Imagine walking through the City Gallery at Waterfront Park with dancers swirling around you. That's what will happen this Piccolo season when local dance company Annex Dance premieres their site-specific piece The Path Taken.
Annex's founding artistic director Kristin Alexander came up with the premise for the piece after re-reading Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken," which got her thinking about moments in her own life when she had two paths to choose from: what she gained from going a certain way and what she had to leave behind. Then she started thinking about the journeys her dancers have taken in their lives as well.
"I asked them to tell me about a moment when they had to make a choice between two paths," Alexander says. "What was it like in that moment? How did you choose the path that you took, and what did it lead you to? What did you have to leave behind when you made that decision?" This was the beginning of The Path Taken, a dance concert inspired by these stories.
Instead of being performed on a central stage, the sections in this piece will be performed throughout the gallery, with the audience invited to either watch from one place or follow the dance through the building. "I love performing in unconventional spaces," says Alexander. "I feel like it really changes the way that the audience experiences movement."
She adds, "The thing about City Gallery is there are so many possibilities to move the audience through the space as well. And so that's my hope, that people are going to be viewing this from many different perspectives."
The dance company was able to rehearse regularly in the City Gallery, so the space really began to influence the dance. "There are a couple of sections that I really knew exactly where I wanted them to happen. But there are a couple things that have happened because we were there, and I was rehearsing and creating in the moment and making choices based on the space itself," Alexander says.
Although The Path Taken has no direct narrative, the dancers' stories served as jumping-off points. "One of them was really personal and I wanted to make it a solo. Other pieces, I thought it was important to have all of us involved. One of them ended up being a duet," she says.
Partnering with Alexander is Salt Lake City-based composer Michael Wall, who writes mainly music for dance and movement. His relationship with Annex Dance began last year when Alexander approached him about using a piece of his for Annex's 2014 TEDx talk, which focused on combining dance with a fifth-grade math and science curriculum.
Later, she sent him a video to show him what they had done with the piece, and he was really excited about it. This started a conversation about how they would like to work together in the future, so when Alexander started thinking about Piccolo, she gave him a call, and he began creating a new composition for Annex Dance. "I titled each section and gave him a little of what each section was about," Alexander says. "It gave him information about what I hoped for from the music, maybe the tone of it was darker or sparse, or I felt like this could drive something very rhythmic, or I felt like the music needed to be very atmospheric to support the idea."
Using a composition-in-progress opened up new possibilities for Alexander's choreographic choices. "A lot of times when I'm working with a piece of music, there is a definitive ending point, and I have to be finished with all I have to say at that moment if I've chosen to use that piece of music," she says. "Here, if I want to change something about the middle or extend the end or add something that I liked hearing to a different part of the piece, I can ask for all those things."