Salt Lake City’s Repertory Dance Theatre presents a program of diverse contemporary works

Linda C. Smith, artistic director of Salt Lake City’s Repertory Dance Theatre says she began dancing at age 3 and was hooked at an early age.

She’s spent 50 years with the company.

As a young dancer in Salt Lake City, she says “the time I spent in the studio was very magical. The stories, the images, the music transported me to a place where dreams were realized.”

“I discovered myself.”

Repertory Dance Theatre performs Friday, Jan. 16, at Mount Baker Theatre.

Nicholas Cendese, artistic associate with RDT, says he fell in love with the sensation of his body moving in space.

“The physicality and feeling of my body in motion is what has kept me dancing for so long. Learning new dance steps, new choreography, rehearsing those dances never got old because I loved using my body in new and different ways.

“While some dancers love the limelight and the attention that performing can bring, I’ve never been drawn to that. Moving fully on stage, with a group or a partner… it’s an amazing rush of experiences.”

For those who’ve not been to a contemporary dance performance, Smith says that “an audience wants to be “moved’; they want to experience something new but they don’t necessarily want to be threatened or completely mystified. I just tell people that they are in for a wonderful adventure.”

She says she likes to tell audiences to “Sit back, relax and let the wonderful energy, amazing movement and athleticism transport you.”

“Dance is an abstract art form that allows the artist to use mystery, allegory and ambiguity in unique and interesting ways,” says Cendese.

“I feel that many people don’t ‘like’ or ‘understand’ modern dance because it’s not easy to ‘get.’ But, for me, that’s what makes it so exciting. Each person can have their own ideas, views, feelings about the same dance and they are all correct. As a dancer, performer, choreographer, I love having the chance to present my own ideas and allowing each audience member to take what they want, connect with what they want, and respond to what they want.”

“I think we live in a time when people expect an easy answer or experience,” he says.

“We want to be entertained. Any art form that doesn’t do that is misunderstood and under-appreciated in today’s ‘So You Think You Can Dance’-era where all we want is catchy music, tricks, and skills that amaze us but don’t challenge us to think. “

“Anyone coming to see a modern dance performance should approach it with an open mind. You are allowed to respond to what you see in any fashion. Hopefully, that response will be enjoyment, engagement, and interest but not always.

“A modern dance is not about ‘getting’ a story, it’s about allowing the movement, music, physicality, performance wash over you and resonate with you in unique ways. Keeping an open mind and allowing yourself to ‘empathize’ with the dancers may bring you to experience the work in new and unexpected ways. We always try to create meaning out of what we see before us – that’s what it means to be human: we are meaning-making creatures.

“But when you watch modern dance, you don’t have to worry about what meaning you see. Everything is open to interpretation and your ideas, thoughts, responses are just as valid as someone else’s. It might be totally different, but that’s the power and uniqueness of modern dance.”

Smith says that RDT prides itself on its collection of more than 350 historical and contemporary dances that literally embody how it felt — and looked — to break from tradition with new expressions of society and culture.

Historians have recorded America’s story, she says, and reporters and pundits are still broadcasting it as it unfolds day-to-day. But what that story means, she adds, especially on the personal level, has never been told better than through the arts, especially, we at RDT think, through dance.

“Our collective story is more than a listing of facts or even of ideas. It’s also about how the narrative moved us then and how it moves us now. It’s why RDT regularly commissions cutting edge contemporary artists to make sure what we experience today is reflected on stage tomorrow” says Smith.

Friday’s performance includes works created in the 1920 to contemporary works created in 2014, including duets set to Brazilian-Indian music, a new commission by two Israeli artists — choreographer Noa Zuk and composer Ohad Fishof; works by Japanese dancer and choreographer Michio Ito; and a piece set to Ravel’s “Bolero” choreographed by Joanie Smith.

Finally, Smith believes that “dance is a very powerful thing.”

“For me, dance serves an important purpose. It has been used to unite peoples, heal people, entertain people but I believe that dance can also help people make connections with others, with society and history.”

“Dance can empower people and help us understand who we are and what we hope to become.”