Susan Hadley says her main concern while pulling together a dance piece built around bluegrass music was not to choreograph a "hoe-down."

"I wanted to work with a piece using bluegrass music, but I didn't want it to be a bunch of country bumpkins two-stepping around the hay," Hadley told the Deseret News. "I hope my piece isn't condescending. I don't want it to boil down to denim and boots."

The former principal dancer with the Mark Morris Dance Group was in Salt Lake City to stage her work "Blue Grass" with Repertory Dance Theatre, which will have its Utah premiere as part of RDT's "Souvenir" performance. The program will run Thursday, April 5, through Sunday, April 8, in the new 500-seat Jeanne Wagner Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. Broadway (300 South).

Evening curtain for April 5-7 performances will be 8 p.m. Sunday's performance will begin at 2 p.m. Tickets are available through all ArtTix outlets or by calling (801) 355-ARTS (2787).

Hadley had choreographed the 22-minute work for the famed Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 1998. She remembered how founder and then-artistic director Lou Conte approached her for the new work.

"Lou just told me, 'No jazz,' " Hadley said with a laugh. "He said they have so many jazz works that they really wanted something different. And they wanted to take the work to Europe."

Hadley had been listing to acclaimed violinist/folk fiddler Mark O'Connor and fell in love with the music. O'Connor's 1991 album "New Nashville Cats," which featured dobro sensation Jerry Douglas, mandolinist Sam Bush and banjoist Bela Fleck, just to name a few, served as the starting point for Hadley.

"I wanted to use bluegrass music," she said. "And Lou and I both felt that would be a great way to represent America in Europe. The music itself is high energy, artistic and has a very friendly, Midwestern feel."

As Hadley ran movements through her mind, she found the universal message of unity, community and camaraderie would fit the intricate music well. "It has six movements and I use nine dancers. I basically wove the dances around the idea of playing outdoors. It's about how things happen out of what we do when we're having fun. And it's about connection. And the music is easy to respond to, especially the musicality and virtuoso. I was listening to the music and got my inspiration."

Hadley, who grew up in school choirs, dance classes and eventually went into sports, said she felt the pull to modern dance after she began ballet pointe classes.

"I didn't have the right physique for ballet," she said with a grin. "This was mid-junior high. And I knew I would never have a ballet-dancer body. So I began doing sports and then moved to modern dance, which, to me is the perfect combination of sports and dance."

Throughout her career, Hadley has found herself crossing over from modern to ballet, however. Not only was she part of the Mark Morris Dance Company, but she also worked as rehearsal director for Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Project. She has also received choreographic fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Ohio Arts Council. And she is currently on the faculty of the Ohio State University's department of dance.

Hadley hooked up with the Repertory Dance Theatre back in 1999, thanks to a former RDT dancer, Lisa DuPaul. "Lisa was at Ohio state and asked me if I had sent dance videos to RDT. I said I did." DuPaul, along with another RDT member, Michael Kenny Bruce, then made contact with her former boss, RDT artistic director Linda C. Smith.

"Lisa and Michael called me and told me that I needed to see some of Susan's works," Smith said during a break in rehearsals. "I told them I really liked what she had sent and was very intrigued by her dance credentials."

Smith said she wanted to contact Hadley immediately, but had to wait for the right time. "We needed a program that would do her work justice," Smith said. "And we also knew that we wanted her to stage an existing piece, because it's exciting and a bit scary working with a choreographer we haven't worked with before."

But once Hadley came to Salt Lake City, she and Smith clicked. "She is so wonderful," said Smith. "She is a warm person who tries to bring out the best of the dancers in a very clear, charming way. She's not like some who come in and become dictator. She's a comrade rather than a disciplinarian."

Smith said when she was planning the "Souvenir" program, she realized "Blue Grass" would fit right in. The other works presented along with the Hadley work include Jim Moreno's "View" and Yacov Sharir's experimental work "Faces," which premiered last season.

"The evening's program is, in my view, a celebration of all the different facets of who the Repertory Dance Theatre are," said Smith. " 'Blue Grass' is our birthday present to ourselves for this 35th anniversary year."


E-mail: scott@desnews.com