When Repertory Dance Theatre artistic director Linda Smith commissioned choreographer Zvi Gotheiner in 1993 to create a dance about the Utah landscape, it was a first in several ways. It began a 20-year artistic relationship in which RDT acquired seven of Gotheiner’s works. And it would be the first and last time in Gotheiner’s 30-year career that he would be asked to choreograph about a geographic place.
“How beautiful to actually respond with dance to the imagery and the relationship we have with the environment that has surrounded us from the beginning of time,” Gotheiner said.
His piece titled “Erosion” is part of RDT’s “Land” performance opening Thursday, April 10. Also on the program: “Turf” choreographed by Shapiro & Smith, “Desert Sea” by Molissa Fenley and “Rainwood” by Ze’eva Cohen.
It comes as no surprise to Gotheiner that almost every established dance company in Utah has at least one piece about the natural landscape, preserving natural resources or Utah’s pioneer history.
“I think the magnitude of the nature here in this state is so stunning, so diverse and changes so quickly as you go from north to south that I think Utahns have a special relationship to nature,” said Gotheiner, who makes his home in New York City.
Soon after his first visit to Utah in 1993, the choreographer said he was so excited by his experience that when a company in Cardiff, Wales, commissioned him, he offered to use the natural landscape for inspiration. “They said, ‘No, we are not interested at all. We have a forest but there is nothing special about it,’ ” he said, with a sigh.
Brent Schneider, a professor in the department of modern dance at the University of Utah, was a member of RDT when Gotheiner created “Erosion.”
“This is a dance that appeals to audiences, but I like to call it a ‘dancer’s dance’, because of the euphoric moments of joy,” Schneider said. “Zvi brings a calm energy and profound knowledge to his classes and choreography so there is a deeper underlying current that goes beyond the steps and spatial patterns.”
Unlike many of his other works, Gotheiner said “Erosion” seemed to flow out of him after visiting southern Utah’s redrock country. The piece includes humor, rhythm and references to all the life forces in nature.
“This was at the time when RDT had our summer program outside in tents up at Snowbird,” Schneider said. “As dancers, we would be working hard rehearsing the piece and turn around to find Zvi standing and staring at the mountains. The composer Scott Killian came up to Snowbird as well and they were both overwhelmed by the majesty of the mountains around us.”
Smith said she has a personal investment in the preservation of natural resources and has committed several of RDT’s performances to the cause.
“For me it is important to raise consciousness about our resources being threatened,” Smith said. “I worry about our national monuments and I think the job of artists is to make people aware.”
Gotheiner said he is not approaching the subject in a political way. “For me it is a more visceral response. As a culture we have forgotten how to give back, we are always taking. We need to replenish and create rituals that close the circle — we are part of nature, we are not superior to it — we are connected to it.”
Inspired by the ‘Land’
P RDT’s “Land” features works that represent everything from the red rocks of southern Utah to the wetlands of the Great Salt Lake.
When • Thursday-Saturday, April 10-12, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $30 in advance, $15 seniors/students, $20 for groups of 10 or more (tickets $5 more on night of the performance); ArtTix.org or 801-355-ARTS.
Art sale • In conjunction with the three-day performance, RDT will be hosting a “land-inspired” art silent auction and sale in the Jeanné Wagner Gallery at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. For details and the list of the 15 local artists involved, visit http://rdtutah.org/Upcoming_land2land.html.