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Sharon Kain
Repertory Dance Theatre will perform "Emerge" on Jan. 4 and 5.

SALT LAKE CITY — Repertory Dance Theatre dancer and choreographer Daniel Higgins found his piece for the company's upcoming program "Emerge" in a series of questions, perhaps surprisingly, about masculinity.

"'How does my masculinity fit in?" Higgins remembered wondering as he considered his dance."What’s its value? What is the depth to it?'” These questions prompted his new dance, "Masc," one of nine pieces created by RDT dancers and staff members featured in the 52-year-old company's annual "Emerge" program, running Jan. 4-5 at Salt Lake's Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

Sharon Kain
Repertory Dance Theatre dancer Dan Higgins. RDT will perform "Emerge" on Jan. 4 and 5.

A concert in its third year, "Emerge" offers audiences an immediate, intimate relationship that only comes through live art. For the company, it's a chance to share who they are.

“(RDT) loves the audience to get to know its dancers,” said Linda C. Smith, RDT's executive and artistic director. “(Dance is) a dialogue through audience and performers. The audience is necessary because dancers need to speak to somebody. … (It's also) part of developing art in the community.”

For Higgins, his interaction with others — like performer to audience — influenced his piece for this year’s concert. “'Masc',” Higgins said, “(is) exploring masculinity and its connotations, particularly in this current social climate.” As Higgins began noticing how he interacted with people, this consciousness made him think about his masculinity and the “ways it falls into place with me,” he said. The topic’s layers became the layers of movement on which he based his dance.

Choreography is itself an integral piece of RDT’s foundation as a company. Smith explained that not only is choreography a “skill every dancer should have,” it’s also RDT’s purpose. “RDT’s mission always has been to hone choreographic skills of our dancers — part of our original mandate," she said. "Dancers the last few years have been very interested in producing their own work.”

Sharon Kain
Linda C. Smith, executive and artistic director of Repertory Dance Theatre.

As a dancer, Higgins appreciates the opportunity to create dances for himself and others. “RDT is one of the best dance companies in the world in terms of what it offers to artists," he said. "(It) facilitates the space to be full, well-rounded artists who also know how to teach and how to choreograph.”

Higgins' choreographic process centers on hopefully giving audiences something they can connect to, and also providing a place where they can bring their own stories. “I start with an idea, feeling, emotion or image … and then put music on in the studio where I improvise," he said. "I notice themes of movement I keep coming back to.” These “qualities of movement,” he said, are data upon which he then builds structures of phrasework and steps. “When I add other dancers, they bring their own textures and layers to the piece," he explained.

Choreographing is an experience that shapes RDT dancers, according to Smith. “Dancers who stay even two years (with RDT) have choreography in their bodies — they just have to,” she said. And, she said, a dancer’s experience of working with various choreographers throughout his or her career leads to their ability to use and understand movement in unique ways.

Sharon Kain
Repertory Dance Theatre dancer Efren Corado Garcia. RDT will perform "Emerge" on Jan. 4 and 5.

This vision of a career filled with opportunities was Smith’s inspiration for her piece in this year’s "Emerge." "Navigate" was a gift she created for and with RDT dancer Efren Corado Garcia. By their count, Corado Garcia has worked with over 50 choreographers, and these experiences, coupled with what Smith called “all the great things that happen to a dancer when (he is) part of a company,” have given Corado Garcia a rich background — one that Smith was able to mine as they developed "Navigate."

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“I gave Efren some spacial difficulties to overcome, and then we used the studio as a lab,” she said. Using her favorite music — Bach’s "Goldberg Variations" — to develop the piece, Smith tackled this daunting task to “make a dance that honored Efren’s years of work,” she said. “I’m glad I wasn’t a coward.”

"Emerge" is a program that is special to its dancers, and one they hope that will be special to those who attend. For Smith, it's a chance to showcase the best of the company. “Every concert’s an adventure,” she said.

If you go …

What: "Emerge" by Repertory Dance Theatre

When: Friday and Saturday, Jan. 4-5

Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 Broadway

How much: $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors

Web: www.rdtutah.org