The University of Utah Department of Modern Dance Blog

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Humans of the MCD :: Brian Nelson

In the third installment of Humans of the MCD Allison tracked down busy sophomore Brian Nelson; the MCD's one and only double modern and ballet major. Beautiful, interesting interview. Don't miss! 

"My favorite piece to be a part of was Jay Kim's piece for Utah Ballet... he definitely had an idea as a choreographer and he came in every day with material for us but at the same time it felt like a collaboration... My favorite one to watch was honestly, every time I see a show by the Modern Dept I get so jealous that I haven't done any rep like that because it's just so fun to watch how free people move. When I saw Eric's piece for PDC last year [Disappearing Days] I started to cry because I couldn't imagine moving like that ever, and that made me feel very trapped in my body and sad..." 

Full interview here: 

Photo Credit : Allison Shir

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Humans of the MCD :: Glenda Staples

"I love the students. When I watch them I just feel like 'Wow, look at how successful they are at what they're doing!' I love that feeling." 

In the second installment of Humans of the MCD Allison Shir interviews Glenda Staples, the MCD's Administrative Officer and mom-away-from-home. 

Full interview:
Humans of the MCD :: Glenda Staples

Photo Credit: Florian Alberge

Humans of the MCD :: Allison Shir

The Marriott Center for Dance (MCD) is full of people with interesting stories and unique perspectives on what it means to be a dancer. Inspired by Humans of New York we're beginning our own storytelling project - Humans of the MCD. 

Today's human is Allison Shir, first year graduate student in Modern Dance. Most recently from Tel Aviv, she talks about her touring job with The Aluminum Show, creating your own opportunities, and a few other stories of life as a modern dancer.

"I was really influenced by the mentality in Israel, I was influenced by how I was surviving; how I worked, how I got around on my bicycle, how I managed with learning the language... the food, the sea - I lived very close to the sea."

Full interview:
Humans of the MCD : Allison Shir

Photo: Rob Tennant

Monday, March 17, 2014

Gallim Dance at the U.

Whenever we have a guest artist in the department we have an informal Q&A brown bag lunch in our triangle lounge. I walked in a few minutes late to this brown bag, just in time to hear Emily Terndrup say “There is a niche for you in dance.” Emily was here with Gallim Dance, performing in their evening-length work Blush. Gallim Dance, a New York based contemporary dance company, creates and performs worldwide original work by artistic director and founder Andrea Miller. Gallim’s performance of Blush was presented by the Department in partnership with Kingsbury Hall, at the Marriott Center for Dance’s Hayes Christensen Theatre.

Back to Emily – she is a U alumna - a BFA graduate originally from West Des Moines, Iowa. She’s talking about moving from Salt Lake City to build her career in New York. “Learn to take class for your self, give yourself corrections; ask ‘What am I going to get out of class today?” The topic turns to auditioning, and immediately the room fills with that tense, deer-in-the-headlights look we all get when thinking about the audition process. (Do you ever stop being nervous about auditions?) Emily advises coming to an audition as if you are already employed. “Be the most evolved person you can be,” she says, “You can bring something to them, show that this is who you are – it might work for them or not but that’s who you are.”

I grabbed a few minutes with Emily after the lunch to ask more questions.

What do you like about being in Gallim Dance?
“It’s challenging repertory and dance; physical, dramatic, edgy, exciting stuff.”

How did your education here at the U prepare you for your dance career?
“It gave me a versatile base; beyond technique, I create work, I teach and I know how to improvise – being able to improvise is huge. And all that stuff that feels like a support to dance but actually informs your whole career – website, marketing – I know how to do all that.”

How do you make a full-time tour work with your life? How do you take care of yourself?
“Take responsibility for your own sustainability. Find things that make you happy and keep those near you. I mean sometimes you feel split between being a dancer and being a person – make choices. Ask yourself - what do you want to give?”

The advice from her brown bag lunch came in handy for me right away. After Blush finished Emily and the rest of the company head back to New York. Artistic Director Andrea Miller and Associate Director Francesca Romo stayed in Salt Lake City for two weeks to teach classes in the department and set the piece Pupil Suite on nine dancers. I decided to audition, and man was I nervous. I lost the counts and took off on my own improvisation halfway through a combination; I blew it! 

In spite of my flub, I made the piece. But now to learn 17 minutes of work in two weeks - no small feat. Pupil Suite premiered in 2010 and continues in the company's rep. It's a full throttle dance set to Balkan Beat Box and Bellini. We rehearsed for a month and performed the 17 minute work during the Performing Dance Company show. After the first run of the piece we were gasping for air. The endurance took a few weeks to build, but by the end of the show we hit our stride. 

Gallim Dance's "fearless physicality grounded by deep humanity and expressed through the madness and joy of the imagination" is ingrained in Andrea and Fran's process. They are exuberant and deeply engaged with us as individual dancers. The rehearsals are more than learning a dance, they are an exploration of the characters that live inside each of usAt the beginning of the residency Emily said "There is a niche for you in dance." An ode to the imagination, Pupil Suite is a playful romp that lends itself to finding this niche.

Emily’s photo taken from

Rehearsal photos by Rob Tennant.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Frames of Impact

“Scale, spatial and temporal design – it’s about balance,” Ellen crosses one purple jeaned leg over the other, “I mean, you have to be very careful that the media doesn’t drown out the choreography.” She makes a little tent with her fingers, “Media has its own language, with its own internal references. I want to be sure each section is different but still referencing the same world.” I am sitting in Ellen’s office opposite a small red couch, next to a tall bookshelf filled with awards, books, and VHS tapes. She is describing Frames of Impact; a collaborative work with Doug Varone for Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and Doug Varone and Dancers. Doug is creating the choreography, Ellen the media. Charlotte Boyd-Christensen, former Artistic Director of Ririe-Woodbury, co-commissioned the two art makers together to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary season.
Doug has been choreographing on his company, sending rehearsal footage and music selections to Ellen. Ellen takes inspiration from music and choreography to shoot footage and create video, which she sends back to Doug. In February Doug and Ellen met in Salt Lake City for a week of work in person. “Ririe-Woodbury has been fabulous, we had a whole week on the Rose Theatre main stage, a crew, projectors, and dancers to test the media and timing with the choreography.” They focused on bringing the two elements together, Ellen editing the video and Doug making changes to the choreography, changes which will be brought back to his company in New York.

Her eyes light up as she talks about the process of making the work. “As a choreographer as well as a media designer it's been interesting for me to gain insights into how Doug both creates and articulates his work...” She pauses, “Image, choreography, it's a balance; these things something greater than the individual elements has the potential to emerges. The experience is augmented. Something else is unlocked.” See Frames of Impact performed by Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company on April 24, 25, 26, 2014.