SALT LAKE CITY — Repertory Dance Theater has never been a typical dance company, so it makes sense that their annual fundraiser, "Regalia," is “not just a typical gala,” Stephanie Perkins, RDT’s marketing director, told the Deseret News.
Attendees will find the typical gala trappings the night of Feb. 24 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center — cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a silent auction that provides fundraising for RDT’s community outreach arts and education programming for local schools — but additionally, they can also expect a unique performance and the chance to vote on a new dance for RDT's 2018-19 season.
L.A. and New York-based choreographer Bryn Cohn is one of four choreographers competing at this year's gala. Although she normally works in two of the most art-centric cities in the country, she said that Salt Lake City is a more “dance-centric city” than people give it credit for.
“I think it’s really phenomenal,” she said, describing the local dance scene.
In the fall, Cohen responded to a nationwide call from RDT for submissions from choreographers for the chance to participate in the gala’s competition. RDT chose Cohen, two local choreographers — both associated with the University of Utah — and another from New York. And although the competitors have had months to come up with ideas for the competition, all the choreography will happen in a mere four hours on the day of the gala.
“I think that’s what makes the event itself exciting,” Perkins said. “You don’t know what they’re going to come up with. … Most of them will come in with ideas, but it’s exciting to just kind of see what happens on the day.”
As Perkins explained it, the choreographers meet their dancers on the day of the competition. They don’t know how many dancers they will have to work with and they are all randomly assigned. The choreographers then have four hours with the dancers to teach them the choreography and shape their performance.
“It’s very rare,” Cohn said of the competition. “You’re basically aspiring to do something that you would do in a week to two week’s time in a few hours.”
And because of that, Cohn said, it's important for the choreographers to manage expectations and create a “positive rapport” with the dancers from the very first moment.
“Once those few hours of the creative process are over, it’s like the ownership is on them,” Cohen said.
Then it is left to the dancers to perform and the audience to judge.
But for Cohn, turning her work over to the dancers at RDT, even after such a short time, isn’t something to worry about. It’s something to look forward to.
“For me, it’s really nice to see dancers who trust themselves and trust their bodies and trust in the kind of foundations they have,” she said. Although she hasn’t worked with them before, she said she respects the “historical lineage of the company” and has enjoyed watching them progress from afar.
As Perkins explained, part of the company’s core as a repertory company is collecting choreography, and this event helps them do that in a unique way — and allows the audience to become a temporary part of the company, in a way, as they vote which dance will be commissioned for the company's next season.
“It gives us the opportunity to let the audience see how the choreographic process works," Perkins said. "It’s a way for us to educate our audiences about a lot of stuff that we do. … It’s also just really fun.”
Following the performances, the event will culminate with dessert and dancing to live big band music, and RDT will announce the winner of the choreography competition. To close the night, audiences will have a chance to let loose onstage with the dancers.Comment on this story
And although the gala is a competition for the choreographers, Cohn said that for her, the emphasis isn’t on winning.
“It’s about having a kind of wild experience together,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to have fun and try some new things and experiment a bit, and I’m really looking forward to that.”
If you go …
What: "Regalia," RDT’s annual choreographer competition fundraiser and gala
When: Feb. 24, 6 or 7 p.m. (depending on ticket type)
Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South
How much: $50 performance tickets, $75 VIP tickets