Repertory Dance Theatre's season is now in full swing after the successful opening production of Vanguard last month. --- Continuing its season tomorrow night, RDT will present Snapshots tomorrow evening and Saturday afternoon over at the Rose Wagner. The production takes an entertaining look at the urban environment around us all, with new and familiar choreography from Zvi Gotheiner and the RDT cast. Today, we're chatting with two of those cast members, Sarah Donohue and Nicholas Cendese, about their careers and their time with RDT, as well as the production.
Nicholas Cendese & Sarah Donohue
Gavin: Hey, guys First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Sarah: I grew up in Durango, Colo., where I enjoyed hiking, skiing, and mountain biking with my family. After receiving my BFA in Dance from the University of Arizona, I moved to Boulder, Colo., where I worked as a caregiver and also taught 17 dance classes a week to people of all ages. After two years, I moved to Salt Lake where I received my MFA in modern dance from the University of Utah and a certificate in Laban Movement Analysis. After graduate school, I taught at Utah Valley University for two years before getting hired with Repertory Dance Theatre. I am now in my third year with RDT. I live in Sugar House with my wonderful boyfriend/partner/better half, Joss, and our sweet border collie, Kine. I still enjoy hiking, skiing, and mountain biking in the beautiful Wasatch mountains.
Nicholas: I’ve been dancing with RDT for 10 years. I graduated from the U of U with a BFA in modern dance. I danced through high school and with Children’s Dance Theatre and was born and raised here in Salt Lake. I also co-direct RawMoves with Natosha Washington and teach for South Valley Creative Dance in Sandy and Miss Margene’s Creative Classroom in Taylorsville.
Gavin: How did you each take an interest in dance and what influenced you to start performing?
Nicholas: I started dancing in sixth grade because my mother told me I needed to do two activities during the summer. I was going to do a basketball camp, but I couldn’t think of a second thing to do so she suggested a dance class. She said I always wanted to dance when I was younger, I didn’t remember that, but I said yes to the dance class to get her off my back. I loved it. My first class was with Children’s Dance Theater. From there, I started dancing in high school, then got a scholarship to the U of U in dance. I didn’t ever really think performing was what I wanted to do. I was very shy, but I fell in love with the sensation of my body moving through space. Performing just kind of came along with the territory. To this day, I don’t really care if I’m onstage. Some of the best moments for me are in the studio, dancing and rehearsing when no one is really watching.
Sarah: I think I was always performing as a child, and then my interest in dance as a technique and area of study evolved later. My parents always had music playing, which encouraged me to dance. In fact, I remember many times that our family would dance together, each of us in our own specific ways. My parents encouraged me to pursue anything that I showed interest in—dance was my primary interest.
Gavin: How was it growing up learning the craft and how did the decision come about that you wanted to make a career out of it?
Sarah: Growing up in Durango, it was challenging to find any dance classes at all. When I was 10 years old, a small studio opened in a nearby town where I started taking ballet, jazz, and tap, which turned out to be clogging. Otherwise, my mom would drive me to dance conventions as far away as Albuquerque and Las Vegas, and she would take me to any dance performance within a day’s drive. I don’t remember making a conscious decision that dancing would be my career. It was just always what I did. It has always been who I am.
Nicholas: I didn’t really decide that I was going to go into dance until I got offered a scholarship to the U of U. I knew by my senior year that if I pursued dance, I would love to dance with RDT. I grew up watching the company and always thought it would be where I would want to end up.
Gavin: Both of you ended up going to the U to study dance. What made you choose the U and what was its program like for you each?
Nicholas: I knew people involved with the U program through CDT, and was able to visit and explore the program as a senior in high school. It was also very well publicized that the U had one of the top five dance programs in the country. I knew that I would be stupid to go somewhere else when something so great was in my own back yard. I loved my four years at the U. I loved every class, made great friends and was challenged every step of the way. It was the perfect place for me to be, and I still draw so much from my schooling there, even after being away for 10 years.
Sarah: I chose the U for my graduate studies because of its reputation. I looked into the program and saw that I would get to take technique everyday, study dance for camera, pedagogy classes, and I looked forward to the idea of writing a thesis. There are some incredibly intelligent and talented faculty who inspired and challenged me, and I learned a great deal from my graduate class of nine other people. One invaluable aspect of my graduate studies was certifying as a Laban Movement Analyst with the Integrated Movement Studies program. The tools I gained in this program have influenced my dancing, teaching, and performing ever since.
Gavin: How did you each find your way to RDT, and what was it like for you breaking into the company?
Sarah: After grad school, I auditioned for RDT, but I didn’t make it. Then, a short time later, I was asked to audition again with eight other women, but I didn’t make it. Then, two years later, after a dancer left the company, I contacted Linda and expressed my interest yet again. When I met with her, she asked me if I was sure I wanted to leave my full-time lecturer position at UVU. I think she knew my answer before she even asked the question. I was lucky enough to have my best friend, Aaron Wood, already dancing with the company when I joined. I knew the rest of the company, mostly through him, but in the past two years, I have come to feel like a part of the family. I remember feeling eyes on me the first year. I knew I had to push any insecurities aside and give it everything I had.
Nicholas: I had grown up watching the company dance, and many of the dancers were my idols and mentors/teachers. I took several summer workshops and the company definitely knew who I was. I was lucky enough to be invited to understudy with the company one summer and got to know the dancers better. I got an up-close idea of what company life was like and it helped solidify my desire to join the company. After all my past exposure to the company, it was a wonderful experience getting to be an official company member. But it was scary and very humbling. Being the new kid can be hard. Thankfully, I joined with four other dancers and the pressure was spread around! The first year is horrendously hard. There are a ton of new dances to learn and remember and perform. Often, you are doing them next to dancers who have performed them for years. You have to step up to their level right away. There’s a lot of feedback and constructive criticism. You have to take notes, apply them quickly, on top of everything else. It can be very overwhelming and difficult, but you push hard and work harder and you have to remember that this is what you worked so hard for. Each day gets easier and easier and, before you know it, you’ve been dancing with the company for 10 years and don’t know where the time went!
Gavin: When you first joined RDT, what was the first performance you were a member of, and what was the performing experience like for you?
Nicholas: My first performance with RDT was Interior/Exterior, which was a full evening of Zvi Gothiener’s works. Any RDT enthusiast would tell you, that was a blessed and amazing first show! Zvi’s work is luscious, full-bodied, and meaty. His pieces are some of the best things any dancer gets to perform because they are so visceral and physical. I got to perform sections from Chairs – a longtime dream – as well as perform in Glacier. There isn’t any experience quite like working with Zvi -- having my first moments on the company with him set a very clear path for me over the years. His teaching and coaching have helped me develop into the performer I am today.
Sarah: I will always remember my first performance with RDT, as I think most RDT dancers do. The show was Mystique. The piece was "Earth" by Paul Sanasardo, but the reason it stands out to me is because of how calm I felt. Up until getting into RDT, I had begun to doubt myself as a performer. I had auditioned for jobs many times without success, and although I absolutely loved my job as an educator at UVU, I was worried that I might not ever reach my dream of performing professionally. I was 29 years old and beginning to think that I just wasn’t meant to perform. Additionally, every time I did perform, I would get so nervous beforehand that the whole experience was rather unenjoyable. As I stood behind the curtain on my first opening night with RDT, I surprisingly felt completely peaceful. I was ready. It was as if all the fears and doubts had melted away. I had made it. I was a professional dancer. And at that moment, I began enjoying dance as I remember enjoying it in my living room as a child.
Gavin: How has it been working with each other over the years on various productions?
Sarah: Nick and I are the same age — actually, I’m a little bit older — but when I joined RDT, I looked up to him as an experienced leader and mentor. I have to admit, I was a little intimidated by Nick during my first year. He is real and honest. He doesn’t give undue compliments and he will let you know when you are off the count. And for these reasons and many more, I love him and appreciate what he brings to RDT. By fate of our height in vertical inches, Nick and I have been paired together in many dances. And here, my intimidation evolved into friendship. I have sat on his shoulder in Jose Limon’s A Time To Dance. We have been underwater sea-creature lovers, young lovers in Glacier, and even chance mechanisms decided that we should be partners in Gamut. Our latest duet is a fancy -- okay, goofy -- tango that we created for our Clean Air Lecture Demonstrations. To answer the question, it has been lovely!
Nicholas: I hate working with Sarah! No… just kidding. Sarah is the most gracious and generous person, both onstage and off. A huge highlight was getting to revisit Glacier, a dance I performed my first year on the company. Way back then, I watched Lynne and Andy do an amazing duet. Nine years later, that duet was passed to Sarah and me. It was a joy to learn with her and to get to know her body in a very intimate way. The duet is very sensual and fluid; for two dancers who haven’t worked together very long it could be very difficult. But Sarah is so open and willing to try new things and so receptive and easeful with her body, it was unlike any experience I’ve had before. I think, because of that duet, she and I are still very comfortable and secure with each other in a unique way, a way that wouldn’t be possible if we hadn’t done that duet.
Gavin: When did the two of you first find out about Snapshots, and what were your initial impressions about the show?
Nicholas: We’d been hearing about Snapshots for a long time. We knew that it would be a newer, more playful version of the Green Map project. I was very excited to lighten things up, get a little silly and playful with some of the same ideas we presented in Zvi’s Green Map project.
Sarah: I first heard about Snapshots at a company meeting where Linda described the season. I loved the name and her description. Linda’s effort in combining education, social and environmental awareness, and dance is inspiring. The show is fantastic.
Gavin: For those of us outside of the company, what's the process like in auditioning or trying out for various productions and what was it like for you finding out you'd be a part of this particular one?
Sarah: Auditions are rough. Wear your best leotard, and get your hair out of your face. Once you’re in RDT, there is more dancing than you can shake a stick at. We all get to dance in so many different ways that you don’t worry too much about getting into this or that. For the Snapshots show, the whole company is dancing their tails off!
Nicholas: RDT is made up of 8-9 company members and every show features every dancer. There isn’t a production in our season that doesn’t utilize all of the dancers in some way. We don’t have to audition for pieces – sometimes a dance will call for a smaller cast, in which case the best dancers are chosen for the job; however, things are always kept equal and balanced in some way. For Snapshots, Linda had the show planned out and she knew when people might need a break and couldn’t do things back to back. She also didn’t want a show with every dance featuring all eight dancers. So to keep things diverse, she assigned each dancer to certain sections. For example, these four do this, then these four follow with this dance, while the other dancers get ready for something else, etc. It’s a very balanced process.
Gavin: How has it been for you both working with Zvi Gotheiner, working with both old material as well as new works you've choreographed yourselves?
Nicholas: I haven’t had any kind of a hand in re-working Zvi’s ideas. Aaron and Sarah have, so they can talk about it more. But it has been fun to see some of the changes happen that lighten up the pieces and set them in a new light. There’s more wit and subtle humor than before.
Sarah: I have gained so much from working with Zvi. I have taken concepts from his technique class and his rehearsal process to build on in the future. Dancing Glacier was an absolute pleasure. The intricacies of the choreography were a delight. In working with Zvi on the newer works, I have found the importance of "making the movement delicious," as Zvi would say. He really pulls the details out of every part of the movement, and if it isn’t delicious, it changes into something that is.
Gavin: For each you personally, what has been your favorite piece from Snapshots?
Sarah: My favorite piece from Snapshots is "Toxic Boogie," choreographed by Nathan Shaw. It’s a super-slick hip-hop piece where I get to freestyle and work out my 6-step.
Nicholas: I really like Sarah’s reworking of "Community Garden." I think it has a very different feel from the rest of the show and it allows the dancers to be quite and simple -- something I forget I can do. It’s refreshing in a way and very peaceful. I appreciate having that moment amidst the crazy back and forth of the rest of the show.
Gavin: What are your thoughts going into opening night and about the performance itself?
Nicholas: I am excited for people to see this show. I don’t know if people realize, but we build these shows from the ground up. While we have taken some of Zvi’s ideas, things are really brand-new. It takes a tremendous amount of planning and preparing on Linda’s part and a lot of rehearsal and focus on the dancers’ part. I am looking forward to sharing a playful and educational show with an audience.
Sarah: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” This show has turned out to be a bit of an endurance test. Out of 16 dances, I am in 12. We have eight shows, with two shows on Thursday and Friday. It will be great!
Gavin: Going local, what's your take on the Utah dance scene, both good and bad?
Sarah: There is a huge arts scene in Salt Lake, and the community here loves dance. There are always plenty of opportunities to see dance and participate in dance, which is great. At the same time, Salt Lake can reach a saturation point where 3 or 4 dance performances are taking place on the same weekend. Unfortunately, this decreases the size of all the audiences and makes it hard for each group to present work.
Nicholas: This could take pages to answer. I think Sarah and I have a unique experience: We are a part of a longstanding, well known dance company that is a pillar of the Salt Lake Arts scene. We both are also involved in producing and directing our own companies, RawMoves and My Turkey Sandwich, that are smaller, more independent in nature. I think the independent dance scene can be very fractured at times, and it is hard for the small dance elements in SLC to come together and work toward a common goal. I think some elements in the independent dance scene are too quick to judge, write-off, and discredit each other’s work, as well as work of the established dance companies. At the same time, I think the larger established dance companies can really be pushed by the independent dance scene and the things we do. I think we can model a new way of thinking about dance and audience. I think we can push the establishment to think outside the box and strive for something new.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Nicholas: I don’t know… I think we are struggling in a time when the arts don’t really seem relevant to our lives and, therefore, get pushed to the side. I wish we could find a common ground and way to advocate and educate about the power the arts have, dance in particular, to speak to our everyday experiences.
Sarah: Dance, as with any art form, can only grow with an exchange of ideas from people with diverse backgrounds from different parts of the world. The arts in Utah need to take advantage of the fact that we are located in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and bring people in with new ideas, and fresh perspectives.
Gavin: What's your opinion on other local dance companies and the work they're doing to promote the art?
Sarah: I think all of the local companies promote dance from a different perspective. Ballet West, RW, RDT, as well as all the independent companies, approach dance from a unique place and really give Salt Lake everything that it could need in terms of dance. If there isn’t a company promoting a certain dance genre, there are most likely classes that fulfill that need.
Nicholas: I have the utmost respect for anyone who produces and directs their own work – whether it’s Ririe-Woodbury, the Sugar Space or DTC. No matter how big or small, it takes so much time, effort, dedication, hard work, and guts.
Gavin: What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into professional dancing for a career?
Nicholas: You have to love it more than anything else. You have to be willing to make sacrifices and to let things go. You have to have a tough skin and you have to want it more than anything else.
Sarah: Be seen as much as possible. Take classes and workshops, and go to shows. If you want a career as a professional dancer, you have to support the art form. Then, be confident and be yourself. Getting into a company is also about being the right fit. Ask yourself if the company is the right fit for you and if you are the right fit for the company.
Gavin: What can we expect from both of you over the rest of the year and going into next?
Sarah: I am looking forward to the rest of our season. We have a wonderful lineup of pieces for our spring show Passages. I plan on dancing with RDT for many years to come.
Nicholas: Natosha Washington, my partner-in-crime at RawMoves, and I get the honor of creating a brand-new piece for RDT. We are very excited to work with the company to create something unique and special that shows RDT at its best.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Nicholas: Just Snapshots!
Sarah: The RDT Community School offers a variety of adult classes, including Prime Movement, Modern, Zumba, SOMA, Beginning Ballet, Flamenco, Ballroom, and African. For more info, see our Website. My Turkey Sandwich, (directed by myself and Aaron), presents a dance-theatre adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper Feb. 3, 4 and 5 at the Rose Wagner Black Box Theatre. This show is supported by the RDT Link Series.
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