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RDT's 'Women of Valor' honors females in the military

Published April 11, 2013 9:45 pm

Dance • Perfomance will evoke the ways female soldiers have served their nation, their communities.
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Repertory Dance Theater will honor brave and dedicated women warriors of all kinds in its upcoming performance "Women of Valor."

The idea first hatched when RDT alumna and board member Lynne Wimmer heard of plans for a Utah Women's Military Service Memorial on the grounds of the Fort Douglas Military Museum. Wimmer pondered how to help raise needed funds for the project and concluded, "What's more dynamic and dramatic than a dance company?"

RDT artistic director Linda Smith said the concert is a tribute to the myriad of ways women have served their nation and their communities. "We will commemorate their accomplishments, sacrifice, dedication, optimism, and strength through dance and stories."

The show runs Thursday-Saturday, April 11-13. Proceeds from the Thursday performance will be donated to the memorial, part of the museum's plans to highlight Utah's distinctive military history.

The concert is anchored by three longer works, but is weaved together with a series of monologues and shorter dance vignettes.

Wimmer, who also choreographed for the performance, collected real stories of loss and courage from Utah women and the Veteran's History Project at the Library of Congress. She was inspired by the story of a female military mechanic facing daily challenges of gender-role stereo-types. RDT dancer Toni Lugo not only dances "The Mechanic," but also narrates the piece. She was featured in the March 2013 issue of Dance Magazine for the role.

"These stories are truly inspiring," says Wimmer. "The monologues are unique, both in what these women say and how they say it."

Wife left behind • Also on the program is "When Summoned," about a woman begging her husband not to go to war. It was choreographed by Bill Evans, a Lehi native who began his multi-faceted international dance career almost a half-century ago as a dancer with RDT. He currently is a full-time faculty member in the Department of Dance at the SUNY College at Brockport.

Evans choreographed "When Summoned" for the Deutsche Oper Berlin (now the Berlin State Ballet) in 1969. He went to Germany, "thinking I would choreograph a modern sort of jazz piece," he said, but after meeting the company and experiencing the startling contrast between East and West Berlin "I couldn't shake the feelings I was having. East Berlin was impoverished with goose-stepping soldiers and bombed-out buildings that looked as if WWII had just ended; while West Berlin was affluent and modern. And of course, there was still that…that Wall."

Evans said he was moved by what he witnessed in Berlin and the impact of war on future generations. "In East Berlin I saw so many older women, but almost no older men."

Evans returned to Utah to rehearse and rework the piece with RDT. He thought it was important to teach the 40-year-old piece in person, rather than let the company learn it from video tape.

"This piece had a short life – we performed it a couple seasons and put it away," Evans said. "But I've changed as a person and a choreographer and these young dancers have grown up under an entirely different way of experiencing modern dance. So I am trying to honor the piece for what it was but also trying to coach them into bringing their current selves, their authentic, honest selves into the performance of the piece so it doesn't seem dated or irrelevant to an audience in 2013."

Mother's loss • "Gold Star Mother" by Abby Fiat, a professor in the University of Utah Department of Modern Dance, explores war from the perspective of a son's sacrifice and a mother's loss. It is performed to a speech delivered by Gold Star Mother Ruth Stonesifer at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. Ruth's son was killed in action in 2001.

"I have been so deeply inspired by the courage, generosity, and commitment of Gold Star Mothers who have lost a son or daughter in the service of our country," Fiat said. "These mothers have dealt with their grief by assisting, comforting, supporting, and helping other Gold Star families and veterans."

The Gold Star Mothers Association was formed shortly after WW I to provide support for mothers who had lost a child in service to the United States. At the time, families hung a banner — called a Service Flag — in the front window of their home for each member serving in the military. Living servicemen were represented by a blue star, while those who had lost their lives were represented by a gold star.

Closing the show is a thrilling piece by Joanie Smith set to Ravel's "Bolero." Joanie Smith and Danial Shapiro founded Shapiro & Smith Dance in 1987 and developed a collaborative process that helped shape the way choreographers created dances over the next 20 years. Danial Shapiro died in the Fall of 2006 and "Bolero" was Smith's first work following her husband's death.

Also on the program are two works by stage and screen choreographer and long-time RDT collaborator Susan Hadley, "Commonplace" and "Honor Guard."


Women of Valor

Repertory Dance Theatre honors women in the military.

When • Thursday—Saturday, April 11-13, 7:30 p.m. Proceeds from the April 11 performance will be donated to the construction of a Utah Women's Military Service Memorial on the grounds of the Fort Douglas Military Museum.

Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City.

Tickets • $30; $15 for military (includes active duty, active reserve, retired military and immediate family members); VIP tickets are $75, a includes priority seating and post-concert reception