The Utah performing-arts scene is as varied as the landscape of the state itself, with artists continually pushing the boundaries of their disciplines. Here’s a look at a baker’s dozen—13 individuals—whose contributions to the performing arts have had a profound influence on the works residents and visitors have a chance to experience every day.
Brittany Reese Dew
The Sugar Space, 616 E. Wilmington Ave. (2190 South), 888-300-7898, TheSugarSpace.com
As a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Brittany Reese Dew came to Salt Lake City after having taught, performed and choreographed with a variety of companies around the world. But perhaps it is her experience living for 16 years in New York City that opened her eyes to the ways she could help make Utah’s vibrant dance scene even brighter.
“I think there is a lot of great art and talented artists here, but it is very spread out and there are not a lot of central outlets that tie it all together,” says Reese Dew. She addressed that problem by opening her performing-arts venue, Sugar Space—a multidisciplinary arts center that presents and produces innovative dance, theater and visual arts by creating and developing programs that aid up-and-coming artists and independent thinkers. Her core idea was to create an affordable venue for performances, workshops and discussions that she felt would broaden the community’s appreciation for the arts by creating a unique creative sphere where international, national and local artists would feel safe to experiment with their craft. (Jacob Stringer)
Shirley Ririe, Joan Woodbury and Charlotte Boye-Christensen
Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, 138 W. 300 South, 801-297-4241, RirieWoodbury.com
Founded nearly half a century ago by friends Shirley Ririe and Joan Woodbury, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company is one of Utah’s premier performing-arts groups. Both women studied under several modern-dance pioneers, including Alwin Nikolais, whose work RWDC re-creates the world over to wild applause and critical acclaim. Knowing that the two needed to place the company into capable hands, they chose Denmark native Charlotte Boye-Christensen as their artistic director nine years ago. For her part, the well-traveled and highly praised choreographer Boye-Christensen sees Utah as a unique and fertile ground for creativity.
“Because we are away from major art centers,” she explains, “artists here are free from patterns, conventions, trends that would be associated with the creative climate of those places. I think there is a huge potential in this freedom; however, I do feel that we could all benefit from, and be motivated and inspired by, broader critical energy. Many respond originally to this place, which makes their work different from anything else visible on the contemporary art scene. I do think there is a lot of potential yet to unfold. Because of the uniqueness and the freedom here, our community is both exciting to watch and to engage in.” (JS)
Pioneer Theatre Company, 300 S. 1400 East, 801-581-6961, PioneerTheatre.org
Playwright Charles Morey has been artistic director for Utah’s premier regional theatre, Pioneer Theatre Company, since 1984, with the 2011 season scheduled to be the last in that role. Having penned nine plays, including originals Laughing Stock, Dumas’ Camille and The Yellow Leaf, alongside the expert adaptations of several 19th-century classic novels, Morey has also directed more than 80 productions during his lauded PTC tenure.
In all that time, Morey has learned that, “The Utah arts scene in general and the theater community in particular will be surprisingly diverse and vibrant to those who come to the state with preconceptions about the local culture. It is somewhat amazing that a city the size of Salt Lake should have a major symphony, and nationally known theater, ballet and modern dance companies. The Utah theater scene boasts two nationally recognized LORT (League of Resident Theatres) theaters—Pioneer Theatre Company and the Utah Shakespeare Festival—producing work with artists drawn from around the country from the classics to the contemporary repertoire to world premieres.”
In 2008, Morey helped launch PTC’s New Plays Initiative, in which the organization aims to work with playwrights from across the spectrum—from beginners to well-established veterans of the field—hoping to foster an environment that sees development of new plays from inception to the stage. (JS)
Wiseguys Comedy Café, in Orem, Trolley Square, Ogden, West Valley City, WiseguysComedy.com
Sometime back in 1991, Keith Stubbs made a personally monumental move to permanently scratch his very itchy funny bone—he decided to hang up his suit as a dual-coast stockbroker and hit the stage running as a hopeful stand-up comedian.
Although Stubbs has had a very successful career ever since that fateful move, his biggest mark has been left on Utah’s own comedy scene. Realizing that the state of comedy affairs here in Utah left much to be desired, he knew that the unique political and religious environment around these parts created a perfect storm, so to speak, for developing young and fresh comedic talent. But when he came on the scene, most comedians were slinging jokes at VFWs and hole-in-the-wall taverns. With the aim of fashioning the ranks into something unique, Stubbs opened a comedy club, rapidly expanding the chain to four Wiseguys Comedy Clubs statewide.
With such a stable of talent, Stubbs has created plenty of space and time for both locals and national touring acts. Sure, he has the somewhat obligatory open-mic nights for beginners, but he also frequently slots young locals to open for bigger names in comedy such as Louis C.K., Pauly Shore and Eddie Griffin. (JS)
Ballet West, 50 West 200 South, 801-323-6900, BalletWest.org
When he accepted the artistic director position at Ballet West in 2007, Adam Sklute knew he was stepping into some mighty big slippers. Founded in 1963, the company had grown into one of the country’s top ballet troupes and academies under the direct tutelage of 20th-century dance pioneer William Christensen.
Luckily, that weighty history did not scare him away. In turn, Sklute has worked hard to further cement Ballet West’s role in classical American ballet theater by introducing even more historical masterpieces. While certainly cautious of preserving Ballet West’s classical legacy, he also is sure to keep an eye trained on the future direction of the company by bringing new and inventive work by choreographers such as Mark Morris, Twyla Tharp and Stanton Welch, among others.
Sklute also aims to promote new work, creating “a platform to present and experiment with new ballet creations” by local, national and international choreographers. According to Sklute, his annual Ballet West production Innovations has a distinct two-fold mission, “A. to expose our audiences and artists alike to new and cutting-edge creations from around the world; and B. to develop our company artists’ abilities not just as dancers but as choreographers.” (JS)