Today, I briefly chat with Ririe-Woodbury dancer Tara McArthur about her career and coming to Utah, as well as her thoughts on the performance and what people can expect to see this weekend.
Gavin: Hello Tara. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Tara: Hi, Gavin. My name is Tara McArthur, and this is my third season with Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. I am originally from Nevada City, Calif., and began working with Ririe-Woodbury five years ago as a dancer in the Alwin Nikolais repertoire.
Gavin: How did you become interested in dance, and what were some early influences on you?
Tara: Since I started dancing as a kid, my early influences were similar to many other young people who start to dance. Michael Jackson was a huge inspiration, the movie Dirty Dancing, Singing In The Rain. I loved music and moving to it.
Gavin: What was it like for you starting off at the age of 7 and performing during those years leading up to college?
Tara: My dance training leading up to college was primarily jazz, ballet and hip-hop. I wasn't as interested in ballet because it felt rigid and constricting to me at the time, and enjoyed moving more freely to music I liked. I didn't yet understand how it would be the foundation for other types of dance. I did a lot of competition dance, actually, and although I cringe now watching old movies of me in those shows growing up, wearing ridiculous sequined spandex costumes and a huge grin on my face, at the time I was completely passionate and in love with being onstage and being part of a team. Dance really gave me a sense of belonging and a community in which to be myself in.
Gavin: You received your BFA in dance from California State University, Long Beach. What made you choose CSU and what was its program like for you there?
Tara: I chose CSU Long Beach because it was one of the top-10 programs in the nation, and felt it had an excellent faculty, facility, and was affordable. In high school, I knew I wanted to dance as a profession but wasn't sure how that would look. I thought I might possibly be interested in dancing commercially and thought it would be good to be near Los Angeles. When I actually started school there, though, I was found myself completely out of my element, being exposed to modern dance for the first time, and initially asking, "What have I gotten myself into?" It took me about a year to adjust to this new way of thinking about movement and choreography, but after that I felt I had really found myself in the modern dance, and my goals in where I wanted dance to take me completely shifted. That shift physically and mentally for me was in a big part due to the professors I had and the performance experience I gained while at CSULB. The BFA program was very involved and intense, and I basically lived in the dance department, rehearsing or choreographing after classes had ended. Although the school itself has over 40,000 students, our department was somewhat separated and felt like a smaller community with just over 100 dance majors. The faculty and my fellow students were very supportive, but there was also a healthy sense of competition amongst students and a real push from professors to be continually improving.
Gavin: What originally brought you to Utah, and what was it like transitioning from California to here and our dance scene?
Tara: I came to Utah for the first time to audition for RWDC during my last semester of college, as a professor and former dancer with the company, Keith Johnson, had suggested I check them out. I didn't know much about the scene here in Utah before moving, and found it to be a thriving and impressively strong dance community, especially for being a smaller city. California has a lot of dance work to offer on a project basis, and I was really looking for full-time work, which I found so incredible about Ririe-Woodbury.
Gavin: What was it like for you working with Keith Johnson and his program?
Tara: Keith Johnson is a mentor and dear friend, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and his work. He had such an impact on me as a student, so to dance for his company was such an honor and really influenced the way I move and relate to work. He expects a lot of his dancers and can be intense, which I loved because it really pushed me. He came to Utah last spring to set on a work on RWDC, and I had a blast working with him again. We will be performing that work in our spring concert, coming up in April.
Gavin: How did you first learn about Two, and what are your thoughts on the performances?
Tara: Two is comprised of works by the late Alwin Nikolais, considered a "magician" of sorts in modern dance. Since my first experience working with RWDC was learning and performing his works, some of the pieces in this concert I have been performing for the past five years. Over those five years, it has been really enriching to learn his movement philosophy more deeply and to understand the sort of totality he went for in every piece. His work is so different from the other repertoire the other dancers and I perform that I think it stretches our abilities as artist and gives more diversity to our range as performers and choreographers. Although some of the pieces were choreographed as early as the 1950s, a lot of the concepts and ideas he was working with are still very relevant, and I see how those ideas inform even the more "contemporary" works being choreographed today. Also, these works can be very accessible to all audiences, as Nikolais was a master of optical illusions and imaginative costumes and music, which make watching similar to seeing a painting made right before your eyes. He also had a great sense of humor that both children and adults will enjoy.
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