Through performance, SBDance announces it's alive
Choreographer Stephen Brown prides himself on his reputation for being provocative. Over the years, his namesake company, SBDance, has produced a variety of work, ranging from a concert about a bucket, a musical about yoga and a parody of the nutcracker in "The Nutcracker."
Then there have been his continued explorations of nudity or cross-dressing in his dance works. His shows sometimes earn labels such as zany, shocking or even subversive. Yet Brown is proud of something even simpler: He's managed, as they say in the arts world, to put butts in seats.
"Being in the arts is kind of like being in the infantry: The point is just to be alive," Brown said.
Now he's rehearsing a show recycling his company's greatest hits. "The Very Beast of SBDance," which opens June 10 and plays through June 18, will showcase 10 pieces created over a period of 14 years.
"The thread throughout is like an emotional perspective on life," Brown said. "They all relate to one another. In some ways, I was able to curate them. I didn't have to make as many compromises, and I could care for these pieces in a way that I didn't really have time for before."
The program includes a piece choreographed by Brown in 2002 for "Strictly From Hunger." He's taken the opportunity to rework it with longtime friend Craig Berman, who has performed with Cirque du Solei, Momix and Polobolus. The physicality of Berman's choreography was set on Jenny Larsen, who as a performer will draw upon her experience as a dancer as well as a fitness and yoga instructor, in playing a marionette struggling to break free.
Beyond the choreography, the piece is distinctive based on its use of a flying device.
"Stephen's work with props and integrating theater in dance is pretty unique for the area," Berman said. "One thing I like about this piece is that the bungee doesn't take away from the dance. It gives it an extra flight, and the story builds and builds in terms of the use of the prop."
Brown's experience as a dancer is what sets apart his choreography, as well as how he directs rehearsals. "It's been fun to figure out how it will work," she said. "Stephen is always so supportive of what our bodies are doing that day. It's not like you have to break your legs to get a certain aesthetic."
And while the concert is a celebration of SBDance's survival, that's an optimistic way to consider the experience of the past two years. In 2009, against the backdrop of a national economic downturn, Brown faced the possibility of ending his small company's run. SBDance, and arts in general, endured major funding cuts as donations dried up.
That year, SBDance lost 70 percent of its funding just two months before a scheduled show. "Foundations and people who had been giving forever just said we can't do it right now," Brown said.
"The Very Beast of SBDance" represents a return to dance, as for the past two years, Brown worked on writing plays. Theater, the choreographer said, took less time and money to produce than dance concerts.
"The schedule for dance is very different," he explained. "Typically, we rehearse for two to three months with a full cast, then the show only runs for weekend, and it usually doesn't sell out. But with theater, you can rehearse for two to three weeks and then run it for [the same amount of time]. In terms of popularity, people like plays more. You don't have the same draw for dance."
And even though that dance is back on the company's menu, that shouldn't suggest small performing arts companies are facing a feast.
"I just found out that someone who has been giving to the company for 13 years can't anymore," Brown said. "But for this year, things have stabilized. The floor isn't dropping out."
And controversy aside, for Brown and company, that's as good of a reason to celebrate as any.
'The Very Beast of SBDance'
When • June 17-18 at 8 p.m.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's Black Box Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Info • $15 at 801-355-ARTS or http://www.arttix.org.