“Two weeks of moving, collaborating, dance-making and the spirited exchange of ideas…” this is Salt Dance Festival (SDF). SDF gives pre-professional dancers the wonderful opportunity to study and collaborate with professional dancers from all over the world. Steve Koester, the festival’s director and Chair of the Modern Dance Department at the University of Utah, emphasized that this intensive isn’t school. As opposed to students going into classes every day, drilling and working for a grade, Koester wanted students to partake in an interactive experience of creating dance: SDF is “committed to the exploration of the creative process in addition to contemporary technique and repertory work.”
In order to create a stimulating and enriching environment, SDF brought in six artists from around the world who led classes, placed works and helped to engage students in choreographic creation. The artists brought in for the 2018 festival were Wally Cardona, Omar Carrum, Katie Faulkner, Eric Handman, Scotty Hardwig and Pablo Piantino. All six artists brought different yet intriguing backgrounds to the festival, creating an enriching array of classes. Having such diverse artists instruct at the Salt Lake Dance Festival definitely made it hard for participants to choose which classes to take during their three two-hour blocks each day. SDF’s available classes ranged from ‘Advanced Contemporary’ to ‘Alternative Technique’, ‘Movement and Media’ to ‘Partnering and Repertory’, and many more. Dancers spent the two weeks of the festival collaborating diligently with the instructing artists. Every partaker of the classes found their creative boundaries pushed dramatically. They even had a small reward through creating final projects incorporating Screen Dance, or filmed choreography, as student pieces. Participants then had the option to share these final creations with an informal audience on the final Friday of the intensive.
In addition to learning through physical classes, dancers were also able to attend artists’ talks almost every afternoon of the festival, hosted by guest artists. The talks allowed dancers to learn about new and growing opportunities in the dance world, as well as to ask questions about each visiting artist and their philosophies on dance. The opportunity for upcoming professional dancers to listen and speak with current professionals in their field was extraordinarily valuable. SDF thoroughly ensured each dancer truly had a profound and impactful experience.
Despite the variety of creative opportunities at the festival, each shared common ground in modern technique. While every class maintained the freedom to be unique and focused (depending on the individual goals and priorities of the students and teacher), there was a common thread throughout all the training which stood as a basis for dancers to work from. This thread was improvisation. SDF describes itself as a “laboratory that nurtures and supports experimentation, exploration, curiosity, collaboration, and the development of innovative choreography, artistry and thought.” The festival was a place where imagination and the chance to create something out of nothing existed. Dancers were constantly given the opportunity to work in a world of improv and creativity, and many dancers experienced choreographic inspiration prior to the end of the two weeks. They were able to use their improvisational tools to spur their imaginations and create true pieces of artwork.
I, a dancer who attended SDF, found the base idea of the festival workshops: that they were not classrooms but rather a collaborative process. There couldn’t be a more accurate depiction of my experience. I found that the improvisational modern base of the intensive gave me, as an artist, the opportunity to work with chance and circumstance. Shapes came into being, movements became the shapes and I danced through the movement. I found my imagination and barriers challenged, forcing me to grow as a dancer and artist. To have two weeks full of dancing and collaborating with renowned faculty is one of the most amazing and rare experiences a dancer can have. I highly recommend future sessions of SDF to any dancer truly wanting to grow, learn, make connections, step out of their comfort zone, and practice their art. And for anyone who isn’t a dancer, I encourage you to attend the dancers’ performances. You might just see something that you’ll like.