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RDT 30TH ANNIVERSARY

Back in the mid-1970s, the Repertory Dance Theatre utilized the streets and alleys of Salt Lake City.

"It was a fund-raiser called `RDT: Rediscover Downtown,' " said artistic director Susan Smith. "We would walk around the area and perform on fire escapes, steps and back alleys for an audience who walked with us. We would also have an architect come with us to give short presentations on the different designs of the buildings. We were getting the audience reacquainted to the city."In the same spirit, the Repertory Dance Theatre will host an evening of music, dance and food for another fund-raiser, "RDT on Broadway" 30th anniversary gala, Saturday at the RDT performing studios, 158 W. Broadway (300 South). The event begins at 7 p.m. and will run until 11 p.m.

In addition to an RDT performance about 8:30 p.m., the night will also feature live music from the Joe Muscolino Band, an architecture exhibit, food from Brimley's Diner and a silent auction.

"We wanted to bring awareness to the area and make it fun and accessible," Smith said. "People need to get involved with art - whether through dance, architecture, visual or theater. I think people are still intimidated by modern dance. This is a way to get people closer to dance. And rather than having our 30th be a big, ritzy black-tie event, we wanted to be more imaginative."

And when more than one artist gets together, the imagination runs wild.

Artist Kazuo Matsubayashi and University of Utah architecture students are in the process of redesigning the RDT studios.

"I told them to get into our backstage boxes and pull things out," said Smith. "It's been fun for them to experiment."

Spackled tarps, mesh sculptures, past sets and props will decorate the studio, which will also feature a "behind-the-scenes" motif in the back alley, said Smith.

"We are trying to get the `backstage at Broadway' feel for the evening," she said. "It's been so much fun getting together and planning this. And we've been trying so hard to do something different with this funky building."

The Repertory Dance Theatre came to life in 1966 with a mission to decentralize, demystify and share the arts with everyone. It was one of the first professional American modern dance companies to reside outside New York City.

"We are always trying to find a way for people to get interested in the arts and try to get them responsible to keep the arts going," Smith said. "Dance is not elitist and distant. We open our back yards to the public.

"I get a little discouraged when people come away from a performance and say they didn't get the story," Smith continued. "There doesn't have to be a story. There are people out there who find comfort in something safe and predictable. That's why children are such a good audience. They are more open to the abstract."

Throughout its career, RDT has been the only modern dance company to be featured on the cover of Smithsonian; was the first Utah arts organization to receive an Advancement Grant from the National Endowment of the Arts; was the featured image for the 1992 International Tanz Festival in Vienna, Austria, and was also cited by dance historian Marcia B. Siegel as one of two dance companies that are the caretakers of the legacy of dance pioneer Doris Humphrey.

"I don't really dwell on the past, but I remember reminiscing with Bill Evans, a former member of RDT, and we got to talking about past pieces," Smith said. "And the more we talked, the more I got really excited about the fact this company is an artistic library. Things we did 30 years ago are still important issues, and we have the freedom to revive and recreate. Talking with Bill validated why RDT is in existence in the first place.

"I came away from that conversation with a renewed sense of purpose of what we meant to people in the past and what we will mean to people in the future," Smith said. "I'm excited about the future. It's not going to get any easier - with the funding cuts and major problems like that - but it will be exciting for today's dancers and the public to see what RDT will do in the next 30 years."

- TICKETS for the gala can be purchased by calling 322-4635 or 534-1000. Admission is $35 per person. The price includes dinner and entertainment. Tickets will also be sold at the door on a first-come, first-served basis.