local dance scene has been thriving over the past few years with an
influx of talent putting their skills to the test beyond academic
productions. But for a lot of people beyond the standard
audiences... they don't really know about it. Publications such as
ours do what we can to highlight the newest productions and rising
companies in the state, but beyond the initial hype and promotion,
SLC doesn't contain the kind of response coverage other major cities
have, doing post-production reviews and keeping watch over rising
stars both on and backstage. That lack of extra attention is
something one localized outfit hopes to change.
In the fall of 2010 a seasonal performance journal by the name of loveDANCEmore started making its way around the city with a blog-centric website for frequent updates. Started off of nothing more than donations via Kickstarter and a passion from its editor, the goal is to be both a source for information about the Utah dance scene, while also serving as an open area for fans and performers alike to contribute reviews and news, and creating their own productions as a sort of underground dance company. I got a chance to chat with the editor herself, Ashley Anderson, about her career in dance and choreography, everything LDM, thoughts on local dance and a few other topics.
Gavin: Hey Ashley! First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Ashley: I grew up in SLC, moved away for college and my MFA and moved back in 2009 to the Marmalade District.
Gavin: What first got you interested in dancing, and what were some early inspirations for you?
Ashley: I started dancing with the Virginia Tanner Creative Dance Program when I was three years old at the Sandy Rec Center. Also at that time my mom enrolled me in tap and other classes, my sister still taps and teaches at Janet Gray Studios where I studied as a teenager. I felt that through these organizations I was nurtured creatively but also had to show discipline and responsibility. They were the foundations of my relationship to the dance profession.
Gavin: What was it like for you being involved with dance companies growing up and essentially making that your passion?
Ashley: Being involved in Children's Dance Theatre (the professional company of the Virginia Tanner program) was a great experience where I felt I was engaged not only as a performer but as a young choreographer. We were responsible for choreographic decision making. Also, dancing for Janet Gray I learned that dancing is straight-up rigorous, you have to commit to a project and see it through. She gave us opportunities to work with professionals in the field and she encouraged us to travel, to get college degrees. Janet also engaged us in the history of dance, she's an incredible force.
Gavin: You currently have an MFA in Dance form Hollins University. What made you choose Hollins, and what was their program like for you?
Ashley: I went there specifically to study with Donna Faye Burchfield, after a recommendation from a friend who had attended the American Dance Festival where Burchfield was the dean. I liked the idea of traveling far away from SLC and a liberal-arts women's college appealed to me.
Gavin: Why did you choose to go more into the teaching and choreography route than becoming a full-time dancer?
Ashley: The reality of being a "full time dancer" is becoming more unrealistic and the "company model" is losing credibility all across the globe. Most independent artists work from project to project most with different dancers. Salt Lake is fortunate to have two large companies where dancers can work but I think you'll find most of them also work retail jobs, wait tables or do many more things than we realize to sustain their life. In that way I'm a choreographer, teacher and administrator but I also perform regularly for choreographers Jen McGinn, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Regina Rocke as well as performing in my own choreographic work. I'm as much a full time dancer as any of those other positions.
Gavin: Considering the options in front of you after Hollins, what made you decide to return to Utah?
Ashley: My family lives here and my husband's family lives here, as times passes that seems like an important factor in where to live. Also, I was sick of competing for a small number of opportunities with my best friends in New York and Philadelphia. I knew Utah has a strong dance scene but one that was still isolated, I wondered how I could be engaged in it.
Gavin: How did the idea for loveDANCEmore come about?
Ashley: As I moved back and searched for opportunities I realized that they were pretty few and far between considering the number of dance students and professionals in the area. While in school, living in Philadelphia and traveling to New York I saw, and worked for, organizations that worked with a small staff and even smaller budgets and I thought: I could contribute to this community with that information.
Gavin: Why did you choose to turn it into a non-profit rather than formally start your own dance company?
Ashley: This is a little tricky because the non-profit is actually my dance company. I am registered as "Ashley Anderson Dances" and loveDANCEmore is the community events branch of Ashley Anderson Dances. In this way I am creating avenues to continue my own creative work. For example last year Ashley Anderson Dances presented work at Sugar Space and the Main Library alongside many teaching efforts, while also creating ways for new staff members to take over some of the community events in coming years.
Gavin: How did you end up working with the Masonic Temple to utilize their space for performances?
Ashley: My in-laws have associations with the building because of their work with Job's Daughters. I knew it existed, was totally weird inside and was used for rental by belly dancing organizations, among others. It's also really similar in some ways to Judson Church in New York which is what I was trying to model. I met with their director, pitched the idea, and they rented the building to me.
Gavin: What was the first show there like for you and all involved, and what was the public reaction to it?
Ashley: The first show there was totally magical because it really was identical to being at Judson Church. All these people had come together just to see what choreographers were working on. It was casual, supportive and dynamic. The public kept coming so I think they enjoyed it. I think people really enjoyed the attitude that you didn't have to like everything, that it was still being developed. There was more freedom to have an opinion than at Capitol Theatre.
Gavin: Recently you had the "dance-dance" video performances at Trolley Square during Sundance. How did you put that together and what was the turnout like while it ran?
Ashley: The video gallery was put together by taking local submissions, turning to the help of advisors Donna Faye Burchfield & Ellen Bromberg and curating video work that I've seen over the past several years. In total there were thirty video projects from five countries and ten states. It was pretty ambitious. Ellen was a great help because she's been involved with so many dance for the camera events. Also, having administrated portions of an MFA program in 2008-2009 I had seen a lot of student works to pull from. The turnout was all-in-all excellent. We had some location changes and conflicts with timing but despite everything the gallery was seen by at least a couple hundred people most of whom stayed at least an hour and got to take home a catalogue with film credits and artist statements and pictures. I would like to do it again next year and try to widen the reach.
Gavin: What influenced you to start producing a performance journal online and in print?
Ashley: In New York (and some other cities) performance journals serve as one of the only non-newspaper archives that dance has. Visual Art has huge publications like Art Forum whereas dance is limited to Dance or Dance Teacher which aren't largely representative of most of the current work in modern dance and instead trend toward the more commercial aspects of dance communities. I wanted Salt Lake to have an opportunity to archive not only reviews of dance presented but also of critical theory and dance history writing. Most work is published to the blog but a lot is exclusive to the print journal, "learning to loveDANCEmore" which is now printed bi-annually and can be found at most universities, some high schools and coffee shops. To request a copy if you can't find one e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll make sure they go out near you.
Gavin: Right now you don't have any formal writers beyond yourself, allowing anyone to review or promote material as they see fit. Why the open source as opposed to forming a staff?
Ashley: Other than the fact open source is totally awesome and way more democratic, there is realistically zero money to fund a staff. I run on (literally) the money I make teaching and other things such as judging high school debate tournaments. There is no formal staff system that could function at this point. Until now I was laying everything out on my laptop on Microsoft Word, I recently found a volunteer designer, Matthew Hall from Gray Wall Gallery. He's amazing. So are the people who want to write or design to gain experience. They are learning how to write as much as young choreographers are learning how to present their work. This community (and therefore the journal) is growing, it's a process.
Gavin: What's your long-term goal with LDM as an organization and a dance group?
Ashley: Right now the goals remain really focused on creating a forum for choreographers to share their work in a critical and transparent community. There is also the goal of bringing artists into the community through residencies. As ideas happen, like the film gallery during Sundance, I try to mobilize them, my only real idea is to keep momentum.
Gavin: Aside all the work with LDM, you teach around the state and with other programs. What keeps you motivated and involved with so many groups at the same time?
Ashley: Adrenaline. The fact that I really care about dance and think I know how to mobilize efforts for others to care about it.
Gavin: Moving onto local stuff, what's your take on the Utah dance scene, both good and bad?
Ashley: The dance scene is amazing because historically dance (and other arts) have been valued in this city. For whatever reason they are reasonably well funded and cared for by their patrons. What's not so hot is that the same organizations have been funded for about a billion decades and there's not a lot a young dancer can aim to do other than produce their own small shows or try to audition for a few companies or fight over the last remaining high school teaching positions. Additionally there is a lot of stagnation in terms of what people "like" and because there hasn't been a lot of collective risk-taking it's somewhat hard to generate new patrons and fill in the gap. The community needs to move forward or we'll all be watching 1970's repertory for the rest of our lives. I love all kinds of repertory but not in a vacuum.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Ashley: Oh definitely. I think if the community really worked together to tackle issues surrounding students' transition into the field we would grow in numbers and make a large splash. Lots of students graduate and leave because there is no real place to continue working as an artist. Or at least not one that's been consistent.
Gavin: What's your take on the local dance companies and the work they're doing to promote the art?
Ashley: I think Repetory Dance Theater and Ririe-Woodbury really do try to educate about dance history and who they consider to be the "great masters" of dance. I don't really believe in that term "master" but I think they do good works based on their respective missions. I think smaller, new(er) companies like RawMoves or Movement Forum have been popular and successful at audience building. I think what lacks from this range of groups is a real critical dialogue about what they presenting and how it could be expanded, deepened, re-imagined.
Gavin: Who are some of the companies you like checking out or would recommend to people interested in seeing the best SLC has to offer?
Ashley: That's hard. I can just make a list of things I'm interested in. I'm really interested in some films by local dancers Josie Patterson, Erin Romero and Wyn Pottratz. I think inFluxdance has some interesting projects on the horizon and a nice collective model. Sofia Gorder and Juan Aldape have a small show soon, they both consistently make work. Stephen Brown's greatest hits should be great. Joan Mann, Rachael Shaw, Nancy Carter, Emily Haygemann, Movement Forum has new leadership and Mike Watkiss (one of their performers) is consistently in work throughout the city. I really like Chelsea Ellis down at UVU I think she's trying interesting hybrid projects. I'm forgetting lots of people but that's what is on my mind right at this moment.
Gavin: What advice do you have for people looking to make dancing their career, both on a professional and personal level?
Ashley: To remember that dance isn't a hobby, it's an entire field. Does it have super lucrative careers? No. But that doesn't mean it requires any less commitment than being an accountant or a doctor. Also to keep in mind there are many ways to be involved in dance: there are a vast array of administrative and artistic needs in the field and rather than stick to the one way you imagined your career to be, to find the ways to make it work across those needs.
Gavin: What can we expect from yourself and LDM over the rest of the year?
Ashley: Mudson continues in the spring with showings on the third Mondays of March & April, 7:30pm at the Masonic Temple on 650 E. South Temple. Learning to loveDANCEmore: Volume 2 was released at Mudson in March and will also be put out throughout the city. April sees our first 2011 artist-in-residence, Burr Johnson, dance for Shen Wei Dance Arts & John Jasperse. We will be working on developing a new piece. Other artists hope to be in town soon (Regina Rocke & Karinne Keithley Syers to name a few). Because we are a super small organization our seasons aren't booked out as far in advance as a larger group. So check the website for a current calendar of events.
Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Ashley: Just to follow the blog and find new ways to engage in dance. And to e-mail with any questions at email@example.com.
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