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When you enter the sturdy, sizable house on Lake Street, surrounded by a big well-kept lawn, you know instantly that it's a home on which tender loving care has been lavished and that it reflects the character of its owners.

Here live modern dancers Ford and Melinda Evans with their son Linton, 6. Though dance has given them a life of challenge with some disappointments, there have been many joys and satisfactions, and Melinda declared that she has no sense of injustice."We have had rewards from our labors," she said. "This house is a kind of symbol. Dancers do work so hard, expend so much energy. When you are physical all day, you need something to compensate for it - incentives at home."

Ford was a leading dancer with the Repertory Dance Theatre from 1978 to 1985, a stalwart among the men and a sensitive performer. "I wish I could go out on stage again, run in circles and leap, then go off," he said. He has been teaching for five years in the University of Utah modern dance department, including one year as acting chairman. He's now artistic director of the U.'s Performing Dance Company ("Something I can develop from my own vision," he said).

When she and Ford first came to Utah, Melinda joined RDT TOO for class and performances, danced in special projects with Marina Harris, and worked part time at William B. Wood in Trolley Square. Since 1982 she too has been a member of RDT, with time out for Linton's birth.

She was born in Louisiana, one of identical twins. Her father was in oil exploration, and the family lived in Alaska and Canada for his business. Both Melinda and her twin Melissa took degrees in dance at the University of Colorado in Boulder, but Melissa branched off into biomechanics.

Ford was born in the Denver suburb of Littleton, where his father was an electrical engineer working for the space program, and his mother was deeply involved in the arts. At first more interested in athletics than anything - baseball, tennis and skiing - he planned a business career, but a class called Performance, taught by his brother at the University of Colorado Denver Center, piqued his interest. After taking time off to travel and work on the Western Slopes, he returned to college in Boulder at 23 and graduated at 24.

There he met Melinda. "I fell in love watching her in jazz class," he said. "We used to spend hours in the International House of Pancakes, discussing every aspect of dance!"

Ford danced with the Nancy Spanier Company while still in college, and Melinda went to San Francisco to study with Margaret Jenkins. At the time they married, they were driving to Denver every day to take ballet lessons with former ABT dancer Larry Boyette.

"Everyone discouraged me from going into dance," said Ford. "Why would I even want to do it, I would surely starve, they said. But Boyette used to say, `Every time I want to quit dancing, something keeps me in it.' It was the same with me - at low points, something positive would always happen. It's so even now. The phone will ring, and someone will ask me to come and teach or choreograph."

To make ends meet, Ford cleaned a recording studio every morning and a bank at night, and the two did a lot of house sitting. "We didn't have a honeymoon because we would miss too many classes," Melinda laughed.

On a day when he was particularly determined to leave dance, Ford saw an audition notice for RDT in the Denver paper. "Melinda and my mother both encouraged me to try, and I did win the audition and survived the tryout period," he said.

When they came to Salt Lake City, they had only Ford's salary as a dancer with RDT. "At first we lived in a hovel," said Melinda. Soon they were offered "a beautiful apartment" by a landlord who saw himself subsidizing the arts by giving them reduced rent. But Linton became a year old and the apartment on G Street had no yard.

"When we looked at the price of property in the Avenues, we just laughed," said Ford. "Then the Realtor brought us to see another house on this street, and then this house, which was cheap because it was falling apart.

"Architect Kip Harris and his wife Marina were our backup, and Kip said it was feasible to restore the house. We owned some property in Colorado, which we sold, and that helped us get in."

The couple have transformed the downstairs area during the past five years - tore out fake ceilings and restored the woodwork, chiseled up carpet, steamed off wallpaper, painted, put down hardwood, put up sheetrock, resurfaced walls and decorative features, and modernized the kitchen and bathroom, with new cabinets made by a friend. Most of the work they have done themselves.

"We spent several years under clouds of dust (we'd put on our good shoes after we stepped out of the house)," said Melinda.

"And there were holes in the floor big enough for the neighbor's cat to crawl in and curl up in the bathtub!" said Ford.

Among striking details are the fireplaces in the living room and downstairs bedroom, made of oak, tiles and mirrors. Everywhere are tasteful family antiques and accessories, even oriental rugs from Hong Kong, picked up at discount prices when PDC toured there. Like a good modern dance piece, the house looks light and uncluttered, every element contributing to its theme of understated elegance.

How did they accomplish this, after years as starving young dancers? Through good taste and judgment, and making the most of every resource. "We've had to prioritize," said Melinda, a small woman with tousled dark hair and a captivating manner. "We haven't done a lot of traveling, and though Ford likes to ski, he hasn't since we moved here. With our time easing up, we are thinking about camping."

The family does invest in Montessori schooling for Linton, because of its head start on learning, and lessons in music and dance.

"RDT was an enormous opportunity for me," said Ford. "You worked for everything you achieved, you were self-directed, not told what to do; but you saw dance from many points of view, all encompassing," he said.

"We're often asked, is it a major dance company, not being in New York? I don't think that matters. We are very proud of RDT. I still talk to Linda (Smith, artistic director of RDT) about the sense of many styles. I wouldn't want to trade my experience there, with a camaraderie, a closeness to individuals who have a common bond and goal."

"RDT is not money driven; there wasn't always a regular payroll (now there is). We even paid our own way on tour at times, but we kept the company going. The feeling of pride and belief goes beyond money," Melinda agreed.

The dancer's life, more than most, is divided into yearly segments, and Melinda has committed to one more year dancing with RDT - "but things are failing fast in this old body," she laughed.

"Then probably one more year so she and I can dance a concert together before we quit," said Ford, who is nearing 40.

"We must still hold onto our dedication," said Melinda. "Dancing is very hard work, with rehearsal, touring, injuries. But it still keeps unfolding, and I still dream about my roles, contemplating the magic of a gesture. I love performing, and it would be sad if that outlook changed."

"We help each other through our down times," Ford agreed. "I would say we have arrived at a state where we are optimistic more than idealistic."

Despite the challenges and difficulties of motherhood for a dancer, Melinda thinks she has the best of two worlds.

"I did put off motherhood, though I knew that one day I would be a mother. Finally we decided to take the risk of having a child. Not many of my dancing peers are having kids, and it was lonely - hard, too, because I was just beginning to get good roles in RDT. Many, even most, women dancers decide not to mix the two experiences.

"But I didn't plan to stop dancing when I had a child; I knew I would go on. At least no one was imposing expectations on me, least of all Ford. Now when I go on tour I just pick up and leave, and Ford is father and mother.

"Motherhood has given me a new sense of wonder in dance, there is more immediacy in my approach. I have more fatigue but also more emotion, and I feel free in a strange sort of way, it's freedom with responsibility, being a parent and a homeowner."

Both agreed that the new things coming up are magical for them. Ford will be studying with modern dance great Betty Jones through a university research grant. "And every year there are new works in RDT," said Melinda. "I like surprises, and it's exciting to tackle what comes up. Next year we have 14 weeks of touring, plus our home seasons and workshops.

"As we wind down our dancing careers, I think, what can I take with me from this experience? Beyond the expanded dance skills, we tend to underestimate the organizational skills we have acquired, the discipline we have developed and the self-motivation."