Secret Ingredients | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Secret Ingredients 

Charette returns to crown Utah’s “Iron Choreographer” champion.

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The idea sounds simple enough: Take the general format that made Iron Chef such a worldwide television sensation and roughly apply it to the art of choreography. Five competitors, five secret ingredients, one hour of creation time, an audience to observe, judges to judge and voilá! You’ve just crowned the Iron Choreographer of Utah. Apparently, it’s all in a day in the kitchen … er, studio.


What’s a bit odd here is that, although culinary competition is commonplace, the idea of competition in choreography is still somewhat peculiar. For Heidi Schmidt, marketing director for Repertory Dance Theatre, that’s somewhat the point of Charette: mixing things up a bit. “What we want to do,” Schmidt says, “is to get choreographers that are first and foremost up to the challenge, have a sense of humor and are willing to come and play and have a good time. We say ‘competition’ because we want them to have some sort of incentive, but in the reality of it, the competition is actually very mild.”


Still, there is always a winner in competitions, and this year, that means this second annual event will hold a bit of a bonus: the fun of having a returning champion. Reigning Iron Choreographer Natosha Washington steps back into the proverbial ring to defend her title against Stephen Koester, Amy Lives, Stephen Brown and Amanda Sowerby. And even though she’s trying to go into the evening with the same general blind enthusiasm with which she approached the competition last year, it’s that “defending the title” bit that has her stomach in knots.


“Sure, it was fun last year, but last year, I didn’t have to be there,” says Washington. “In my mind, I think I would have turned them down if I could, now that I have something to live up to, something I have to prove.nn

Not to mention all of the other stresses the evening entails'people watching you create, working with dancers you’re unfamiliar with, having only one hour to do so before staging your work and, ultimately, getting judged and critiqued by a panel of hard-noses. Then, as a sort of bitter cherry on top, there’s the ultimate unknown of the secret ingredient.


“Last year some of the options included things like the choreographer had to use inventive partnering,” says Schmidt. “One was a specific prop, like you had to use a chair or a bench in the dance. Another was that the person had to create something around a knock-knock joke.nn

Then, thanks to the heavy hand of Murphy’s Law, there was the one thing that Washington got stuck with: “When they asked me, they mentioned what a few of the secret ingredients might be, just to give me an idea of what I had in store,” explains Washington. “I read the list and then told them I would do it, as long as I didn’t get stuck with the singing ingredient.” Which, of course, she did.


Under the resulting pressure, Washington decided to forgo using music and instead focus on having her six dancers sing the ABC song as they went about their movement. The piece was more than appropriately titled “Alphabet Soup” and, as previously mentioned, swept the judges off their feet'not such an easy task when we’re talking about such notables as Utah House Minority Leader Ralph Becker and KSL’s Carol Mikita, among others.


But isn’t that the point of competition? Shouldn’t the competitors try their damnedest to separate themselves? Why should art be spared such stresses and rigors of contest and competition?


“No one is expecting a masterpiece from this, especially a three-minute masterpiece,” says Schmidt. “It’s all very lighthearted and in good fun. But, last year, the dances were all much better than we expected them to be, so there’s something to be said for competition.nn

Just remember, only the victor will enjoy the spoils.


nRose Wagner
nPerforming Arts Center
n138 W. 300 South Saturday, Feb. 10 @ 7 p.m.

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