Repertory Dance Theatre is the only dance company to receive a grant from the (currently) embattled Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and at the time (2011) the Company took some hard hits from Utah’s congressional delegation, two of whom argued that, especially during a recession, funding from the Federal Government to a modern dance company–even one as celebrated as the country’s premier repertory dance company–was an example of government waste.
Long before that tempest in a teapot, RDT had dedicated itself to its Sense of Place Initiative, commissioning works that embody, celebrate and examine our human connection to the land which we all rely on and the ethic to find sustainable means to protect it. Water and land are critical issues here in America’s Mountain and Southwest regions, sparking a resurgent “sagebrush rebellion” of late with locals and, especially, politicians angling to wrest control of public lands from the Feds.
As part of a years-long association with New York City-based Zvi Gotheiner, RDT is again commissioning a new work through an ambitious project that involves bringing Gotheiner and his company, ZviDance, to Utah to join RDT at the newly-proclaimed Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. The development of the project begins in May, and the premiere of the first of two works to emerge from the project will be in October 2017 in Salt Lake City.
But “Sacred Lands/Sacred Waters,” the working title of the project, isn’t looking for a fight. Instead, with its partner Utah Dine Bikeyah, the new work is designed to honor and celebrate the unprecedented convergence of five American Native tribes which for 10 years have been advocating for the preservation of their sacred lands from extraction (mining) companies, development and the arguably harmful effects of ranching. Most Utahns agree with the newly-announced protections through the Antiquities Act of 1906 of the 1.35 million acres, says author and photographer Stephen Trimble in the Los Angeles Times:
“The president acted on behalf of our children and grandchildren, on behalf of the last canyon treefrogs singing in Slickhorn Gulch along the San Juan River, on behalf of the Navajo medicine man gathering herbs on the forested mesas of the Bears Ears. His action will be a boon to Utah’s rural economy.”
Where does a modern dance company fit into all of this? What can dance bring to the conversation about public lands where indigenous populations have lived for centuries but also where white settlers in the 19th Century made their homes, where, today, recreationists and tourists thrill at the sights, the hikes and the climbs (while spending money), where environmentalists see the wilderness as a kind of ballast to our over-developed cities?
RDT is operating under a collective premise that most people, in the Southwest and beyond, agree with: our lands and our waters have a sacred character to them. They are our sustenance. They literally ground us in the world of which we are only a part, and they call to a deep and abiding place within us: the notion of “home.” Bears Ears and all of our protected lands and waters epitomize this impulse to protect and preserve.
“For the first time in conservation history, the primary advocates for this new national monument were Native American tribes. In October 2015, the Navajo, Ute Mountain, Hopi, Zuni, and Ute nations presented the Obama administration with a proposal to preserve and co-manage public lands they consider sacred. The full membership of the National Congress of American Indians supported them. Remarkably, given the history of Indian people and the United States, the government listened.”
Two commissions choreographed by Gotheiner will emerge from “Sacred Lands/Sacred Waters.” One will be housed in the repertory of ZviDance in New York City, the other, close to the Bears Ears here at RDT in Salt Lake City. The project entails more, however, than just new choreography. Five public events, including 3 with Trimble, will be staged between May and October when RDT’s work premieres, 4 of those events in the state capital and one in Bluff, near the Monument.
It is the Bluff gathering on May 11, 2017 that will embody the spirit of the “Sacred Lands/Sacred Waters” project. Representatives from all five tribes who formed the coalition to propel Bears Ears to monument status will assemble with RDT and ZviDance. The public is invited and the event is free. Together they will share, through word, music and dance, why this land is sacred to Native Americans, and, in an evening titled “Healing through Motion,” will celebrate the coming together of, at times, fractious tribes to achieve a common goal. It’s a convergence of nations that possibly marks the trail for the increasingly divided country of the United States to do the same. It’s clear from the tribes that this land is sacred to more than those in the region. It is a gift to all of us–Americans as well as visitors from abroad.
It is our sacred lands, and our sacred waters as well.
Jonah Yellowman, spiritual adviser to Utah Dine Bikeyah, and Navajo elder from Monument Valley, reacted generously to the designation of the new Bears Ears National Monument, and in the spirit of the occasion extends his thanks and prayers not only to Mother Earth but to all people for whom these lands and waters will be preserved.
In addition to attending the concert in Utah this October, which we hope will include traditional native dances on stage with RDT, you can donate to help make the project happen.
Celebrate and honor the Bears Ears National Monument and help heal divisions among all of us through dance.
David G. Pace is the Director of Development at Repertory Dance Theatre.
VOYAGE: RDT takes you on a trip through World Dance
Using the Utah Core Curriculum Standards for Dance, Social Studies and Language Arts, Repertory Dance Theatre presented a special matinee to over 1,500 students last week at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.
American Modern Dance is a rich tapestry which has been influenced by the music and movement of cultures worldwide. Dance has been part of community life as a form of communication, empowerment, and entertainment for centuries. Rhythms and patterns gathered from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas connect the past with the present to illustrate how dance can document history and culture and tell our collective story. Take your own voyage below with some highlights of the concert. You can see excerpts from Voyage Saturday, March 11 at 11:00 AM at RDT’s Ring Around the Rose.
DANCES FROM ACROSS THE GLOBE
Dance from Africa
The first dances were prayers designed to send messages to the gods … they insured a bountiful harvest and celebrated the important events in the life of the community. A birth, a marriage or a coming-of-age ceremony all involved dance. Dances were thought to give people magical power over the elements … Dances were performed to invite the sun to rise and to bring the rain.
For VOYAGE Rosie Banchero (our RDT Dance Center on Broadway African teacher) taught us a traditional West African dance that we performed with live drummers!
FOLK DANCE around the World and the DABKE
Dabke is a traditional folk dance found all across the Middle East. It combines circle dancing and line dancing and is widely performed at weddings and other joyous occasions. Each country in the Middle East has their own version–some similar and some very different from each other. In some countries, anyone can dance the dabke. In others, it is only allowed for either men or women to dance the dabke. In Jordan, there are 19 different types of the dabke dance.
Folk dances can be found all over the world and were some of the first dances to bring people together in celebration. Folk dances were used to create a sense of community and mark a special occasion. What is your heritage and ethnicity? Do you have any folk dances that connect you to your background? Do you know any of them?
P.S. – RDT will be performing the full evening-length work by Zvi Gotheiner, DABKE, April 6-8, 2017.
ASIAN DANCES: MICHIO ITO
Ethnic dances from Asia have inspired American choreographers. An ancient form of theater in Japan known as Kabuki is a rich blend of music, dance and pantomime. It has spectacular staging and costuming and the movement is performed in a highly stylized manner. Kabuki has been a major theatrical form in Japan for almost 4 centuries and it inspired a Japanese-American dancer named Michio Ito to create modern dances that blend movement from both Eastern and Western Cultures about 100 years ago.
EAST INDIAN DANCE
Dance in India goes back thousands of years. It is one of the oldest forms in the world. Most of the classical dance in India has developed from a type of dance/drama in which performers act out a story from Hindu mythology almost exclusively through gestures. The complexity of the footwork lies in elaborate stamping rhythms and many dancers wear bells around their ankles, supplying their own accompaniment. The torso, face, arms and hands are extremely active. The head movement emphasizing the dancer’s changing facial expressions and the movement of the torso is graceful and fluid. The movement of the hands and arms is subtle and elaborate, every gesture has a function and a meaning. Indian dancers have a vast number of gestures through which they express complex events, ideas and emotions. For example, there are 13 gestures of the head, 36 different glances, and 67 hand gestures, that can, in different combinations, yield several thousand different meanings.
Steppin’ is an African American art form, a form of percussive dance in which the entire body is used as an instrument to produce complex rhythms and sounds through a mixture of footsteps, spoken word and hand claps. It is jazz, funk, rhythm and blues and rap without instruments.
Next week, RDT will perform two student matinees for close to 700 students. Before the students see BRIO, they will receive a study guide from our Education Director Lynne Larson to help them understand what they will see. Also, teachers are given lesson plans to help the students prepare for what they will see in the show. Here are some lesson plans you can try with your dance students.
Lesson Plan—Small Area Choreography
In Turf and Jack, much of the choreography takes place in a small, defined space: In Jack, sitting or standing on a chair and in Turf, on small, large or rectangular rugs. To choreograph in small, defined spaces is a wonderful skill to develop and can lead to very innovative movement vocabulary.
Tape off a 2 X 4 area on the dance floor. Create as many as you can use for the number of students you have in your class. Students can work in pairs or alone.
Restrict the students’ movement creation to the space inside the tape.
First Instruction: Create 8 gestures (a wave of the hand, a shrug of the shoulders, etc.) on various levels (high, medium and low) in the space.
Second Instruction: Create 4 movements (a turn, a reach, a twist, etc.) facing different directions in the small space area.
Third Instruction: Combine gestures and movements to create a phrase.
Fourth Instruction: Show phrases to one another for feedback. Ask students watching what images came to mind while they were observing and also what type of sound might accompany the movement sequence.
Students could then take some time to further develop their small space studies with the suggested imagery and music ideas. The same ideas could also be explored on a chair, in a big box, on a bench, etc.
Lesson Plan—Props and Dance
In the BRIO Concert, most of the dances use a prop. These props are quite ordinary and are objects found in your home and that you use every day: blankets, chairs, and rugs. Using a prop in dance choreography can be challenging and unpredictable, but can also create wonderful movement vocabulary and images.
Ask the students to bring an object from home into class, something they use everyday. One of the wonderful things about props in creative dance is that we, as innovative, creative thinkers, can play and discover amazing new ways to use the prop other than the way it was intended.
First Instruction: Talk with the students about the normal use of the prop and discourage them from “acting out” the normal uses of the object, but encourage them to think “outside the box” and create innovative and challenging ways to use the prop. Have them work on creating 4 unique ideas with their prop. If they would like to be in partners or groups to create, that is great. Allow each student time to create with their prop in the group, then switch to the next student to ensure all get creative work time. Once each student has 4 ideas with their prop, show to the class and give feedback.
Second Instruction: Using the feedback with their 4 ideas, have students begin to develop movement phrases around their prop incorporating the innovations they already created and link them into a short movement/prop study.
Ask them further questions, (for example, How is your prop introduced? What is its purpose? How does the movement relate to the prop?) to advance their studies even more.
Lesson Plan—Children’s Rhymes
In Jack and Pat-a-Cake, children’s nursery rhymes and games are used as the inspiration and accompaniment for both pieces. This is an interesting way to construct a piece using words, concepts and movements that are familiar to a large majority of our population. As in most universal experiences, rhymes and words such as the ones in Jack and Pat-a-Cake will mean different things to different people.
Ask the students to select a nursery rhyme that is special to them from their childhood. Have them do a little research to discover if there are variations to the rhyme, different wording, order, etc.
Using the text as a basis, have the students begin to develop movement motifs that represent the words of the rhyme. Once again, not “acting out” the rhyme, but taking the words and creating innovative movement from the meaning of the words.
Try either the mover reciting the rhyme as she/he is moving or another dancer reciting as the other moves. Show to the group.
For more lesson plans and ideas about teaching in the classroom, check out the full BRIO study guide here>>
Good manners are about more than following musty dictates from a Victorian-era matron, but rather a show of appreciation for the hard work and time that each artist has spent to create a piece for the audience’s enjoyment.
As a lifelong theatergoer, I’ve attended everything from Broadway musicals in the Big Apple to cello recitals for my younger cousins in their parents’ living rooms. Nearly all of those performances have similar concert etiquette expectations, despite the varying types of artistic performances, and being a part of a Repertory Dance Theater audience is no different.
The following guidelines will help you and your fellow audience members enjoy each performance that much more:
Although it goes without saying, proper grooming is a plus. Strong scents and odors are distracting to your fellow audience members as well as the performers. Tall hats and beehive hairstyles may be acceptable for back row Bettys, but avoid increasing the size of your head if you have any other seat in the house.
Choose an outfit befitting the event. Far be it from me to dictate your personal style, but I think we can all agree that our concert attire should be something more than Saturday morning cleaning clothes or Sunday comfies. Remember, those performing for you have put many hours of training into this single performance, something like your Sunday best shows appreciation for the dancers’ efforts.
Buy your tickets ahead of time, come early, and leave your food outside of the theater. I’ll accept breath mints, but smacking gum (even if it is in time to the music) is unacceptable.
Contribute to the Ambiance
Refrain from talking during the performance, silence electronics, and hold applause until the end of each piece. A cacophony of sound from the audience can be distracting to the dancers and disrupt their concentration.
Sounds aren’t the only distractions! Flash photography and audience members who resemble a jack-in-the-box are also disruptive. If you must leave during a performance, try to wait until the break between pieces. To reenter the audience, wait quietly at the back of the theater until a break presents an opportunity to return to your seat.
… with knowledge about the choreographer, music, and dancers! You can find this information here on the RDT Blog, EMBARK, or on the RDT website: rdtutah.org/season and in your performance program. Putting names to faces and recognizing the stylings of a favorite choreographer add to the excitement of a live performance!
Finally, sit back and enjoy the show … and at the end? Applaud, cheer, and indulge in a good “bravo!”
Jaelynn R. Jenkins is a current board member of Repertory Dance Theater’s Board of Trustees. She loves the arts and counts RDT among her favorite extra curricular activities. In her spare time, Jaelynn is an associate attorney at Fetzer Simonsen Booth Jenkins, practicing in the areas of estate planning, business law and nonprofits.
In the first part of this two-part series, I talked about how arts and humanities groups need to position themselves to be seen, heard, and appreciated by businesses and corporations as part of the larger economic web. In this part I propose that, in and of itself, that is not enough: we need cash support, as well as partnerships that are mutually beneficial and focused on community-building.
Where I live, tech companies have been moving in like bedraggled pioneers once did by wagon during the 19th Century. Here on the western flank of the Rockies, instead of Silicone Valley we now have what’s called “Silicone Slopes.” It’s pretty obvious that everyone from software developers to data center colocation, and from cloud services to IT support–all pioneers of a sort in their own right–are migrating in: InMoment, Landesk, C7 Data, Pluralsight, Domo, to name a few … they’re like little gleaming digital combines moving north and south along the foothills, harvesting revenue.
To the uninitiated like me all the shingles hanging out there designed to make money exist in another world from that of nonprofit arts organizations like Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) where I work as the fundraiser. To see the shiny glass buildings of corporate America with their sexy billboards, their marketing compaigns that reek of focus groups, and consultant fees, of feasibility studies and branding makeoevers–it all translates to, in the parlance of face cards, a full flush. They have it, and we don’t. We’re struggling to make payroll and keep afloat our altruistic and mission-driven programming while business types smoke fat cigars and wear Italian loafers kicked up onto their mahogany desks that look like ship’s prows, all tacking towards the 1 percent.
But … not so fast. What I’ve learned is what we always learn when we abandon our cherished (i.e., unexamined) opinions. And Scott Petty, Managing Director of Signal Peak, a venture capital firm based in Salt Lake City, is a good clarion bell to that. While Petty (who in full disclosure happens to be my brother-in-law) mostly works (and funds) startups, including many in technology, he is clear that the business sector is just like any other: nuanced, cyclical, and beholden to the vagaries not only of the economy but of what artists spend their careers illumniating:
the stuff of life.
What this means is that while the economy continues to improve, albeit at a much slower rate than most of us would like, many enterprises in my state are not in a position to give back to the community as, with, say, one of the big, established banks. Nor are these companies, as successful as their personas appear to be to the uninitiatied, ready to squirrel marketing dollars through unconventional outings such as sponsoring a concert or underwriting a dance residency in a rural or under-served area.
So even while RDT and other arts groups are attempting to re-brand software developers as part of the greater “Creatives Industry,” of which, we argue, fine art is the gold standard, the return on that investment has been thin. This is not because software developers aren’t part of a creative impulse in the broad sense of the term, but because they, like a lot of symphonies, art galleries and theaters, are just struggling to stay afloat. Who knew?
That said, don’t ever believe that, even during tough times there isn’t money to be raised from corporations. The scale with which outfits like Chevron and Boeing operate at is staggering compared to the design of non-profits and their budgets that, pride themselves on being a straight “wash” of what’s going out vs. what’s coming in. But, in the tech sector, for every Adobe there are scores of startups whose CEOs are working 80 hours a week and can’t get to sleep at night. “Flush” has two meanings, after all. (As in “flushed” down the drain.)
RDT has been fortunate to have loyal corporate sponsors, few though they may be. Speaking of Adobe, through an employee-match program, the multinational computer software company based in San Jose, California but with a large presence in Utah, is one of them, as is Celtic Bank, Ally Bank, OC Tanner and Cyprus Credit Union, among others. (As a mid-sized performing arts groups, RDT does indeed seem to have more success with regional and local corporations.)
Salt Lake City-based EDA Architects is one of them. “In the creation of a work of architecture,” says partner Robert “Bob” Herman, “which—like every other artistic act—seeks to create a transformative experience for those it engages[,] EDA strives to produce work that inspires and looks for collaborative relationships with other creatives to elevate our ideas and our work. We often describe our work in terms of ‘time and space’ and ‘choreography of movement’—an obvious association with dance and RDT.”
EDA is perhaps the best example of the kind of creative partner RDT is looking for as we attempt to help re-brand and valorize what Americans for the Arts and others are calling the “Creatives Industry.” As with RDT, EDA is animated with the impulse to imagine, innovate and execute a human experience based on artistic standards. The firm is community-driven, and its 15 architects along with its other staff are highly collaborative.
“We believe that a strong arts environment in Utah creates a more sophisticated and engaged population,” continues Herman in an email exchange, “a more discerning market for our services and a greater attraction for the recruitment of the kind of high quality staff we seek.” Because of this community-centered approach to work and creativity, EDA engages RDT in more ways than cash sponsorships. Employees often attend our concerts and galas, and RDT will host their company as a group in our studio for a brown-bag open rehearsal where they can see our creative process at work and, conceivably, compare notes.
The beauty with arts groups partnering with enterprises built on a shared passion to bring innovation and aesthetics to the community is obvious. RDT understands as a repertory company both the economic as well as intrinsic value of what we offer. And don’t forget the community-building component of all of this, the whole of which, as Aristotle reminds us, is greater than the sum of its parts. Arts groups would do well, according to Herman, to “enumerate the economic impacts that strong arts assets have in creating an attractive business and tourist environment, a vibrant downtown, and enriched educational opportunities for school children and University students.”
This leads me back to cultivating other creatives, including tech companies. Social networking isn’t just a Facebook post or tweet, it’s still about face-to-face engagement through volunteer opportunities that even cash-starved startups can participate in. That startups are often missing on donor lists, “doesn’t mean that they don’t want to support the arts,” Petty reminds me. “What they do have is … time to give back. They’re trying to figure out how to give of their resources. More employees are willing to donate their time, to volunteer in these organizations than perhaps more established companies.”
And, lest we forget, a lot of these startups and tech folks are young themselves, and we’re finding out that millennials and GenX’ers want a deep social component to their lives where work and play routinely merge, as well as to intimate involvement in civic service. “Younger entrepreneurs have a certain hipness to them,” continues Petty, that dovetails with the arts. “There is a certain aesthetic in software.” He references StartFEST, a gathering of tech-oriented folks “who are really not that geeky,” and which “always has an arts overlay to it, like local bands, local artists, painting murals on the wall. The point is there is a certain vein there” that resonates with the creative set in places like a dance company or a museum.
Again, this is not to say that many companies and corporations, large and small, don’t have money to give through their marketing budgets (sponsorship) as well as through their corporate responsibility initiative (grants). When approaching banks, for example, RDT always fronts populations and neighborhoods in our requests that qualify as LMI (low-to-moderate income) or Title I (in the case of schools). This because banks, both commercial and industrial, are required to participate in the Federal government’s Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). It does mean that cultivating long-term relationships; telling one’s story through compelling means (and not just through one’s art form); and finding transactional ways of partnering is de rigeur when it comes to interfacing with business.
That’s why RDT is a dues-paying member (through ticket trade) with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and the economic development corporation, a non-profit that works with the Governor’s office to relocate businesses to the state. These organizations are not only sites to network with exciting new startups and relocating businesses, but it’s an opportunity for artist types to learn the language of commerce, and begin using that vocabulary to, again, tell one’s story.
The BCA 10, an annual award to American businesses which generously give to the arts, is a good example of how the vocabularies of commerce and art come together, sniff each other out, listen to one another and … well, start dancing with each other, sometimes for many long and romantic years. I’ve had the privilege of nominating Zions Bank for one of these awards in the past, and it is always inspiring (and validating) to have a powerful bank president or CEO stand up in black tie in front of colleagues and talk about what the arts mean to his or her organization. (To hear Richard Davis, CEO of U.S. Bank at the 2015 awards, click here.)
Finally never forget what RDT likes to call one’s “Sense of Place” a theme which has deeply encouraged the Company’s selection and performance of repertory and which speaks to the character and spirit of the land, the environment and the community. This is one of the reasons EDA, dedicated to building LEED-certified structures, resonates so well with us. “We appreciate being recognized,” says Herman, “as a partner with organizations (like RDT) that contribute to the culture of our community, which—in turn—enhances our own organization’s sense of community engagement. We also hope our contributions help leverage other support of the valuable work of RDT.”
Petty would concur, even though he speaks in more general terms about the regional climate that speaks not just to artists, but to new businesses: “I will say one thing that I know is different about the groups I work with is that venture-backed tech startups … have a real local affinity for Utah. Whenever a startup is successful here, it’s great for the company because there’s this sense that Utah is trying to prove itself in the world. There’s that mindset here that we all just love and thrive off of … economic development raises all boats, and we want to be one of those boats.”
… As do the arts: and, we desperately want to be more than the dinghy being tossed about on economic waves. We want to be seen as a legitimate, sustainable engine of commerce as well as a service organization. We want to reach the population at large, a community that in our media/entertainment-driven world, doesn’t seem to know that they are hungry for what the arts and creatives have to offer.
And what do we offer? The opportunity to live the existential questions of life through an art form, the vaulting notion of beauty and the meaning that grounds us all, that helps us understand why we do the rest of what we do … what we might call “business as usual.”
A fiction writer and essayist by trade, David Pace is the Director of Development at Repertory Dance Theatre. You can visit his personal website at www.davidgpace.com