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BYU dancEnsemble bringing a whole new kind of fall concert

Dancers with dancEnsemble sought inspiration from the art work of Heloise Crista for their fall concert.
Dancers with dancEnsemble sought inspiration from the art work of Heloise Crista for their fall concert.

When Kelli Thredgold discovered a teeny tiny Heloise Crista sculpture for sale, she knew where she could find inspiration for dance.

"I just fell in love with it," Thredgold said. "I loved the simplicity of it and the fact that I could make it my own story."

The BYU dancEnsemble choreographed dances for its fall concert with each dance based on one of Heloise Crista's architectural sculptures.

The students and faculty members took a field trip to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in Arizona and spoke with Crista about her inspiration for the works.

The choreographers collaborated with composers at BYU to create a new kind of fall concert with 95 percent completely original work. The concert will be broadcast on BYUtv, also a rare and exciting occurrence for the lower profile Dancensemble.

"Because the project is with sculpture, and being able to use composers to do original music, I wanted something that was going to be more contemporary dance-oriented instead of (in) the popular vein or the entertainment vein," said Ric Chitwood, supervisor to the composers on the project.

Chitwood has been working with dancers since 1973 and has never been to a concert with this much original music, which he considers a pretty big deal. He's not the only one who thinks that.

Dance faculty member Karen Jensen did a documentary on the project that she will enter in film contests and show at National Dance Organization conferences.

"The magnitude of this whole thing has been bigger than the students are used to," Jensen said.

Jensen loved seeing all of Crista's work and the students drawing inspiration from it.

"What surprised me is the depth of choreography that has come from this," Jensen said. "It's not good choreography. It's great choreography. Some of them have made real personal connections and made something better than average."

When director Pam Musil first viewed Crista's sculptures and came up with the idea, she knew that type of choreography could be made possible through her students.

"My imagination was captured by the sculptures of Heloise Crista," Musil said. "My breath was taken away with each new encounter. These works literally called to me. In a split moment of crystal-clear vision and inspiration, the seeds were planted for an evening-length concert in celebration of Crista's works."

During the huge collaboration project, the dancers, faculty members, composers and even modern moving set designers had to learn the language of those they were trying to team up with.

"My favorite part is that I didn't talk to the composers one-on-one," Chitwood said. "I tried to make the choreographers do that, so they learn to collaborate and work with a musician. A lot of them have never done that before."

Thredgold said the whole project coming together seamlessly is what surprised and pleased her the most.

"I never thought I would have this opportunity to have a set designer, work with a sculptor and composer, to have my say of who would be in my piece," Thredgold said. "I'm having a very professional experience with this concert."

Student composer Daniel Johnson said working with the choreographers has challenged him to see beyond his own tunnel vision as a musician.

"It pushed me into certain directions where I normally wouldn't have gone," Johnson said. "The end product is really cool. It is really fresh and different."

The inspiration behind it all said her inspiration for her pieces comes from one's individual development into something more than your own life at the moment, which could make a truly great performance based on the idea of being.

"This was the only way I could help them was not with the dance but just to tell them more about the sculptures and what the meanings were," Heloise Crista said. "What I had meant to be expressing. They were all based on ideas. The idea was hard to come by because they were based on esoteric ideas."

She said when the dance students came to Arizona, she was amazed by them and the way they conducted their work.

"It's pretty deep stuff," Crista said. "Those kids were very smart and asking really good questions, and I was really impressed with them. I am going this weekend, and it will be interesting to see what they came up with."

The concert started Thursday and runs today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee showing on Saturday in room 169 of the Richards Building Dance Studio Theatre. Ttickets cost $6 and can be purchased online at or by calling 801-422-4322.