As the spring season rolls in, the performing season starts rolling out, as several companies start planning their final acts until the fall. --- The first to make its exit for the year will be Repertory Dance Theatre with the last showcase of the '11-'12 season: Passage, a combination of four works from choreographers Satu Hummasti, Eric Handman, Natosha Washington and Nicholas Cendese, under the direction of Linda Smith, including the world premiere of the performance “What You Leave Behind.”
Before the show kicks off tonight, we chat with Washington, as well as Katie Winder and Nathan Shaw, two of the dancers from this production, about their respective careers and performing for RDT. We also chat about the work in Passage and touch on a few thoughts about the dance scene in Utah.
Nathan Shaw, Katie Winder & Natosha Washington
Gavin: Hey, guys. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Katie: As a native to Salt Lake City, I received my dance training from Rocky Mountain Dance, Ballet West summer programs and Ririe Woodbury's "Step Up" program. I continued my studies at The Boston Conservatory, where I graduated with a BFA in dance performance. I’ve lived and danced in Utah, Ecuador, Peru, Boston, India and New York.
Natosha: My name is Natosha Washington. I teach dance at Judge Memorial Catholic High School. When I’m not teaching or choreographing, I enjoying being outdoors (hiking/skiing/creek walking/snowshoeing) with my sweetheart. Good, good food and wine with my closest friends is always a bonus.
Nathan: My name is Nathan Shaw; this concert is the conclusion of my sixth season with RDT. I am originally from California but I have have called Utah home for over 10 years.
Gavin: How did you each take an interest in dance and what influenced you to start performing?
Nathan: I started singing at a young age; I was in choir and drama all through high school. I also took private voice lessons. I was a music/dance/theater major at BYU. I had never taken a dance class before but it was required for that major. Beginning jazz dance, I was eighteen years old.
Katie: Like many little girls in Utah, I was put into dance at a young age. However, it was not until my brother was diagnosed with cancer that I needed dance in order to deal with the pain of his disease. A large part of my performing career is due to the immensely supportive help of my ballet teacher growing up, Trisha Wilstead.
Natosha: Growing up, I played sports -- track, basketball, competitive cheerleading. Midway through high school, I started having trouble running for long periods of time. After lots of testing, we found out I have a condition called compartment syndrome. It’s where the muscles in whatever part of your body are too big for the sheath that surrounds them. Mine happen to be in my legs. I had two surgeries and found out I needed two more and having the other two wasn’t going to make me 100% again. So, long story short, my activity level lessened somewhat. High-impact activity was kind of hard on my body at this point. I wanted to remain active, but my being able to compete in sports on a collegiate level was not going to happen. So, I signed up for a modern-dance class. Never having taken a dance class in my life, I thought, “Oh, modern-day dance. So, something like hip hop; this should be fun!” Well, I walked into my class and the first thing my teacher did was leaps. I thought, “Why is this man doing leaps across the floor?” I panicked, called my momma, crying, and explained what I had gotten myself into. In short, my momma told me to suck it up and figure it out. So, I had my first dance class at 19 in my first year of college. Three years later, I changed my major from sports medicine to dance. This action scared the crap out of family. Who makes money dancing? Now they are at peace because I’m happy and love doing what I do.
Gavin: How was it growing up learning the craft, and how did the decision come about that you wanted to make a career out of it?
Nathan: From a young age, I knew I wanted to be involved in performing of some sort. It morphed from performing on Broadway to being a choir teacher to finally being a dancer. I was cast in the musical Big River in Jackson Hole that ran the length of an entire summer. I went crazy doing the same show six days a week for three months. I realized I needed to be working somewhere that wasn't always doing the same thing. A repertory company was my answer.
Natosha: I attended Rick’s College back in the day. In winter of '97 or '98 -- not sure -- I came up to watch a PDC performance and in this show they performed a Doug Verone piece. At the time I had no idea who Doug Verone was, BUT it was because of this piece I decided I HAD to come to this school. In 2004, I transferred in the U’s Modern Dance Department; the best choice I could have made for myself.
Katie: I grew up wanting to be a writer, the first woman President of the United States and a professional dancer. Due to the fact that dance is a bit more time-sensitive than my other two career options, I decided to pursue dance.
Gavin: Each of you have different backgrounds in dance. Natosha and Nathan both have their BFA from the U, and Katie from Boston Conservatory. What made each of you choose your respective colleges, and what was your time like in that program?
Katie: For me, one of the biggest factors in deciding where to attend college was finding an integrated program. At the Conservatory, we studied both ballet and modern equally. In today’s dance world, where ballerinas are doing modern choreography and modern dancers must have efficient and clean technique, attending an integrated program was a must for me. I also loved the fact that the conservatory was on the East Coast, and close enough to NYC for me to attend workshops and weekend master classes.
Nathan: I bounced around a lot. I started at BYU, then went to UVSC when it was still UVSC, then finally ended up at the U of U. I transferred to the U after my decision in Jackson Hole.
Gavin: How did you each find your way to RDT, and what was it like for you breaking into the company?
Nathan: The first modern-dance performance I ever saw was RDT. It was required to write an essay about a performance for one of my classes at BYU. I didn't set my heart on RDT until much later. My partner dances for the company, and if I danced for RDT, no long term relationship. It took several auditions before being asked to join the company. But try and try again, as they say.
Natosha: I do not dance for RDT, but some of my closest friends do. I started getting work while I was attending the University; you know, building my resume and starting my professional career. Linda Smith was one of my mentors; still is. When I was asked by a university, company, or school to teach classes or choreograph, I had no idea what I should have been asking of people, and Linda, without question, always answered my e-mail and phone calls, giving me excellent advice.
Katie: Like many Utah dancers, I grew up doing high school workshops with RDT. However, I never imagined that one day I would be a part of this amazing company. A couple of years ago, I participated in their summer workshop. Yet, it wasn't until this past season, when a couple of dancers left, that I decided to come and see if they were hiring. I have been working with them part-time since summer and full-time since the beginning of the year.
Gavin: Nathan, what were your first performances at RDT, and what was that experience like for you?
Nathan: The first time I performed with RDT, I was a guest artist dancing in the work of Lynne Wimmer. I had worked with Lynne before and she asked Linda if I could be asked to dance in her work. After that concert, I was hired as a full-time dancer. Thanks, Lynne -- I owe you, big-time!
Gavin: Katie, you barely joined the company coming back from the East Coast. What made you decide to come back to Utah to begin with, and why RDT, specifically?
Katie: I was excited to return to the West where there is a lot more space -- space to think, space to grow and space to move. I was attracted to RDT, specifically, because of all of the educational and outreach work that they do.
Gavin: Natosha, how did you and Nick Cendese come together to choreograph a piece in Passage, and how did the two of you choose the piece being performed?
Natosha: Nicholas Cendese and I started RawMoves, our own dance company, seven years ago. So, we’ve been working together for some time. I’m not exactly sure how it worked out for us to set a piece on RDT but I am so happy it did. It’s been a wonderful experience working with fantastic dancers.
Gavin: Nathan and Katie, what was it like for you both to come in and work with Nick and Natosha? And what kind of challenge has it been performing both these established pieces, as well as debuting a new one?
Katie: Since I’m new to the company, everything we have been working on has been new to me. However, we did spend about two weeks work shopping and creating "What You Leave Behind," and the process was highly artistically satisfying. It was a privilege getting to work with Nick and Natasha.
Nathan: I have worked with Nick and Natosha for years. Natosha was my roommate in college, and luckily, I was cast in all her work in undergrad. This led to being featured several times at ACDF, performing at the Kennedy Center, and being featured in Dance Magazine. When Nick and Natosha started RawMoves Dance Company, I was a founding member. Nick is also my longtime partner of 11 years. Nick, Natosha and I have had our dance careers intertwined from almost the beginning. It has been wonderful being with them throughout all the years and performing their work.
Gavin: For each you personally, what has been your favorite piece from Passage?
Natosha: My favorite part about Passage is honestly being able to work with Nick, and creative work that means something to all of us with some of my closest friends. It doesn’t feel like work. A lot of people are not blessed this way.
Nathan: This is difficult because I feel like this show is so strong. The entire evening is contemporary, which usually does not happen at RDT. I love them all. But I will have to go with "What You Leave Behind." I have the awesome privelige of performing in my best-friend-and-husband's work!
Katie: I really enjoyed the process of creating, "What You Leave Behind," and am I’m excited to perform Nick and Natasha’s piece in our Passage concert.
Gavin: What are your thoughts going into opening night and about the entire performance itself?
Katie: I’m excited to perform and share what we have worked so hard on with the SLC community. I feel, like, overall, the entire concert is strong and that it has a powerful sense of community, which I’m excited to perform and share.
Nathan: I am so excited. The rep is interesting and the dancers are working so hard. I just hope people come see it. I hate performing for empty theaters.
Natosha: I’m excited for people to see and share in what we’ve created together. The topic of this piece is very inclusive in and of itself. During the choreographic process, the dancers were asked to share different stories from their personal lives to help create this piece. Because of this, Nick and I both feel everyone will be able to connect, even if it’s just for a brief moment. We’ve all left something behind at some point in our lives, right?
Gavin: Going local, what's your take on the Utah dance scene, both good and bad?
Natosha: The Utah dance scene is growing; we have a lot of fire here in this small city. I’m proud to be a part of it.
Katie: There is a lot of dance in Utah; however, it could always be better. I feel like there is a large disconnect between the various styles of movement in SLC. I personally would love to see an integrated college program, like the one I attended in Boston, to exist in SLC. For as much dance as there is in SLC, I believe there are too many biases against the various styles and techniques. I believe each style is important and vital to a dancer and their ability to express and communicate an idea with freedom and clarity. The more open we are to new ideas in movement, the stronger we become as dancers and artists.
Nathan: Utah is lucky to have so much dance. I do think that everyone could be a little more friendly and less critical of each other. We are all trying to accomplish the same thing but we are often at odds with each other.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Nathan: On any given weekend there, are at least two dance performances going on. I am not sure Salt Lake dance could be more prominent.
Katie: Although SLC is not New York, it really is a western hub for dance in the U.S. I believe that Ballet West’s new building will help draw attention of those in the ballet world, and developing a stronger basis for diverse, open classes would help draw a larger contemporary community to the city.
Gavin: What's your opinion on other local dance companies and the work they're doing to promote the art?
Katie: I appreciate the work that all of the major professional companies in SLC do. I believe that each adds something important to the SLC dance scene, and I believe it’s important to know and see what Ririe-Woodbury, Odyssey and Ballet West are doing.
Nathan: I have so much respect for dance professionals in Utah. Ballet West is stunning. Ririe-Woodbury is fabulous. RawMoves is kick-ass. And all the other companies I can't name here work so hard to have their work be seen and appreciated. I thank them for keeping dance alive in the Salt Lake community.
Natosha: I have more admiration for local dance companies than I can appropriately express. I think most of us in this scene love what we do. It’s a LOT of hard work. You’ve gotta be strong, persistent, ready for the ups and downs of society and the economy, and hell-bent and determined to make a difference. You know, we can go and see art and like or dislike what we see, but the bottom line is that the arts matter, and everyone contributing to the arts and putting themselves out there -- be it through performances, classes, workshops, lecture demonstrations, etc. -- I commend you; I thank you.
Gavin: What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into professional dancing for a career?
Natosha: If you are looking to get into a professional career of dance, be ready to work! Be ready for failures and success, and know that if you work hard it will pay off.
Nathan: Take acting lessons! Dancers are supposed to be masters of their bodies. Your voice and and face are part of your body. This show has been a challenge for several RDT dancers who are not used to using their voices on stage. Lots of current modern dance is using voice, text, and theatrics.
Katie: The best advice I could offer to someone interested in pursuing dance as a career is to do his or her research. Pay attention to companies that interest you and participate in their workshops and master classes. Oftentimes, companies like to hire dancers who they know have an interest in their work and are committed to their company. Once you find your niche, go after it with vigor. Make yourself known by taking classes acquainting yourself with the company’s movement and dancers.
Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year and going into next?
Natosha: Nick and I are currently getting RawMoves ready for our upcoming performance Cost of Living Quality of Life, to be held at the Rose Wagner Black Box Theater October 12, 13 and 14.
Katie: I’m not sure about Nathan but I know that I’m going to continue dancing, choreographing, teaching and trying to make a living as a dance artist in SLC.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Katie: RDT’s summer workshop with Susan Hadley from June 18-29 should be wonderful. There is also the Salt Dance Festival the two weeks before our workshop, and if you sign up for one you get a discount on the other. Both should be wonderful workshops and a great opportunity to connect to the SLC dance scene.
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