Regulars and Shorts

Dance: Buy Local First

By Amy Brunvand

Tis the season for season tickets.
by Amy Brunvand
You shop at the Farmer’s Market to get local tomatoes; at the local bookshop to support local literature, but are you buying your culture locally? In August I went to a summer forum lecture at the First Unitarian Church to hear Melia Tourangeau, the new president and CEO of the Utah Symphony & Utah Opera, give a talk on "Enriching Communities: The Example of Utah Symphony/Utah Opera."

Tourangeau came to Salt Lake City from Grand Rapids, Michigan, last January, and she said that one big difference between there and here is that in Salt Lake City, the musicians are not just in town for the show. They are full-time symphony employees with deep roots in the community. She said that makes a big difference because the artists don’t just do their thing and then go away. They also teach lessons, perform at schools, and eventually develop a deep, long-term relationship with their audience. "If you go see a big national act down at the E-center," she said, "that money flies right out of state. But when you patronize local arts events, the money stays in the community and it enriches the community."

If you look up "Performing Arts" in the Local First Utah business directory, you will find a list of 25 local performing arts companies ranging from Another Language Performing Arts Company (if you haven’t yet seen one of their amazing multi-media Interplay performances, you should) to the Wasatch Arts Center School of Music and Dance (their website has photos of adorable child ballerinas)-and the list isn’t anywhere near complete. (If you are feeling especially creative, there are clear opportunities for people to start new performing arts companies that begin with X, Y or Z).

Another point Tourangeau stressed was that season ticket subscribers are the keystone that holds up a non-profit performing arts company. She explained that even though funding sources like private grants, public money from Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) and such are indispensable, season subscribers are the people who trust that even if the company tries something new and different once in a while it will at still be at least interesting. They are the ones who talk about performances and lure their friends and acquaintances to buy tickets. From a purely pragmatic perspective, performing arts organizations love subscribers because they are easy to contact with new information and they are far more likely to contribute to fundraisers and special events. 

Tourangeau was talking about something I’ve thought for a long time without putting it into words. Yes, it can be thrilling when a fancy out-of-town dance group comes through town, but even so it’s kind of a one-night-stand. A long-term committed relationship will have surely have its ups and downs, but in the long run, it has far more to offer.

The 2008-2009 season schedules are out and there is a lot to choose from.

Repertory Dance Theatre launches their season this September with an evening of choreography by University of Utah modern dance professor Stephen Koester: "Dance Koester Dance: Who We Are? Incidentally, Koester was the 2007 winner of RDT’s Charette Iron Choreographer contest in which choreographers get one hour, some dancers and a secret ingredient to make a dance and perform it on stage. The contest is tongue-in-cheek, but it is also a terrific introduction to how modern dance "works" and a chance to see some of Utah’s best local talent in action. Charette is scheduled for March 7, 2009.

Nobody could be more embedded in the local dance community than Shirley Ririe and Joan Woodbury who co-founded the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company in 1964. This year the company has a new artistic director; Charlotte Boye-Christensen, who was named associate artistic director in 2002, has been appointed to the job. She has been in Salt Lake City long enough now so that we are truly getting to know her and her work. The Interiors program in December will showcase Boye-Christensen’s dances, and Ririe-Woodbury is also continuing its astonishing project to recreate the dances of Alwin Nikolais. "Tower," first performed in 1965, is nearly as old as the company itself, and it is definitely worth seeing this month. If you’d like to introduce some kids to culture, don’t miss Nikolais’ "The Crystal and the Sphere" this January. My daughter has been begging to see it again since she saw it last year. (I tried to explain that live theatre doesn’t work quite like movies.)

If you want to see local ballet talent, in May 2009 Ballet West will do its Innovations program, which features original works created by Ballet West dancers for Ballet West dancers. They are also doing two story ballets: "The Tempest" (based on Shakespeare’s play) and "Madame Butterfly" (based on Puccini’s opera). Utah Opera is doing "Madame Butterfly," too, and I plan to see both versions since I’m always intrigued by the different textures that occur when you transform the same story into a different medium.

These are just the big companies. Salt Lake City also has an astounding variety of smaller companies and college and university performance groups. So pick something that sounds interesting and try a single ticket. Maybe, just maybe, it will be the gateway drug to a happy lifetime as a season subscriber.

Amy Brunvand is a dance enthusiast and U of U Marriott librarian.

Local First Utah:
Ballet West:
Repertory Dance Theatre:
Utah Symphony and Opera:

This article was originally published on September 1, 2008.