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SB Dance: Pushing out of the closet

Published June 3, 2014 9:42 am

SB Dance • "The Pushers," based on Patti Smith's acclaimed memoir "Just Kids," will challenge performers and audience alike.
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SB Dance artistic director Stephen Brown thinks we are all born in one closet or another. The company's new show, "The Pushers," is about those who push their way out.

Created to celebrate this year's Pride events, "The Pushers" is a multimedia performance that blends dance, theater and video.

Brown says the show is inspired by "Just Kids," singer-songwriter Patti Smith's memoir describing her and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's artistic and sexual awakening. The show begins with the audience mingling at the bar and ends the same way, creating a social bond and informality that echo the intimate message of the performance, Brown says.

"The show is closer to a weird twist on musical theater than anything else," he says. "That's a direction I've been taking for the past few years — dance, theater, imagery and music that weave together to tell an oddball story.

"The audience will show up for drinks and a chat with friends. Right under your nose, the show starts. Afterwards, the audience can boogie on the dance floor if they want and the bar opens again."

Brown says he was co-teaching a course for the University of Utah Honors Program when the inspiration for this piece came to him. An assignment was given that included writing a response to Smith's song "Land" from the album "Horses."

"A couple of the students were really into Patti Smith and recommended reading 'Just Kids,' " he says. "So I listened to the song a million times, read the book and wrote a funny-sad story about my own artistic awakening as an artist. This story grew to become 'The Pushers.' The title refers to a part of the book where Mapplethorpe has just seen the movie 'Midnight Cowboy' and identifies with the hero as a hustler."

Brown says he believes that every artist is, at heart, a hustler.

The show is built from pieces that the company began at the Strange Beast Studio Bar, a program during Sundance where audience members can hang out in a pop-up bar while company members work onstage.

Brown says he is appearing onstage for the first time since 2004 because he was writing the show at the very last minute. "It made sense for me to do a main role rather than drive some poor actor crazy," he says. He'll be joined onstage by Christine Hasegawa, Annie Kent, Dani Diaz, Juan Carlos Claudio, Nathan Shaw, John Allen and Florian Alberge; the piece is directed by Carolyn Wood.

Hasegawa says she wanted to join SB Dance after seeing the company's 1999 production "Scampdance."

"I was blown away by the intricate web of ideas that Stephen had woven together with movement, imagery and spoken word," she says. "So I asked to be a part of his next work in 2000 and have been hooked ever since."

Still, she says she is feeling nervous about performing this new piece.

"Stephen has a certain affinity for movement that both looks and is difficult," Hasegawa says. "He likes to push each dancer's physical and mental comfort zones. I have to admit that the scariest thing that I have to do with this show, and with every show I have been in, is to trust Stephen and his vision."

New company member John Allen says he's feeling a similar nervous excitement.

"I've known Stephen for about 14 years," he says. "His ability as a choreographer to bring a varied cast of performers together to create works that are at once irreverent and bizarre, as well as poignant and heartfelt, has always intrigued me."

He's not sure what he is going to be doing in the show.

"At this point in the rehearsal process, there is a structure that has been built, but the nature of Stephen's creative process, as I've experienced it, leaves the door open for fairly major changes in the script up until the last minute," he says. "The bravest thing I will have to do in this show will be to walk out onstage without knowing exactly what will happen — and to be willing to respond honestly and authentically to what does." —

SB Dance New Creation 2014: The Pushers

When • Fridays and Saturdays, June 6, 7, 13 and 14; drinks at 8 p.m., show at 8:30. Matinee Sunday, June 15, with drinks at 4 p.m. and show starting at 4:30.

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

Tickets • $15-$20; 801-355-ARTS or arttix.org. Buy six or more tickets to receive a 25 percent discount; Sunday matinee is 10 percent off.

Note • Rated PG-13 for language and adult humor.