William “Bill” Evans may have moved from Utah years ago, but for the 77-year-old famed dancer and choreographer, the Beehive State will always be home. Evans, who joined Repertory Dance Theatre 52 years ago, danced with the Salt Lake City company for six consecutive years, during a time he says was special for RDT. He has returned to guest choreograph many times since his departure and was a large part of the company’s 50th anniversary in 2015.
RDT pays homage to Evans through “Top Bill,” a production that runs Thursday, Nov. 16, through Saturday, Nov. 18, and features six works representing more than seven decades of Evans’ choreographing career: “For Betty,” “Suite Benny,” “Crippled Up Blues,” “Alternating Current,” “Tin-Tal” and “Three Preludes.”
“I don’t think it was set up expressly to honor me,” Evans said in an interview with The Tribune. “But I feel very honored and delighted to have this opportunity to restage my work with RDT.”
Evans — who has choreographed more than 300 dance numbers throughout his career — said the inspiration for “Top Bill” came after the conclusion of RDT’s 50-year anniversary celebration.
“I made a new work for RDT’s 50th anniversary called ‘Crippled Up Blues,’” Evans said. “When that was over, I said to Linda [Smith] that I would love to restage ‘Tin-Tal,’ which is a work that I made for RDT in 1971.”
“Tin-Tal,” set to Indian music created by Mahapurush Misra, debuted featuring Smith, RDT’s founder and artistic director.
Smith liked the idea of restaging “Tin-Tal” and came back with a suggestion to host a whole evening of Evans’ performances.
Evans happily agreed. He has been in Salt Lake working with RDT dancers the past five weeks and revealed that not all of the choreography has been staged before: “Suite Benny” features new choreography by Evans debuting during the “Top Bill” performances.
Evans talked about his career, how he went about selecting the performances for “Top Bill” and why he believes RDT is once again in a special place.
Choreographing over the decades
I’m happy to say that I think my newest works are my most creative, original and exciting. I’m 77, and when I was a young man looking toward this point of my life, I thought, “I probably won’t be so creative at that point.” I am finding the opposite is true. I find greater joy in making new dances right now than almost anything else. My dances have always been a reflection of what’s going on in my life and heart and in my world. I keep exploring new aspects of myself and the world keeps changing. The creative process to me has always been invigorating and probably more so now than ever.
The oldest work new to the company is “Tin-Tal.” To make that relevant to the dancers and to make it alive again, I tell them lots of stories. I give them the context of who I was. I was 31 years old when I made the piece, so I tell them what was important to me at that time and what my motivations for the piece were. I take them to those memories that are still vibrant inside my mind. It was really important to me at that point to make a piece that was kinesthetically communicative. Lots of art forms are visually and orally communicative, cognitively stimulating. I wanted to make a piece that went directly from the dancer’s muscle to the viewer’s muscle. That went from the dancer’s kinesthetic experience to the viewer’s vicarious kinesthetic experience. I was trying to find movement that was fully sensed and could be communicated that way. “Tin-Tal” really set me on a pathway that I have continued to explore in many different ways.
RDT then and now
In 2015, I worked with this group of dancers. I spent five weeks with them and I got to know them very well. I was thrilled to come back and work with the dancers this time because they have been together as an ensemble now for enough time that they are growing not just as individual artists, but they’re growing as an ensemble. It’s very exciting and stimulating to work with them right now. It reminds me of what we were like in the beginning. We went through a period of six years when I was in the company where we had virtually no turnovers. The growth was exponential, because we were not just growing as individuals but the ensemble — our ability to dance together and understand each other and accommodate each other — was happening. I see that this is another time in RDT’s history where the group has been together long enough, and they are generous and engaged enough that they are really helping each other move forward. This is a particularly openhearted, generous and dedicated bunch of young dancers. It’s been really wonderful to work with them and see how they’ve grown.
RDT’s Top Bill
A retrospective with a wide variety of music and styles by renowned choreographer and RDT alumni dancer William “Bill” Evans.
When • Nov. 16-18, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $30, $15 for students and seniors; ArtTix