Dance that maps a community
Colleen Hoelscher, now in her fifth season with Repertory Dance Theatre, began dancing the day her preschool teacher suggested the active 4-year-old be placed in the YWCA's ballet class during naptime to keep her from disturbing the other children's rest.
"My mother didn't want me to be a gymnast because she was worried about injuries," said Hoelscher, now 27. "So they put me in ballet class to burn off energy, and I fell in love with it."
From there, Hoelscher's boundless energy led her to study in a respected studio in her hometown of Albuquerque, N.M., and go on to earn a modern-dance degree from the University of Utah. Two weeks after graduation in 2006, she was hired by the professional company.
Hoelscher's dynamic solo, "Lady of the Lake," has become a signature piece for her and the company. The piece choreographed by Francie Lloyd intrigues audiences with a 40-gallon plexiglass tub of water, which Hoelscher moves in and around as if performing a duet.
But there's more to Hoelscher than this one-character piece. She's a nuanced dancer who takes pride in her technical ballet training and how it translates to the classical modern works that are RDT's mission to preserve.
"I love doing the classical modern works," Hoelscher said. "Those timeless pieces remind me of doing classical ballet without the pointe shoes. An arabesque is still an arabesque, whether in classical ballet or a classic modern work."
Early modern-dance pioneers, such as JosÃ© LimÃ³n and Martha Graham, developed movement vocabularies as specific to their works as the recognized steps of ballet. Although some consider those early contemporary works departures from ballet, Hoelscher says "they're only departures in the sense that you're barefoot and they use weight very differently."
"My favorite piece I've ever done is the Graham solo we do in the history show," Hoeslcher said, "My next favorite would be Glen Tetley's 'Mythical Hunters,' which perfectly blends ballet and contemporary dance."
Hoeslcher will be performing in the company's upcoming "Dancing the Green Map" work, inspired when choreographer Zvi Gotheiner proposed the idea to RDT artistic director Linda Smith. A green map is a sort of 3-D look at a town or city in unusual detail. It's meant to be an evolving community project involving students, artists and businesses, which maps tangible and intangible notions, ranging from the character of a city's landscape of parks to the political climate.
The dancer describes the project as an idea-driven collaboration that's bigger than its concept. "It seeks to speak to us as a community, as if to say 'Here is Salt Lake, here is your hometown, here is what makes us who we are.' Instead of one big meal, it's like going to a tapas restaurant."
RDT's one-hour performance will include an original composition by Scott Killian and incorporate the ideas of environmental consultants, videographer and illustrators. The glue that will tie the project together is a multimedia project by Ellen Bromberg, co-director of the University of Utah's graduate certificate in Screendance, and associate professor in the modern-dance department.
"This has been an interesting and delicate collaboration," Bromberg said. "Interesting in that the stage piece is driven by both educational and artistic concerns. And delicate in that the media has to stay in balance with the choreography, sometimes commenting on, contrasting to, or contextualizing the dances, without arguing for visual or metaphoric space. We are still fine-tuning, but I feel that we are getting close! The dancers are so beautiful in this work and we have been working to keep them as the primary focus."
Hoelscher agrees that keeping the dancers front and center is what this particular performance is all about. "There are a series of icons, as on any map, which represent a particular place or issue," she said. "The dancers perform the essence of the icon in a series of solos. I like it because each dancer gets to showcase their own individual movement qualities in their solo. We don't often get a chance to do that."
As much as Hoelscher loves the historical work, with proper line and technical strength of ballet, she says it almost doesn't matter what you dance as long as you do it fully.
"My goal as a dancer is to inform each piece and to honor each choreographer's technique and movement style," Hoelscher said. "And if the audience comes to feel they know something about that choreographer and about you personally by watching you perform, then you can say you've achieved a satisfying level of artistry."
'Dancing the Green Map'
P A collaboration involving the Repertory Dance Theatre dancers, dance filmmaker Ellen Bromberg, composer Scott Killian, choreographer Zvi Gotheiner and the community.
When • March 31-April 2 at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's JeannÃ© Wagner Theater, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $30 ($15 seniors/students) at 801-355-ARTS, and http://www.arttix.org; $15 tickets on Community Night on March 31