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Grab a fork for this 'Feast' of music, dance, theater on the Great Salt Lake

Published May 27, 2014 9:00 am

"Feast" • Dancers and actors consider rituals of eating and the body at Saltair.
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In the massive space of the former dancehall-turned-hip-hop-venue of Saltair, actors, dancers and musicians are coming together to throw a "Feast," a one-night performance exploring the rituals of eating and the body.

That artistic cross-pollination is animating the show, says actor Andra Harbold, co-founder with Robert Scott Smith of the Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory, a new Utah-based theater company. "It's like we have a shared language, but different dialects," says Harbold of working with artists in other disciplines. "We feed off each other. It feels like the process is a different aspect of the feast."

"Feast" explores the idea that the Great Salt Lake and the Salt Flats are haunted by the generations of people drawn there, as well as to Saltair, a building once considered the Coney Island of the West. "There are so many past versions of Saltair that it feels like they are ghosts in the corners of the building," Harbold says.

Among the show's collaborators are choreographer Charlotte Boye-Christensen and Danish composer and musician Jesper Egelund, working with Harbold and Smith's characters, known only as Man and Woman. The actors will perform with dancers Jo Blake, formerly of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Jenn Freeman, a New York dancer and teacher, and Venezuela native Yumelia Garcia, of Chicago's Joffrey Ballet.

Another way the idea of a feast becomes literal is its location, "with the Salt Flats being the table we're placing this feast at," says Boye-Christensen, founder with architect Nathan Webster of NOW-ID. They launched the dance and arts company last summer with their first site-specific collaborative work, "The Wedding," at Salt Lake City's Masonic Temple, a day after their own nuptials there.

Speaking of tables, Webster and artist Gary Vlasic are creating a stage in the form of a table — 12 feet wide and 55 feet long. The challenge is to create dance movements that aren't compromised by the narrowness or the length of the stage. "It's like the audiences are coming to the table, and the performers are coming to the table," Boye-Christensen says. "If Yumelia falls off the table, you'll be able to catch her."

To fund "Feast," organizers raised $17,000 through advance ticket sales and donations on the Indiegogo website, added to grants from the National Foundation of the Arts in Denmark and other fundraising efforts.

Harbold and Smith play characters created by playwright Troy Deutsch, a graduate of the University of Utah now based in New York. Man is a lost soul, both abandoned by and haunted by this place. Perhaps you could consider him a displaced prince who might share some dramatic DNA with a character named Hamlet.

In one scene, Harbold offers a monologue while Egelund, who plays the double bass, serves as a performing partner. In another scene, as Smith speaks, his character performs Boye-Christensen's choreography to create a duet with a figure who serves as his alter ego, performed by dancer Jo Blake.

"I'm being asked to move physically in a way that feels completely opposite to what I would do with text," Smith says. "In a basic form, it's blocking, but it's just so rich in text and choreography. My body is doing things it's not accustomed to. In my mind, I'm really confused."

Boye-Christensen says that confusion is a good thing for the performance, as it creates a marked visual contrast between the actor's raw energy and Blake's refined dancer's technique.

Harbold's Woman speaks many languages — "My tongue is getting away from me," she says — and her character embodies a variety of female explorers across time, ranging from Amelia Earhart to Gertrude Stein to Joan of Arc to Laura Ingalls Wilder to Marie Curie to Beyoncé. Woman has returned to a place she doesn't recognize and realizes she isn't sure who she is anymore or who Smith's character has become. Adding to the mystery, in her bag she is carrying a fork.

"What Troy has written is this amazing journey of a monologue," Harbold says. "He writes obstacle courses for actors, incredibly muscular thought. He writes a mercurial mind. Where you are one sentence is not where you are the next. It makes it a real joy as an actor to give voice to that."

"Feast" is a unique event, Boye-Christensen says, because of the way the performance weaves together theater, dance and music. It's not performance as a collage, but instead "a unique assembly of people and a unique process," she says. "Here everything is woven together."


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Feasting on 'Feast'

A one-night dance-theater concert performed at Saltair on the shores of the Great Salt Lake.

When • Saturday, May 24, 7:30 p.m.

Where • Saltair, 12408 W. Saltair Drive, Magna

Tickets • $30 ($15 senior/student), at now-id.com/buy-tickets or at the door; also transportation and ticket packages.

Also • DJ Jesse Walker will play a set after the show.