowling Alley, which is now the site of the Family History Library, to its present location at the University of Utah, CDT has maintained its mission of, according to the late Virginia Tanner, " developing young people who are useful, imaginative, worthwhile human beings."

Currently, the company and Creative Dance have partnered with the U. College of Education and plan to build a new home at the U. by mid-2011. But the mission is still the same, CDT artistic director Mary Ann Lee said.

"We like to think we are creating worthwhile human beings one dancer at a time," Lee said. "Every child has a divine nature that needs to be cherished and nurtured. As parents and as educators, we have the responsibility to carry out that mission as best we can."

To celebrate, CDT's annual production, "Coming Home: Celebrating our Roots, Strengthening Our Wings," is a homage to the company's history and future.

"The title, 'Coming Home,' is how many of us think of the company and program," said Lee. "We have faculty who literally grew up dancing in these halls. We have children who started almost as soon as they could walk and have graduated from our program. It's a second home to them."

But there is more to the program than just being a home, Lee said.

"I had been thinking a lot of this place as we were coming up on the 60th anniversary," she said. "Of course, it came faster than we anticipated. But as I gathered my thoughts, I remembered the 'homey' feeling of this place but also dug into the past, which became the 'roots' part of the title."

Lee said Tanner's roots come from a legacy of discipline of dance and art.

"The 'wings' part of the title symbolizes imagination," she said. "We try to help our dancers think outside the box. We let them know that imagination is limitless.

"With the Creative Dance and CDT, we give children a safe environment to take risks when it comes to imagination."

So, with those concepts in mind, Lee let the faculty loose and had them create works for their students that reflected the mission and memories of being a part of the Virginia Tanner legacy.

"Some are based on memories of the faculty who grew up in the program," Lee said. "Others, who didn't grow up with the program, but have internalized it as teachers, have created works that come from their perception of the mission.

"It's a very non-linear production that does have narration to move things along, but it is a little more abstract that what we've done in the past," Lee said.

The past performances are usually based on a children's book, said Lee. "But this year, it is based on a story that isn't in a book."

The challenge for Lee and the faculty was to create a night's worth of repertory that symbolized the concepts of Virginia Tanner but not do it in a chronological order.

"We all thought that wouldn't have worked very well," Lee said. "We didn't want it to be a history lesson. We wanted it to be an expression of what each of us felt CDT and Virginia Tanner meant to us."

E-mail: [email protected]

If you go

What: "Coming Home: Celebrating Our Roots," Children's Dance Theatre 60th anniversary

Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South

When: Feb. 27, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 28, 2 p.m.

How much: $15-$24

Phone: 801-355-2787, 888-451-2787

Web: www.arttix.org