Welcome to ‘greenland’: A School of Dance Collaboration


“greenland” by University of Utah School of Dance (Photo via @uofudance instagram)

By Haley Freeman, Arts Writer


Welcome to “greenland,” a new collaborative work from the University of Utah School of Dance.

“greenland” is co-choreographed and co-directed by five School of Dance faculty artists, Daniel Clifton, Natalie Desch, Pamela Geber Handman, Eric Handman and Satu Hummasti. A new score by Clifton was made for the piece and original costumes were designed by the costume shop director, Christopher Larson, and the MDC costume shop. An original set was made by Technical Director William Peterson and the Marriott Center for Dance production team, and lighting design was done by Production Director Em Bertelli. There is a cast of 37 performers from the School of Modern Dance who all collaborated and danced in the piece as well.

With the large amount of people involved in “greenland,” I went in knowing it was going to be a very ambitious piece and wondered how the execution would be carried out. The program describes “greenland” as a non-narrative work that “explores how a sense of mass and scale contrasts with the minute and intimate.” 


Throughout the piece, dancers migrate from patches of land set around the stage. All of these patches eventually move except for one large square located downstage left. The dancers begin dressed identically in black long overcoats and throughout the piece they lose these for red, brown and other earth-toned outfits. The land shifts, as do the people, as they interact with each other in partnered lifts and weight sharing. 

I particularly enjoyed a recurring sequence throughout the performance where the cast of dancers would walk across the stage, out the back door and back onstage through the other back door, forming a never ending loop. This is effective and something I have not seen used before in a dance piece. While the loop occurred, a few dancers would be in front of the loop doing movement and I thought the contrast was very effective visually. 

The lighting design had a few shining moments, notably in a solo about halfway through the piece. A dancer, dressed all in red, lies on the grass and is basked in a sunlit glow from above the stage. She then begins dancing with such powerful grace, I could see that her body was simply a vessel for her soul. 

A Successful Collaboration

Part of the success of “greenland” is that, much to my initial concern, each department that collaborated on the piece was at the top of their game. The set was simple yet effective, the lighting was intentional yet not distracting, the dance was visually interesting and the music helped set a comfortable pace for the piece and transitioned nicely between the movements. 

I am a ballet bunhead till the day I die. However, when comparing performances I have seen from the School of Dance, the modern dance department seems to have a stronger voice and a spark I haven’t seen from the classical ballet shows this academic year. I’m not saying the ballet program should become more contemporary, but I think there is untapped athleticism and artistry from the School of Ballet in classical ballets by choreographers such as Balanchine or Robbins that have yet to be explored.

Explore ‘greenland’

“greenland” reminds us to reflect on the places we’ve been and the mark we’ve left behind. Although a non-narrative piece, those of us lucky enough to be in the audience traveled on a journey from past, present and future. We explored near and far in “greenland”.


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