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Gavin's Underground

Ririe-Woodbury: Momentum

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2013-12-12 -
As Ririe-Woodbury continues to celebrate its silver anniversary, the company closes out 2013 with a look into the past and observing where it's been. Momentum is a production from years past created by two of the company's former resident dancers, showcasing the kind of inspired work that can come from locally supported arts. The production was brought back for the season, choreographed by the same two who created it, giving the works new life with the current lineup and audiences a chance to experience the production once more.
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Today, I chat with those two creators, Jill Edwards and Juan Claudio about their careers, putting together Momentum, bringing it back for the anniversary season and a few other topics. (All pictures courtesy of Ririe-Woodbury.)

Juan Carlos Claudio and Jill Edwards
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Gavin: Hello to you both. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Jill: I am from Salt Lake City. I've lived here most of my life. My family spent a few years away, in Boston, North Carolina and Seattle. I love to dance -- obviously -- play the piano, hike, run, travel and spend time with my husband and three kids.

Juan: I'm originally from Puerto Rico. Danced with Ririe-Woodbury from 1996-2001, and again from 2002-06. Studied at the University of Puerto Rico for two years before coming to the U.S.. Graduated with a BS in dance and minor in biology from Utah State University, and in 2009 completed my MFA degree in modern dance from the University of Utah.

Gavin: How did each of you take an interest in dance, and how was it for you performing early on?

Juan: It wasn't until my second year at USU that I ran into the ballroom dance team to then essentially find myself submerged into dancing for other dance majors. In my third year, I received a scholarship that allowed me to work on both majors, dance and biology. It wasn't until my fourth year that I decided to finish my degree in dance and consequentially minoring in biology.

Jill: I started taking ballet when I was five. However, I really started loving dance when I joined Children's Dance Theatre, when I was 8, at the University of Utah. I performed with CDT right up until college. I had wonderful experiences performing each year at the Capitol Theatre, as well as several DaCi -- Dance and the Child International -- conferences. The teachers will always be very dear to me. They taught me so much!
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Gavin: At what point did you decide you wanted to turn dancing from a hobby into a career?

Jill: I have always loved it. I never thought I wouldn't dance.

Juan: I believe I did not choose dancing but dancing chose me. The more modern-dance technique and ballet classes I took, the more I understood the art form. I had a great mentor, RWDC alumni Lynn Walter Topovsky; he saw in me what I could not see. He encouraged and supported me. He introduced me to the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, allowing me to build a closer relationship with the dancers and director at the time.

Gavin: Education-wise, you both attended the U. What made each of you choose your respective colleges, and what was your time like in their programs?

Juan: Salt Lake City has a vibrant art community; I had no reasons to leave -- great modern-dance companies, great dance education and a very inclusive dance community. I have built so many relationships in this city, I just didn't want to pack and go. I did it in 2001, when I relocated to NYC, and that gave me a clear idea of what we have here.

Jill: I received the Elizabeth R. Hayes four-year scholarship, so there was no reason for me to leave. I loved my time there. I felt like I really learned from the "best of the best" -- professors who really helped shaped dance here in Utah. I danced with PDC for 3 years, toured all over Australia and performed at the Kennedy Center for ACDFA, the American College Dance Festival Association. Currently, I'm in my fourth year teaching at Utah Valley University.
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Gavin: What brought each of you to Ririe-Woodbury, and what was it like first joining the company?

Jill: In college, I performed in one of Joan Woodbury's dances. I knew then that I'd love to be in their company. I auditioned for the company a month before graduating and started soon after.

Juan: It took me three months to hear back from them. I was living in Los Angeles att he time of audition. It was exactly the day I decided to continue my education at UCLA that Joan Woodbury called me. I could not believe it. The first few years were very hard. There is so much to learn, from the amount of repertory to how to teach not only in the schools but also the dancers in the company. We had to make our own lesson plans, present them and discuss them with the directors.

Gavin: How was it for you performing during your time there and contributing to the company's history?

Jill: Dancing with Ririe-Woodbury was a real privilege. It was a lot of hard work. We taught every class under the sun and performed everywhere. Joan and Shirley really taught us how to be dancers who could teach. We taught each other, taught master classes at universities all over the country, arts in education classes and community-outreach classes.
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Gavin: You both collaborated to create the first Momentum showcase. How was it for you both founding that series, and what was the first run like for you both?

Jill: The first Momentum concert we did was exhilarating. We had no idea what we were doing, but we learned as went along. Fortunately, we had a lot of coaching from Joan. She wanted us to succeed and encourages us to do this show every year.

Gavin: During your run with RW, what was your favorite performance and why?

Juan: The repertory in the company comes and goes in cycles and trends. Around the time I was in the company, we had a lot of narrative works -- David Rousseve, Doug Varone, Della Davidson, Doug Nielsen -- and using a different kind of technique or a more humanistic approach to performance. Once Charlotte Boye Christensen came as a director, we acquired a more technical way of exposing the versatility and physicality of the dancers. They were both different and even though it took me longer to find Charlotte's aesthetic a part of me, I do not regret the opportunities she gave us.

Jill: It's hard to pinpoint one performance. However, my favorite tour was our mont- long tour in Alaska. We toured several different cities/towns and did a lot of outreach. I left feeling like we had made a difference in the many communities where we taught and performed, that I had met many wonderful people and seen a new part of the country.
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Gavin: Both of you have gone on to perform in other companies, as well as teach. How is it for you passing on your skills to a younger generation?

Jill: I love to teach and I always have. For the last 10 years, I have taught, and continue to teach, all of my kids' classes at school. I love using creative dance to teach the different curricula. I also really enjoy teaching at the collegiate level. I love teaching hungry students.

Gavin: You're both back this year for the 50th anniversary to show Momentum back onstage. How did the plan come about to bring it back?

Jill: Joan and Jena approached us about a year ago and asked if we would consider co-producing Momentum with Ririe-Woodbury as part of its 50th anniversary season. Of course, we were thrilled.

Juan: Momentum has become part of the company; even though it is Jill and mine's project, we feel complete support from the dancers, director, founders and management.
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Gavin: How has it been working with this current group of dancers to help recreate the show?

Juan: It has been a great experience; we have such a wonderful family, company dancers, alumni and community dancers. Even though we are taking it very seriously, it is also a celebration and we can omit the fact that we are all very excited and looking forward to sharing our works with the community.

Jill: It's been a lot of fun. When we sent out our original e-mail, asking who was interested in choreographing, we didn't realize the huge response we would get. Fourteen choreographers responded, so we quickly realized we would need to have two different programs. This is something Momentum has never done. Throughout our combined years in RWDC, we have worked with all of these choreographers in some capacity. It's going to be a fun reunion!

Gavin: What kind of challenge has it been being on the choreography side of things and putting the show together as a team again?

Jill: The only real challenge that we've had is organizing a double program.
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Gavin: What is you personal favorite performance from Momentum, and why?

Jill: My favorite performance is from our second year. Juan and I choreographed and performed a duet called "Broken Regained." We will be performing it again this week.

Gavin: What are your thoughts going into opening night?

Juan: Everything is coming along very nicely. We have two technical directors running the show, Cliff Walgreens and Stephen Terry -- a great team. I feel we are in great hands.

Jill: Excitement! I really enjoy producing a concert where so many artists come together. This year will be extra special because so many of my dear friends will be joining us. And, I'm grateful to be a part of Ririe-Woodbury's 50-year legacy.
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Gavin: What can we expect from both of you going into next year?

Juan: Wow, this is something that comes up every year. We always asked ourselves, "Is this the last year?" On my part, I am planning to move ahead with my life and my career; I am not sure I will be taking over Momentum. But whoever takes over, I will definitely be there to help.

Jill: I really don't know. I hope to be teaching, choreographing and performing in some capacity.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Juan: We have a great group of alumni who came from out of town. I want to encourage our community to come and support us. Check out what our dancers are making.


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