SALT LAKE CITY — “After we had that first workshop performance … we were asking ourselves ‘Where does this go next? What does this become?’”
That was the question Andrew Maxfield, co-composer and producer of "The Bridge," a contemporary dance/electronic music performance, asked himself after a successful 2016 pilot performance at Brigham Young University’s de Jong concert hall.
"The Bridge" was born out of a number of first-time collaborations. Both Maxfield and his brother Stuart Maxfield, lead vocalist of the local rock band Fictionist, studied music at BYU, but they each took different routes, Andrew leaning toward classical music and Stuart towards rock and pop. When the chance came up to do something at the de Jong, they combined their respective interests, drawing in a few others for their project.
“The impetus for that show was we had the chance to collaborate with some of BYU’s ensembles, so we thought it’d be cool to create a show,” Andrew Maxfield said.
In addition to working with BYU's jazz and vocal ensembles, they also contacted author and librettist Glen Nelson. On his suggestion, they decided to frame their show around American writer Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Led by Andrew Maxfield’s love of storytelling and Stuart Maxfield’s innovative musicianship, they staged the first "Bridge" with a narrator, jazz ensemble, vocal ensemble, string quartet and two actors and dancers — and that was just for the actual performance.
"We (also) worked with … a team of choreographers, directors, animators," Andrew Maxfield said. "We put together this show and it was a terrific experience.”
"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," on which "The Bridge" is based, chronicles the life of Peyton Farquhar, a civilian in the American South during the Civil War who is tricked into burning down a Union bridge and hanged for attempted arson. The moment before his death, he dreams that the rope breaks, allowing him to escape down the river and return safely to his wife.
“In my mind, the theme of the story is following an ideology to a ruinous end — taking an ideology too far. If you want a relevant theme for our political life and our social life now, that’s the theme,” Andrew Maxfield said.
“We all have to look at ourselves in this kind of mirror and ask whether we’re so in love with our ideals that we’re willing to follow them to really terrible ends.”
It was this original, raw storytelling aspect of dance that got Michelle Nielsen, founder and artistic director of Salt Contemporary Dance, excited about "The Bridge."
“This is perfect, this seems very new, and different and edgy,” Nielsen recalled saying when she first met with Andrew Maxfield in her studio two years ago.
“I’ve learned to lean into those risky, exciting opportunities because it means I’m doing something fresh and it keeps me fresh as an artist,” Nielsen said.
After founding Salt six years ago in an attempt to create more opportunities for local dancers, Nielsen has seen incredible growth, more than she ever anticipated. She transitioned from being a professional dancer and dance teacher at BYU into an artistic director at Salt.
Thanks to her dance background and eye for innovation, collaborating with Andrew Maxfield seemed like the perfect pairing. Both have emphasized the newness of this performance — Maxfield calling it a “creative reinterpretation” and Nielsen calling it a “dramatic retelling of (a) short story.”
“It is … a contemporary dance performance but has a strong narrative line — it’s something totally new,” Nielsen said. “Whatever message you take out of this, you’re not going to walk away without being moved.”
Though Maxfield and Nielsen have been busy collaborating with choreographers, costume designers and set designers, without the help of Brooke Horejsi, executive director of UtahPresents, a nonprofit presenter based at the University of Utah, their show would not be hitting the stage at Kingsbury Hall.
“After hearing their vision for the work, it struck me that UtahPresents could provide this group of interesting local artists with more than just a venue — we could provide commissioning support to help them develop the work,” Horejsi said. “As a presenter who is always looking for compelling artists and work from all over the world, it was exciting to enter it our first commissioned piece with artists from right here in our own community.”
With the Utah community behind them and a strong following from university students, Maxfield and Nielsen are eager for audience members to witness this story unfold and recognize their own story within the narrative.
“Creative energy gives me such life," Nielsen said. " … This has been so incredibly fulfilling to watch an idea take root and then take life and grow and see it become something.”Comment on this story
And the fact that this "something" is entirely new is part of what will make these performances exciting, said Maxfield.
“For people (who) don't think they like dance, they should come see this," he said. "It’s not just abstraction, it's storytelling. It’s athletic, it’s visual — it's energetic.”
If you go…
What: “The Bridge” — Salt Contemporary Dance
When: Nov. 8-10, 7:30 pm.
Where: Kingsbury Hall, 1395 Presidents Circle
How much: $20-$25 for adults, $10 for 18 and under, $10 for non-U students, $5 for U of U students