In this artistic statement, William “Bill” Evans talks about his upcoming concert at Repertory Dance Theatre (Nov. 16-18, 2017) TOP BILL, a retrospective of five decades of choreography. Evans, an RDT dancer alum, has regularly returned to Utah, where he is from, to create new work for RDT and to re-stage contemporary classics from his prodigious oeuvre. RDT’s second concert of its 52nd Season, TOP BILL showcases the breadth and virtuosity of Evan’s lengthy career as a dancer (both modern, and tap), choreographer and teacher.
It is startling to realize that 47 ½ years have passed since I created For Betty, the oldest work on this retrospective program. My memories of playing with the ideas that motivated that piece, on the stage of Kingsbury Hall (our performance home at the time) and in the company studio in Building 509 (the old Fort Douglas Army barrack that served as our base) are still vivid. When I close my eyes, I can conjure up the sights and even the smells of those places and of the exhilaration I felt when discovering my unique, expressive voice. I still marvel at the youthful vigor of the amazingly gifted and dedicated original cast: Gregg Lizenbery, Kathleen McClintock, Karen Steele, Manzell Senters, Tim Wengerd and Lynne Wimmer.
I had been a professional ballet dancer when I returned to Utah in 1967 and joined RDT. During those early years we were mentored by a succession of masterful New York-based choreographers, each in residence with us a month. By the spring of 1970, I had internalized and digested several strains of our rich American dance heritage and embarked on the exciting voyage of combining established styles and techniques with my personal movement signature to formulate a distinctive Evans movement language and style.
When I created Betty and Tintal, I wanted to communicate directly to the muscles and hearts of our audiences. I was inspired by my MFA studies with Margaret H’Doubler in the Modern Dance Program at the U of U, and I strove to bring her theories to life. She told me that audiences could experience my work vicariously in their own sensory apparatus if my dances were organic, un-mannered and kinesthetically evocative. I made it my goal to invite the audience into the physical experience itself, not just the visual or cognitive aspects of my work. When I sat in the audience during the Kingsbury Hall premier of Tintal and saw women in front of me sensuously moving their necks while watching Linda Smith perform her solo, I knew I was accomplishing my goal. For Betty and Tintal were seminal works that set me on a journey of exploration that has continued through the creation of 300 works for numerous professional and pre-professional companies throughout North America and elsewhere.
I was recently asked to describe my choreography in three words. I chose somatic, heartfelt and accessible: somatic, because I have researched my bodily wisdom, anatomy and physiology to create a movement language and performance style that can communicate directly to the sensory apparatus of the viewer; heartfelt, because each one of my works has been created to distill in time and space (however ephemerally) something that I have cared about passionately; accessible, because I invite the viewer into my dances. I want my dancers to be human and hope that people feel they could jump up on stage and join us.
I believe that humans need dance to remind us that we can dig down deep inside and find the finest parts of ourselves. When I make, rehearse and perform dances, I access the best parts of myself both as a unique individual and as a member of the human race. The kind of dance that I learned to love during my seven years as a member of RDT, and have investigated ever since, is life-affirming and celebratory.
That is not to say that all my work is light-hearted or joyful. I have often investigated the darker side of human nature—When Summoned (the Vietnam War), Within Bounds (the inhumanity of a prisoner of war camp), Hard Times (poverty and spousal abuse), Barefoot Boy with Marbles in his Toes (childhood bullying), Dallas Blues (drug addiction)—to name a few. We must recognize the dark side of human nature, I believe, to fully appreciate the fact that most people are basically good and are striving to make the world a better place—despite serious set-backs, such as the political one we are experiencing now.
It has been immeasurably pleasurable for me to engage in the enormous work required to reconstruct these works. I have deep respect for Linda Smith and the current roster of RDT staff and artists. Most of them participated in my last residency, more than two years ago, when I was honored to create Crippled Up Blues to help celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary. I am thrilled to see how much each member of RDT has grown as an artist and human being.
It’s wonderful to be back!
TOP BILL opens Nov. 16, 2017 and runs three nights through Nov. 18 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City. You can read more about this evening of works by RDT alum and celebrated choreographer William “Bill” Evans and buy tickets here.