Before the affair kicks off, I chat with Carolyn "Winnie" Wood, who was named the associate director of SB Dance this year, about her extensive career and time with the company, along with some of her thoughts on the event and the local dance community. (All pictures courtesy of SB Dance.)
Carolyn "Winnie" Wood
Gavin: Hey, Winnie. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Winnie: I am part of the Performing Arts Faculty at the Wasatch Academy, a college-prep International Boarding School with 300 students from 36 countries and 24 states. I have been teaching and developing the performing arts for the last 12 years. I have a 37-year, very complicated resume in theater and dance that pretty much includes every aspect -- costume, lighting, stage management, ticket sales, dancer, actor, director, writer, producer and, of course, audience.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in performing arts, and what were some early influences on you?
Winnie: I was painfully shy as a young person so I mainly did painting and drawing; dance got me out of my shell as a teenager, but I really didn't take up acting until I was in my 30s.
Gavin: You received your bachelor's in theater and dance from California State University at Northridge. What made you choose its program, and what was it like for you earning your degree there?
Winnie: I originally went as a 2-D art major, but ended up creating an independent major in dance and theatre and getting a B.A. in it. I didn't choose a program as much as I made one up for myself that I was interested in, and God bless the Cal State University system for having that option available.
Gavin: What made you decide to come to Utah and start working with RDT?
Winnie: The husband of a friend at CSUN traded jobs with a faculty member at the U of U for a year and she told me she thought RDT was great and that I would like it, so I took a summer workshop with them and then got a job doing wardrobe and sound on the road, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Gavin: You're one of the founding members of the Dance Theatre Coalition. What was it like forming that organization while still performing with other companies, and what do you think of it still running 30 years later?
Winnie: I have always loved doing things, so forming an organization whilst doing whatever else I could think of was just what I did. I have always been blessed with many many talented and inspiring colleagues, and the energy that creates is what keeps me going. I guess I'm still doing that today, although maybe I've slowed down a little. I am thrilled and delighted that DTC is still in operation today. I love Amy Caron's work, and anyone who will wear a wedding dress for a year is a girl after my own heart.
Gavin: You've been involved with local dance companies and productions for over 30 years. What's kept you going and continuing to be involved with it for so long?
Winnie: The pure joy I get doing the work. Working with dancers and actors of all ages and watching them connect with each other and then with an audience is an act of love for all concerned. There is nothing else like it.
Gavin: When did you first meet Stephen Brown and how did you both become friends?
Winnie: I think we met when he danced with RDT ... he was 19 or so I think, and I choreographed a duet for him and another guy. I can't recall exactly how we "became friends" but we have always shared a certain approach to our work, and when that happens you tend to want to keep talking about it because it helps your ideas take shape, so that's how I look at our relationship -- is that being friends? I don't know. We have a deep and abiding understanding with no egos in the way and we have a hell of a great time working together.
Gavin: On the website it says you were an unofficial mentor of SB Dance for years. How did that partnership start up, and what was it like for you helping SB Dance grow?
Winnie: I guess Stephen asked me if I would come and look at what he was working on. Not sure what it was exactly ... it was probably some of the first things he did. He is always looking for real feedback, which, believe me, is difficult to come by. Mostly people are too afraid of offending you if they don't like it or don't know what to say even if they do. I am not exactly famous for being tactful and he was not interested in tact so we started talking some pretty serious turkey and it felt like we were getting somewhere so we keep doing it.
Gavin: What made you join the company in 2010 and start working on projects like Yoga Confidential.
Winnie: Stephen long ago took a turn away from concert-style modern dance, which I always thought was great. When he started Yoga, The Musical, the first incarnation of the Yoga series of which Yoga Confidential is the latest, he definitely was stepping hard in the more theatrical and written-word direction. Since I had a lot of experience as an actor and director but also had the dance background, it gave us more common ground than ever.
Gavin: What was it like for you becoming the associate director last year and taking an official leadership role in the company?
Winnie: It was kind of funny, actually. I had just been thinking maybe he was getting tired of talking to me about everything when he called and said he wanted to make my role official. Go figure. Anyway, I was delighted to accept, though I don't feel much different about the work we do than ever -- we have always had a very rare and amazing working relationship that I would not trade for anything.
Gavin: Coming up we have the WTF! show. Tell us about the show and how it got its start.
Winnie: WTF! is our annual fundraiser and it is a kick-ass party. SB Dance has got some of the best performers in the city and this is a chance to see them in a more in-your-face setting -- it is wild and crazy and not to be missed. I like to think of what we do as the "lively arts," and if this gets any more lively, the cops will have to be called!
Gavin: How did you go about picking the performances that will be showcased, and how was it for you helping put it together?
Winnie: We are always just working on new stuff; whenever we can afford to bring the dancers and actors in, we start putting together pieces and ideas of pieces and then put it out there. We also pull from past things that we think will fit the evening. For WTF!, the room is full of people and food and wine so the space is limited for the performances, so we sort of tailor stuff to fit the venue then later we will expand on it and it will go in the next piece. The thing it most resembles is probably rodeo.
Gavin: What are your thoughts going into the show and what's your goal for this year's fundraiser?
Winnie: My goal is always the same: to make ever more people aware of the company. Stephen is an amazing voice and the performers who we are so fortunate to work with deserve to be seen -- they are world-class and the work is truly unique and very very exciting.
Gavin: Going local, what's your take on the Utah dance scene, both good and bad?
Winnie: I don't so much know about the dance scene these days as I used to since I no longer live in SLC, but I know that the bigger dance companies struggle financially and the small also struggle. It's tough out there, you know? There is, and always has been, a huge pool of very gifted dancers and actors in SLC, so it's a great place to work as a choreographer and director. It's a bitch to make a living, though. I've been asked if the conservative nature of Utah is at all stifling, but I must say I have never found it so as an artist and I do think the audience who enjoys the cutting edge, the wildly innovative, is out there somewhere.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Winnie: The "mainstream" press could be a lot more supportive, but this is always difficult; they have their own agenda. In this day of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., I have high hopes that through social media and blog spots such as this one, we really can reach the people I think would become our audience 'cause there is still nothing like live theater and I think there is a resurgence of interest in it. You can't stay home staring at a computer screen all the time, right? Get out and see some people sweat and cry and dance and yell at you and stuff -- then you'll have something worthwhile to put on your Facebook page.
Gavin: What's your opinion on other local dance companies and the work they're doing to promote the art?
Winnie: Don't know exactly... I think it's the same postcards and posters and such as ever. Not sure if they have much online presence, but couldn't say for sure.
Gavin: What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into professional dancing for a career?
Winnie: A trust fund would be good. But no, seriously, there is no more glorious vocation if you want to work your ass off for no money and get a lot of bruises and injuries that you must look at as badges of honor, or not. There is no feeling like it in the world, though.
Gavin: What can we expect from both yourself and SB Dance over the rest of the year and going into next?
Winnie: I expect to turn 60 before the end of this year. Other than that, I never know exactly what to expect and I like it that way. As for SB, I can't wait for the next thing to come screaming out of his pure brain, but I sure as hell don't know what it's going to be.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Winnie: I hope I have just plugged the hell out of WTF!?! I am serious! Be there!
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