If the process by which Einy Åm's multimedia dance production DRYPP made its way to a Utah stage was a long one, that seems only fitting. The entire concept, after all, was inspired by objects that take millions of years to build.
The Norwegian choreographer traces the origin of DRYPP back two years, to conversations she had with her father, composer Magnar Åm. "He talked a lot about a trip to a stalagmite cave," she recalls, "where he was impressed with the idea of how long it takes for one to be created. One little drop every thousand years. There's this very expanded sense of time."
Magnar Åm's composition became the inspiration for DRYPP—the Norwegian spelling of "drip"—and provided Einy Åm with her first challenge: adapting her father's unique musical style to something that would work in a movement piece. "It's a very particular style," Åm says, "sometimes atonal, some tension and friction there. Some people compare it to scary movie music. Subconsciously, I'm aware that it's not everybody's taste. I have an underlying intention of trying to translate this music into something that's more familiar, to bring people into it. But his style is something I grew up with, so it's something that's very inspirational for me, an internal understanding that guides how I put it together choreographically."
The next, more concrete phase came during a 2016 intensive three-week residency in Norway at a location above the Arctic Circle. The treeless, barren landscape became part of the visual language for the piece, and suggested bringing another artistic component into it: video. Working with photographer/videographer Tyler Sparks—who shot footage in the Norwegian Arctic and eventually in Florida Caverns State Park using drones—Åm began juxtaposing bold red colors with the geography of the filmed locations. "We decided we wanted to play with the idea of either being one with the landscape, or really standing out," Åm says.
She also recognizes that there's a challenge when integrating video into a dance performance, so that the projected images don't become an audience member's focus at the expense of the dancers on stage. DRYPP weaves the video in and out of the production, alternately playing in isolation and serving as either a complement or counterpoint to the movement. "Sometimes it's the same thing happening in two different places," Åm says of the juxtaposition, "sometimes becoming chaotic on purpose, to break it up a little bit. But I'm okay with video drawing attention sometimes, and with dancers drawing attention. You want integration so that the dancers aren't overwhelmed. This piece is one way for me to play with that, and try to solve that problem."
After additional development in New York and a second residency in Norway, DRYPP ultimately premiered in Hammerfest, Norway, in March 2017, with music by University of Utah faculty member Michael Wall supplementing the 20-minute composition by Magnar Åm to flesh out the 60-minute performance. But Wall wasn't the only Utah connection that eventually led Einy Åm to Salt Lake City's Dance Theatre Coalition and producer Amy Caron. One of the dancers in Einy's EyeKnee Coordination company, Stephanie Sleeper, is also a Utah native, and an alum—like Caron—of the U's Modern Dance program. "Stephanie and I have stayed in touch," Caron says; "Einy and I had never met. But about a year and a half ago, [Sleeper] said, 'You two girls should get to know each other.' And it was like, 'Hi,' but we were probably busy working on other projects."
In May of this year, Sleeper touched base with Caron again, and commented that among the many things she was juggling was this project called DRYPP. Åm soon got in touch with Caron via email, noting that she was looking to tour the piece, and wondering if Caron was looking to produce anything. "It was a right time, right moment kind of thing," Caron says. "I liked that Einy is an artist that hasn't been seen here in Utah. And I also liked how much time and development has been put into the work. Because we're so small, I really want to produce high-quality work, and work with people who are experienced producers of their own work, and I want to see their investment in it. Einy had all of those ingredients. [DRYPP] was really prepared and ready to go."
The only question became one of finding a theater space, and the Rose Wagner Center was available, but with the caveat that it would have to be a mid-week slot rather than the more popular weekend dates. Yet Caron is happy to be offering the show to local audiences, as well as helping with the mutual support of dance artists that allows "really good prep for Einy to be doing this work again in New York; having this show helps her next show." It was a gradual, steady process, but the result of such processes can be something beautiful.