If you want to study dance in Utah, or perform in a company, or see fine programs, you must head for Salt Lake City, right?
Not so, say several women who run dance companies off the beaten track: community companies, sometimes loosely connected with local colleges; companies run with tiny budgets, but lots of sweat equity.All these women have significant training and performing experience, some of it with major national companies; and they are dedicated to extending the boundaries of excellence in dance study and performance throughout Utah.
Three of them, featured in this article - Vivian Kosan Bagnall, Sandra W. Emile and Carolyn Gwyther - came here from afar. (Watch for upcoming profiles of Utah-trained artistic directors Jacqueline Colledge of Utah Regional Ballet and Candy Fowler of Southwest Dance Theatre.)MANTI - When Lewis and Vivian Kosan Bagnall drove into Manti five years ago, seeking a home to buy, they immediately noticed workmen moving in and out of a proud old building on Main Street.
"We went inside and saw that they were ripping out walls and floors, demolishing the building's interior," said Kosan. "I could tell it was a great old building. I ran to the City Hall, and asked them how much they were spending to tear it up. They said $10,000 to $12,000. I said, give me that money and I will restore it and use it for a school."
From this serendipitous beginning developed the Turning Pointe, home of the Central Utah Ballet School. Springy hardwood floors were finished, and walls rearranged to provide studio and office space for about 120 students of all ages. The building began life 115 years ago as Manti's first city hall, and costumes and equipment are stored in the basement, where pioneer prisoners once lodged.
Kosan is a can-do person who thrives on a challenge. "If any one says to me, you can't do that, I say, Oh yeah? Watch me!" she said, her eyes flashing.
Last Christmas Kosan directed the Central Utah Ballet's third annual "Nutcracker" at North Sanpete High School in Mt. Pleasant. The project involved 200 dancers and actors not only from her own school but from all over the county, and points north and south; and not least, her own five children and her husband.
She's proud that the production is nearly all homegrown, with fabric for elaborate costumes and building materials coming from local stores. On one "Nutcracker" costume, the girl who would wear it,her mother and her married brother sewed 3,000 beads. "I like them to do that, because it makes them think," said Kosan. "She said, `I must dance well enough to match my costume.' "
Each spring Central Utah Ballet stages a major concert, in which she finds parts for everyone. In June 1991 they danced "Giselle," with a cast of 130, including 45 Wilis. (Sweat shirts popped up around town, inscribed "I got the Wilis when I danced in `Giselle.' "). This year's concert on June 6 will feature a lecture demonstration with excerpts from previous productions, concluding with "Les Sylphides."
In summer 1991, Kosan choreographed and directed the Manti Temple Centennial dance festival, whose finale involved 4,000 performers and required a year's travel around the state, rehearsing participants. The company was invited to dance at the summer Olympics in Barcelona and the world's fair in Seville but couldn't justify the expense involved.
Vivian Kosan was born in the Panama Canal Zone, where her father was in the military. (She is the survivor of triplets, whose collective energy seems somehow to have become concentrated in her!) "I was raised in a convent, in foster homes, and I spoke Spanish, I didn't learn English until I was 10," she said. "My ballet teacher was Dorothy Hall, who had danced with the great Fokine." Further study took her to the Royal Academy of Dance in London. She's studied with some of the great figures of ballet, and for eight years she directed the Billings (Montana) Civic Ballet.
Kosan is still a little bemused that ballet has taken off so successfully in Manti. "At first people probably thought, look at this crazy woman who's come here stirring up the town, but many kids have begged their parents for lessons. One little girl shovels manure in the barn to pay.
"It gives me great joy to feel that I am a part of these kids' lives. While teenage pregnancy is widespread in central Utah, not one of our girls has ever gotten pregnant. Others may be out dragging Main Street, but our kids are too busy. They won't become great, but when they grow up and have kids of their own, they are likely to support the arts."
Central Utah Ballet teaches a full scale of ballet technique, and rules are strict: no missed classes, no tardiness, a long list of dress and behavior requirements; and when it's rehearsal time, don't even think of begging off. "I am strict that they should finish what they start," she said. "A student doesn't have to be the best to do his best. I teach that talent is not just a gift, it's work. You can't rely on talent alone, that cripples you. You must trust in education."LOGAN - Sandra Emile, a vibrant, pretty redhead with a mischievously crooked smile, is the upbeat leader of the Cache Valley Civic Ballet, now in its 10th season.
"The company is divided into a senior group 15 and older, and juniors 11 and older," she said. "We have 41 dancers right now, including two boys. Our yearly audition is open to everyone, and we have gained members from Brigham City and other neighboring towns, Idaho and Wyoming. We have a dedicated board of directors, all volunteers, who give hours and hours to the mechanics of running the company. I have never seen a better board anywhere! But the artistic decisions are strictly up to me.
"And while we are very non-profit, we have never been in the hole. We have wonderful support from the Utah Arts Council, one of the most active, viable arts councils in the United States. I have been in other states, and believe me, I know.
"When we began we had 14 members, about the caliber of our present junior company. Many girls love ballet and want to dance, but they didn't invest the time, because there was no outlet. Now with a place to perform, they have a brass ring to reach for."
Emile was born in Danbury, Conn. "My father was with IBM, and he sought transfers where there would be good dancing lessons," she said. "I was very fortunate to start lessons with Alexis Kosoloss, a Russian, who played violin while you did the exercises. He was very strict, and he taught only students he personally enjoyed, in the grand ballroom of a hotel in Kingston, N.Y. It was then that I fell in love with ballet.
"I was lucky to find wonderful teachers all over the country who reflected Russian training. But I give my youngest students Cecchetti-based teaching, because it's a good foundation, it develops flexibility and strength gradually for students who can only take once or twice a week, and they have little trouble shifting over to the Russian style later."
Emile is also conscious of making the exceptional dancer strong enough so she can go on, if she has the endowment and qualifications. She has sent dancers on to Mary Day at Washington (D.C.) Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Birmingham and Atlanta Ballets.
After studying at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, Emile was an apprentice with New York's American Ballet Theatre, before a knee injury sidelined her. She guested with regional companies in the South, especially in Alabama, and settled with the Huntsville Ballet, whose director was "wonderful, my model, a great inspiring teacher, nothing too big to tackle. He had a of way turning people on to dance, and everyone needs that."
It was in Huntsville that she met her husband, Mark Emile. "He was the orchestra director down there, and a concert violinist, and I was dancing Giselle," she said. He's now director of the USU Symphony Orchestra, and continues to concertize.
"I was very nervous about coming to Logan," Emile confessed. "The Mississippi is still a kind of invisible barrier; Eastern artists tend to stay East, and Westerners dance in the West, and I feared that Cache Valley was isolated. Luckily, my experience here has exploded all those myths for me."
The company recently moved from its original home in the old Whittier School to the Bullen Center arts restoration in downtown Logan, where they have four studios, six teachers and 260 students. When it's completed, CVCB will dance its shows in the restored Ellen Eccles Theater.
In late November, CVCB performed its ninth annual "Nutcracker," using Emile's choreography, with a cast of 80-85. The only imports are such male dancers as Mark Lanham, Webster Dean or Jay Richards. The company involves the community in party scene parts, and Emile adds new variations and choreography to keep "The Nutcracker" fresh. Then she may don a costume to dance a supporting role.
The Cache Valley Civic Ballet will dance its version of Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" in the Chase Fine Arts Center at USU, on April 3, 4 and 6 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 4. This is a repeat from last year, when the production premiered.PRICE - Ballet Repertory Ensemble, Inc. is the creation of Carolyn Gwyther (rhymes with "wither"), who teaches dance at the College of Eastern Utah. The ensemble draws upon intermediate and advanced dancers of all ages, primarily from Carbon and Emery counties.
Gwyther came to Utah from Indiana, where dancing and teaching opportunities were plentiful. But nowadays her classes and company serve an area of eastern Utah the size of the whole state of Indiana. "Some of our kids drive as much as 70 miles round trip for their lessons, from towns like Green River, Emery, Castle Dale, Huntington, Carbonville and Wellington," she said.
"We have wonderful dance here, there are so many talented kids who were just waiting for a chance to develop. Very soon after they began taking lessons they wanted to perform, so we started the company. Now CEU has about 75 students in its dance department - not bad for a school of 2,000! In addition, the junior program has more than 100 students.
"Ballet Rep's budget is very low - no salaries, we prefer to do it as a labor of love. We are so fortunate to have the support of the college administration. All the facilities are donated, but the college benefits because we bring in all these community people."
Many volunteers handle the company's marketing and advertising, help backstage as technical personnel, sew costumes and make sets. Gwyther choreographs, and designs the costumes. She's assisted by Kandice Olsen of the CEU dance staff, and Ruth Jernigan, a local dance enthusiast.
Gwyther's husband Tim, who manages the Huntington power plant, is an enthusiastic adjunct to Ballet Rep. He helps with performances, runs the video recorder, takes photographs and drives on tour.
Born in Boise, Idaho, and raised in the West, Gwyther attended the San Francisco Ballet summer school. "From seventh grade on, I lived as a companion to elderly women during the summer, for board and room," she said. After apprenticing with the San Francisco Ballet she came to Utah, where she met her husband, then moved to the Midwest.
Living in Indiana, Gwyther danced in Chicago, also with the South Bend Civic Ballet, and taught ballet classes for St. Mary's and Notre Dame, including teaching fancy footwork to the football team.
In 1981, Price was not Gwyther's choice as her next career destination; indeed, she confessed to some tears when she knew she would be coming here. But she now sees that Price is a great opportunity.
"By spring of 1982 I was bored to death. I called the college and asked about teaching, and they let me start right away. I have been on faculty for four years, and I've learned that God does not distribute talent according to the size of the community," she said. "What we're trying to do is stress the joy of movement, give students a positive experience and develop deep appreciation.
"Ballet Rep dancers get a great deal of performance experience - three concerts a year and touring. This spring we created a piece on child abuse, and the local agency on child abuse has given us the money to take it to Emery High and Uintah Basin High in Vernal. We are trying to coordinate with the CEU campus in Blanding, to exchange programs and teaching with their Native American dance company."
The company, organized in 1984, gives a Christmas concert each year highlighted by Act II of "The Nutcracker." In 1991, cast members ranged in age from 7 to 52. Favorites over the years have included "Sleeping Beauty Act III" (Aurora's Wedding), the first movement of Balanchine's "Serenade," a Phantom ballet based on "Phantom of the Opera," "Parisienne Suite" with excerpts from "Gaite Parisienne," and Pachelbel Canon. "Three students choreographed "Kabuki Songs" in 1988, and we revived and performed it at BYU this spring," said Gwyther.
On May 13-16, Ballet Rep will dance "Sleeping Beauty Act III," "Fanfare for a Common Man," a jazz piece in three movements; "Desecration of Innocence," the premiere of their child abuse piece; and "Vivandiere" ("The Canteen Keeper"), which they will again dance in July, in a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Price's formal organization as a town.