Super Collaboration Powers: Activate | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City Weekly

Super Collaboration Powers: Activate 

Three women choreographers share creativity and mutual support for a group production.

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  • BYU photo

When Rachel Barker was considering inviting other artists to collaborate on the dance program that would become Superwomen, she was certainly looking for artists whose work she knew and respected. But it was just as important to her that these women would provide a sense of support.

"With this show, I was deliberating, 'How do I want to do this show, who do I want to do this with,'" Barker recalls. "I just knew that these women—even though I didn't know them well—would be emotional helpers, in addition to making good work. It's like, 'Carry the duties we have to do, but also be my friend.'"

Barker ultimately found those collaborators in Liz Dibble, a colleague with Barker in BYU's Dance Program faculty, and Southern Utah University faculty member Alexandra Bradshaw-Yerby. The Superwomen program consists of several short dance pieces choreographed by the three women individually, and in some instances the creators feel that the work does directly address issues faced specifically by women, including the unique challenges of the pandemic era.

Yet for all three of the choreographers, it feels more significant that the title refers to the act of their collaboration, rather than the content of the work itself. "I think when you're inviting other artists, obviously you're not putting out a call for, 'it needs to revolve around this thing,'" Barker says. "So I'd say there's strengths in the variety. ... If anything, I would welcome variety over sameness. I think that's okay. It would almost feel too much like, 'Okay, superwomen, we get it.'"

"When I think of that title, and how we came around to it, the connection came more between the three artists, about this emotional and professional support we provided each other," Bradshaw-Yerby says. "There's no superwoman, only superwomen—the strength when [women] come together."

"Sometimes the life of a dance artist feels lonely" Dibble adds, "and it can feel there's a sense of scarcity. So it did feel powerful to be with these incredible women, who are visionary artists but also compassionate and supportive. To have someone by your side who's your cheerleader, and not competitive."

The collaborative process itself has been a unique one, in that the three women had yet to be in the same physical place at the same time when interviewed in late March—partly due to pandemic realities, and partly due to Bradshaw-Yerby being located in Cedar City. "Just today, there's been 50 or 60 texts that have flown back and forth," Dibble says. "There's been constant communication in every decision. We discussed everything in detail. Maybe somehow, it was more collaborative, because we had to be so communicative."

That communication and mutual support was essential, especially for the creation of a program outside the structure of an established artistic company. The logistics can be challenging, and each of the three brought something not just creatively, but in terms of mounting the physical production itself. "It's hard to secure performers, and funding, and to be able to vent about that," Bradshaw-Yerby says. "We all have different connections in Utah, so one of us could say, 'Oh, let me get in touch with so-and-so.' We needed another tech person, so I reached out to someone I worked with at Ririe-Woodbury, and it's someone that Rachel would never have known about."

While it's true that a lot of the "superwomen" work went on behind the scenes, there is certainly content within the work itself that speaks to issues faced by women. Bradshaw-Yerby's solo piece Dear Jane, which she debuted in Seattle in 2019, was created—and originally performed by another dancer—to explore her feelings about shifting in her career from dancer to choreographer. Three years later, Bradshaw-Yerby is a new mother, and performing Dear Jane herself, two developments which give the piece a new slant on women reaching transitional life moments.

That notion feeds into an idea Bradshaw-Yerby attributes to Dibble: that working women, particularly working mothers, need to create work in "stolen moments." "I have three elementary age children, and a high-school aged niece who lives with me," Dibble says. "They're this vibrant, most important part of my life. It really feels like I'm creating when they go to sleep, or they're off at a rehearsal. But it somehow made the process even sweeter. All of these relationship-based responsibilities inform my choreographic voice. There's never been an ideal amount of time, but who has that?"

The idea of Superwomen exists, then, in that recognition of how challenging it can be to accomplish anything in a time of upheaval, and how necessary it is that you're not trying to do it alone. "I hope that it's an opportunity for everybody who comes to be reflective and recognize, 'What have I overcome?'" Barker says. "It's not a therapy session, and I don't feel all the works per se are expressing this idea. But just the triumph for everyone of living and making work in these times."

"There's so little time in those ["stolen moments"] to create," Bradshaw-Yerby says. "When you have support of others, you have the time to do so."

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