Continuing their already amazing 2016-17 season, Repertory Dance Theatre presents their latest family-friendly show Brio
at the Rose Wagner. The showcase features performances from Shapiro & Smith, including their 1997 piece "Turf," 2012's "Jack," the fantastic "Bolero" and "A Dance With Two Army Blankets." Before the show's run kicks off on Nov. 17, we chat with company dancer Ursula Perry about her career and time with RDT, as well as her thoughts on this performance. (All pictures provided courtesy of RDT.
Gavin: First thing, tell is a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Houston, Texas where I received all of my formative dance training: a beginning competitive studio, Bonnie Siscoe School of Dance, which ignited my fire for dance; to my intermediate training at Royal Academy of Fine Arts that allowed me to realize what possibilities were for me as a dancer; to very formal training at Houston Ballet Academy, where I learned what was needed to become the kind of dancer I wanted to be. I then completed the University of Utah Ballet department's program, and began to travel the U.S. searching for the right fit artistically, physically and mentally. I found RDT, and I could not be more grateful.
When did you first take an interest in dancing and how was it for you getting into it growing up?
I was born severely pigeon-toed. My mother decided to put me in dance to naturally correct the problem. Little did she know! It was instant love. I knew from a very young age that this was what I had to give to the world. It made me happy, and I knew I reached people by doing it. When you find your purpose so early in life, it is such a blessing, and at times [a] curse!
What originally drew you more toward ballet?
It was an answer to accuracy, a sort of door that would allow me to do what I loved without question. Ballet is technique. It is this remarkable gateway to the average audience, who often has been conditioned to what dance is supposed to be. It was also something that deep down (at the time) I knew I could never be. My body, turn out and overall physique was not conducive to what the mold of a ballerina was. I wanted to crush it! Make it mine. Knowing I could never do it successfully the way I wanted (i.e. in a reputable, well-funded company with roles that fueled me and not just in the corps de ballet), it became a stepping stone to figuring out how I could make dance
, everything it was inside of me, an actuality.
After training at the Houston Ballet Academy, you came to the University of Utah. What made you choose the U and how was their program for you?
At the time, the ballet program was rated in the top five in the U.S. I had a friend who previously entered the program and raved about it. My mother was very clear that I had to go to college! It was not an option. So I looked for a program that would actually give me what I considered an education. I was told no often. Very often, and worked for every role I got. It prepared me for what the real world of dance is like, and for that, I am forever grateful.
How did you transition into modern dance? Was it easy to grasp after ballet or much harder?
It was not easy. Remarkably, given my background, I thought I would transition to modern dance with great ease. It was my work with RawMoves (Natosha Washington and Nick Cendese) after dancing in multiple ballet companies that changed my world. When you are given the liberty to truly dance how you feel, it opens up so many doors to the meaning of movement. RDT has sort of honed in on the historical and classical aspects of modern and contemporary dance. I not only feel as though I have so much to pull from, but I am also still learning, and that is everything I could have ever hoped for at this point in my career.
As mentioned, prior to RDT, you'd been a part of a few different companies like Movement Forum and RawMoves. What was your time like performing around SLC?
Such a rich artistic community. I think now, especially, dance companies are thriving with such nuance and innovative prowess. Though there is an underestimated tone on what is put out there at times, what is most important is that people are creating and have a vast community in which to share.
How did the opportunity come about to join RDT?
There was an opening. I was dancing in Raw Moves with friends that were in the company at the time, and they suggested I audition. I was not sure that I wanted to be locked into a contractual obligation, but I took the plunge and I am glad I did!
What was it like when you first joined the company?
There are egos to navigate, new choreography to learn. Doubt that you can bring such historical work back to life. Doubt in yourself. Navigating what your role will be. Shedding what you think your role will be—it is, as everything is, a journey. A journey in finding out who you really are at your most vulnerable. A journey in shedding all that is unnecessary to be a part of something so much greater.
You've been with the company for three years now. What have been some of your favorite performances there since joining?
Performing with Linda C. Smith herself in "Jukebox!" We are lucky in that we are in charge of modern dance history. To share the stage with someone who not only has dedicated her life to the art form I am most passionate about but is also still not afraid to live life to the fullest was such a joy. Most fulfilling? My role in our most recent performance of Missa Brevis
. The second time around with live music and choir, I had a richer and visceral sense of what the intent was behind the piece when it was created. It gave me an overwhelming sense of pride. I was so honored to be apart of such a remarkable piece of history.
What were your first impressions of Brio when it was announced for this season?
Whoa! Literally, whoa! It is jammed with athleticism. And I am excited to see what audiences feel after this show. We, as dancers, are very challenged within the work. It will be an exciting evening for all ages, and I hope people leave invigorated and full of joy when they leave the theater.
How has it been working with your fellow dancers to put the show together?
This group has been together for a while now. At this point, we are a well-oiled machine. It is a beautiful thing to watch history being made and preserved with people who share a great passion with you. There was a moment when we all were iffy about whether or not we could get the show up in time with touring and teaching. Not a couple of days later we all looked at each other and knew we were going to be a part of something that was not only fun for us,
but fun for the people we are sharing it with. There is nothing like that. It is so exciting!
What would you say is the performance you're looking forward to the most in this show?
It will be different every performance. That is what is so exciting to me. We are juggling stamina, intent, comedy and the story we are to tell. Some of the pieces are being performed for the second time for me. With greater understanding and perspective, it is most exciting to rediscover. That is all I will give you without giving anything away; you have to come see the show!
What are your thoughts going into opening night?
Mostly I am grateful. Every performance is another way of getting to share a part of what fuels me with the audience. I want to spread hope, joy. I want to make people feel, and think. Going into the opening night I just want to be my most authentic self. I guess the rest will come.
What can we expect from you going into next year?
Gratitude and celebration. This whole season, to me, represents celebration, and what we are working towards into the next year will be just that.