With the arrival of the arts season each fall comes yet another opportunity to be inspired anew, to reinvigorate that drive that had you creating in the first place. For the producing duo behind the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company alumni show Momentum, the annual turning of the calendar presents another choice altogether: Do they once again, now for the fifth year running, stage the modern-dance performance that was originally meant to be only a one-off reunion event?
When Juan Carlos Claudio and Jill Voorhees Edwards decided to produce the first Momentum with fellow alumnus John Allen, neither of them had any dream that it would become a tradition. Their goal was simply to produce a concert providing them with a creative forum, while simultaneously reuniting other alumni, essentially giving everybody a chance to present work and perform. “It was Joan [Woodbury, co-founder of RWDC with Shirley Ririe] that came to us and told us that we had to keep doing it,” Edwards says. “She was just super supportive, and when you have someone like her saying you have to continue doing this, and virtually handing it over to you, you can’t say no.”
As the years have ticked by—never short of participants angling to join in on the fun—the trick has become changing things up to keep the creative momentum going. In the second year, 2008, they brought in a big gun with Keith Johnson and added on to the evening’s name with Untold Stories. In 2009, performances were Elevated, while 2010 dropped the addendum monikers altogether. What has stayed the same, though, is that Momentum has always been curated with the ambition of producing a cutting-edge, evening-length performance with a little bit of help from all those RWDC friends.
This year, besides spotlighting work by alumni such as Chia-Chi Chiang and Liberty Valentine, as well as current company member Jo Blake, the focus shifts toward including a trio of dancers experiencing that limbo state between academia and professional careers. Enter handpicked works from the likes of Heather Nielsen (Utah Valley University BFA), Mallory Rosenthal (University of Utah BFA) and Elizabeth Stich (University of Utah MFA) to spice the evening with a bit of the up and coming.
Rosenthal’s piece, which was her senior thesis, is titled Actual Script. According to the recent graduate, the work began as an exploration into that tenuous relationship between the fields of dance and writing. For her, right before making that brave jump into the cutthroat environs of New York City, such a break is unparalleled. “I’m very excited to be a part of the Momentum show this year,” Rosenthal adds. “Being a young [and professionally inexperienced] choreographer can be difficult considering how little funding is available, so I was incredibly grateful to be given the opportunity to show my work alongside such accomplished and beautiful choreographers and dancers.”
For his part, in 2010, Claudio choreographed in tribute to four of his favorite female dancers, Pina Baush (1940-2009), Tandy Beal, Margie Gillis and Carolyn Carlson. This year, he has upped the game by accepting an invitation to perform a piece by Beal herself, someone whom he considers a “superb friend, a mentor and, at times, a confidant”—not to mention a longtime supporter of RWDC. The plan is to excerpt a solo from an evening-length work of Beal’s titled Nightlife, with the hope of perhaps doing the entire piece in the near future. As for Edwards, her contribution includes the piece Forging the Current, inspired by the heart. She noted that it is this unique show that has allowed her the freedom and time to flesh out such an idea.
According to Claudio, that is precisely what Momentum is about: possibilities. “Not only for me to present my work, but for others who have worked so hard, some who have their dance degrees, and rather than dancing and creating are forced to spend their days working at nonartistic jobs.” Yes, he says, “initially, it was born out of the interest to gather Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company alumni for a weekend, in order to provide an outlet and re-introduce former dancers back into the Salt Lake City dance scene.” But, he reiterates, over the past five years, it has become much more than that.
Therein lays the magic behind the seemingly perpetual motion of Momentum: So many dancers and choreographers come through the ranks, move on and then return to Salt Lake City, that the show can seemingly go on and on. Even though both Edwards and Claudio admit to struggling each year with that choice to continue, they will also readily admit to already thinking about all the fruitful years to come.
“With the big anniversary of the company [RWDC’s quickly approaching golden],” Claudio says, “I know we can make Momentum even more exciting than the past five years. All we have to do is wait.”
Rose Wagner Center
138 W. Broadway
Aug. 25-27 , 8 p.m.