As the sun set on September 5, its golden light illuminated a masked dancer, casting long shadows that fell on audience members watching her from blankets and benches spaced six feet apart. The dancer’s arms and legs crossed and uncrossed, mimicking the freeway overpasses rising above the group that had gathered in this industrial area of downtown Salt Lake City. The sound of cars whirring overhead mixed with live music, all of it echoing off the area’s concrete columns and warehouses.
This alum-organized dance event, called INTERsect, was designed as a special collaboration between Rowland Hall performing arts students and alumnae dance artists. INTERsect came together after Sofia Gorder, Lincoln Street Campus director of arts and co-director of dance, had heard from several alums who were looking for a creative outlet during COVID-19 restrictions.
“There was a desperate outpour from students I hadn’t talked to in a long time, saying, ‘I want to create, I want to respond, I want to connect,’” Sofia said. Remembering an underground show she had attended in the industrial area located at 600 South 600 West, Sofia proposed that these alums, along with interested current students, use that same space for a physically distanced dance performance. She knew that this opportunity would not only help them feel connected during an uncertain time, but also help them process the emotions they were feeling due to the heavy news of 2020, from the ongoing fallout of the coronavirus pandemic to racial injustice around the country.
“It was a platform for artists to respond to the world around them,” Sofia explained.
Each artist was asked to choreograph a dance or build a performance art piece at home, to use minimal lighting to take advantage of shadows cast by sunset (and by construction lights, after the sun went down), and to wear a mask (a requirement for attendees as well; the event poster specified WYOM—wear your own mask). For alum and student dancers who had felt disconnected from their passion for months, the opportunity was therapeutic.
“Dance is a very important part of my life and I have missed collaborating with others and performing,” said Rowland Hall senior Katie Kern. “This project safely allowed me to connect with other artists and feel the joy of performing again after six months of missing out.”
In dance class, we always talk about how, compositionally, we take bits and pieces from each other. Each of us is a combination of our peers melded by our own style. In other words, all of the dancers from Rowland Hall are connected by an artistic link, even if we never physically danced in the same space.—Ashlee Jackson, class of 2021
INTERsect featured dances by current seniors Katie Kern and Ashlee Jackson, sophomore Mikel Lawlor, and seven alumnae: Laja Field ’08, Elissa Collins ’15, Sophia Diehl ’15, Eliza Kitchens ’16, MiaBella Brickey ’17, Adie Christiansen ’17, and Sydney Rabbitt ’18. The show also included the talents of Matt Jackson ’13—who provided live music with his father, Rowland Hall Jazz and Pop Band Director Bret Jackson—and Oliver Jin ’18, who designed the promotional poster and ran day-of tech. (Sofia also called out four alumnae—Sophia Cutrubus ’18, Grace Riter ’18, Cassidy Clark ’19, and Tori Kusukawa ’19—who were unable to perform due to scheduling or geography conflicts, but who were instrumental in building inspiration for the event.) The evening’s success was due to the enthusiastic collaboration between these students and alums, many of whom had never met before the event. Participants were quick to credit Sofia's ability to make connections among current and former dancers—a testament to the Rowland Hall faculty’s focus on building, and maintaining, meaningful relationships.
“We all have a connection through the education and guidance we gleaned from the one and only Sofia Gorder,” said alumna Laja Field. “The strength of this community is shown through generations of connections coming together.”
The dancers also discovered that, despite varying graduation years and styles, they were connected through a similar approach to dance, thanks to the years they spent in the Lincoln Street Campus studio studying under their esteemed instructor.
“Watching these dancers communicate through the medium of dance—while keeping traces of the same fundamental teachings of Sofia Gorder—has been beautiful to watch and amazing to be a part of,” said sophomore Mikel Lawlor. Senior Ashlee Jackson added, “In dance class, we always talk about how, compositionally, we take bits and pieces from each other. Each of us is a combination of our peers melded by our own style. In other words, all of the dancers from Rowland Hall are connected by an artistic link, even if we never physically danced in the same space.”
For Sofia, these connections, and the show they inspired, are reminders of how Rowland Hall is a place to find calm within chaos.
Sofia isn’t surprised to see dance act as a healing balm during chaotic times. Dance has the power to remind us of our collective humanity, she explained, and it is one way we make sense of life. Because of this, the dances coming out of the pandemic are some of the most creative, intelligent work she’s seen.
“I am so happy to see people coming back to the space of Rowland Hall to find connection and purpose,” she said. And Sofia isn’t surprised to see dance act as a healing balm during chaotic times. Dance has the power to remind us of our collective humanity, she explained, and it is one way we make sense of life. Because of this, the dances coming out of the pandemic are some of the most creative, intelligent work she’s seen. “It’s taken COVID, and being separate, to see why movement has such connecting power,” she said.
Laja, a professional dancer who has devoted her life to sharing the art form with others, echoed her former teacher: “It’s clear that most—I would argue all—people live through some kind of art. We seek out conduits of expression and portals that transcend us elsewhere,” she said. “The arts are the vessels that make us feel whole, allow us to laugh, to mourn, to speak our multilayered emotions that are sometimes difficult to articulate.”
And even, perhaps, to inspire change.
“In a time where COVID-19 has exposed the very pitfalls of our country, and technology has made history and the present of systemic racism an undeniable fact, it is only through art that I find my will to continue working, dreaming, and fighting for a better future to come,” Laja said.
Banner photo: Rowland Hall senior Ashlee Jackson performing in INTERsect. Photo courtesy Joel Long.