Repertory Dance Theatre celebrates 50 years
March 18, 2016
Since 1966, Salt Lake City’s Repertory Dance Theatre, also known as RDT, has pushed the boundaries of modern dance, while preserving and celebrating its legacy.
The world-renowned company has not only acquired and preserved historic works, but has also commissioned new works and taken them on tours to educate, entertain and touch the lives of their audiences, according to Artistic Director Linda C. Smith.
That’s why she’s thrilled to perform a 50th anniversary program for two nights at the Egyptian Theatre on Friday and Saturday, March 25 and 26.
"We’re thrilled of having been invited to perform at the Egyptian Theatre," Smith told The Park Record. "There have been so many good things that have happened there — films, musicals, theater and on and on. It’s a wonderful, intimate theater and we like that."
The space is perfect for the program that will be a mix between classical and contemporary modern works, Smith said.
"We decided that we couldn’t do our 50th with just one program, so our whole season has been full of a mix of nostalgic memories in pieces we bring back that we enjoyed over the years, and new works, including some new commissions," she said.
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"We always look at the community and theater that we’ll perform in before curating a program and decided to perform examples of all of the above at the Egyptian."
The first work of the evening will be "Suite from Mazurkas" by the late José Limón, founder of the José Limón Dance Company and a disciple of Doris Humphrey.
The piece, culled from RDT’s classic library, was created in 1958 and features music by Chopin.
"This is an opportunity for Park City to get a sneak preview of ‘The Mazurkas’ that we will perform in its entirety in Salt Lake City in April," Smith said. "We will do seven excerpts from the piece — solos, duos, trios and quartets."
The original work was choreographed in honor of the courage and resilience of the Polish people in the aftermath of World War II, according to Smith.
"When José visited Poland in 1958, the devastation was still evident and he was struck by the resiliency of the people and wanted to do a tribute that included music by a Polish composer," she said.
"The Mazurkas" was first known as "Dances in Honor of Poznan, Wroclaw, Katowicz and Warszawa."
"They are lovely works and show the lush beauty of breath and suspension that the José Limón Dance Company was noted for," Smith said.
The next work in the program is "Crippled Up Blues And Other Tales of Deseret," choreographed last year by RDT alum and Lehi native William "Bill" Evans and Emmy Award-winning musician and folklorist Hal Cannon.
"This is a commissioned work that premiered in November and it comes from Bill’s experience growing up in the Utah culture," Smith explained. "Bill collaborated with the Three Hat Trio, featuring Hal, who has been a part of RDT history for quite some time."
The musicians in Three Hat Trio, including Cannon, hail from Southern Utah and the music they play reflects Utah sensibility and history that they glean from the red rocks and culture, according to Smith.
"This piece is full of wit and is also humanistic," she said. "It has the essence of past and contemporary history and people who know about Utah history or culture, are sure to enjoy it."
One of the more lighthearted selections of the evening is a duet called "Jack" that was created in 2013 by Joanie Smith, known for her work with Danial Shapiro in the renowned choreographic duo Shapiro & Smith.
"We have presented numerous pieces by Shapiro & Smith that they either have created for us or lent us from their repertory and this is a new one that is based on nursery rhymes," said Linda Smith. "Joanie got to wondering why so many of them featured a character named Jack — ‘Jack and Jill,’ ‘Jack Sprat,’ ‘Jack Be Nimble’ and on and on.
"It’s very humorous and lighthearted, but also has an edge, which is something that all nursery rhymes do," she said with a laugh. "There is always a little dark undercurrent there. That’s why children love the pieces and adults do as well, but for different reasons."
The last work on the program is comprised of excerpts from "Dabke," a 2012 creation by ZviDance Artistic Director Zvi Gotheiner, who has developed a strong relationship with RDT over the past 25 years.
"Zvi has choreographed so many new works for us over the years and I spoke with him concerning our 50th anniversary," Smith said. "I told him we were looking for a piece that was celebratory, but also connects people in a visceral way."
Smith had seen a video of "Dabke" and asked if Gotheiner would ever allow RDT to perform it.
"He was so generous and said, ‘For you, anything,’" she said. "So, we will perform the entire piece next year, but have been performing excerpts since last fall. And that’s what we’re going to bring up to the Egyptian Theatre."
"Dabke" is a contemporary work, inspired by a Middle Eastern folk dance that is the national dance of Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
"Zvi, who was born in Israel, said the Israelis also have a version of a dabke that has been danced for hundreds of years at weddings and other festivals and is a way to solidify the sense of a community," Smith said. "However, he also uses the dabke steps in a way that talks about something deeper. The work is not only about how communities come together. It also addresses group conflicts within the piece."
"Audiences will see the celebratory sections, but will also see the other sections that illustrate the tension and cultural clashes that are going on in the world today," she said. "We’re all struggling with the concepts of who we are, who we were and who are we going to become."
Smith said she is proud of the program and feels it reflects what RDT is all about.
"It was radical when Utah modern dancers beat out the big city stalwarts 50 years ago to receive a Rockefeller grant establishing us as the nation’s first repertory dance company," she said. "The Rockefeller Foundation created seed-money grants for different parts of the country to help decentralize the arts, because they knew there were areas between New York and San Francisco where people didn’t have the opportunities to see or experience world-class art."
Utah dance pioneer Virginia Tanner had approached the foundation for a grant for the Children’s Dance Theatre that was part of her Tanner Creative Dance program.
"She was told the money wasn’t for children’s programs, and asked if she had any other ideas," Smith said. "That’s when she told them about the abundance of dance in Utah, but that it lacked a professional modern dance company.
"That caught their attention and they investigated and found all of these wonderful dance programs at the colleges," she said. "They agreed a real professional modern dance company should be in residence in Salt Lake City."
The grant forged a partnership with the University of Utah and the Rockefeller Foundation and the Salt Lake Community.
"The foundation wanted an American repertory company that would house the finest, classic works so they won’t be forgotten, but also wanted the company to be a laboratory to encourage and nurture new choreographers," Smith said. "We accepted that with excitement and humility and although many people felt we weren’t going to last because there were many failed attempts to set up a repertory company, here we are today."
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present the Repertory Dance Theatre on Friday and Saturday, March 25 and 26. Tickets range from $19 to $29 and can be purchased by calling 435-649-9371 or visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.