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Point Blank

Point Blank 

Those With Wings interprets a unique memoir through movement.

By Scott Renshaw | Salt Lake City Weekly

The process of creating art almost always begins with blankness: a clean canvas, a bare stage, a blinking cursor on an empty screen. But when an artist begins the process of adapting an already-existing work to a new medium, you'd expect there to be more of a starting point for filling in that blankness. Perhaps that's why Terry Tempest Williams' When Women Were Birds makes for such intriguing source material for loveDANCEmore's new production Those With Wings—since the fascinating core of the work is the mystery of its own blank pages.

Williams' 2012 memoir When Women Were Birds revolves around the author learning that her terminally ill mother has several volumes of journals—journals Williams never previously knew existed, and which her mother makes her promise not to read until after she dies. When Williams finally opens them, she finds that each one is blank. The book becomes a journey of attempting to understand what story Williams' mother was telling through those empty pages, and how that absence of any written words might have been connected to her role as a woman, a Mormon, a mother.

Liz Izkovich—one of the three co-directors of Those With Wings, along with Ashley Anderson and Alysia Ramos—initially discovered the book, and brought it to her collaborators for all of them to read. Thier conversations led them to wonder how they might interpret When Women Were Birds as a movement piece—how they could take, according to Izkovich, "ideas that were speaking to all of us ... and imagine that in the context of our own art-making."

The adaptation was less of a leap of faith than it might seem at first glance. "What's really interesting about the book is, it's also a visual piece of art," Izkovich says. "When she talks about her mother passing, and finds [the blank journals], at that point, all the pages in the book are blank. In the hard copy, there's also a bird that starts to fly across the pages. So there's this visual element of it as well."

Though Izkovich, Anderson and Ramos initially reached out to Williams regarding their plans, the author ultimately was not directly involved in the process of creating Those With Wings. She did, however, give the project her blessing, according to Izkovich, "and encouraged us to take any and all creative liberties with it. ... It's a very non-literal adaptation, but we still capture the essence of what we took from the book, using snippets from the text and re-imagining it through the body."

Those With Wings also serves as the culmination of a three-production Summer Series created by loveDANCEmore in collaboration with Seven Canyons Trust, celebrating the Jordan River. The venue for the performance is the Bend in the River Park on the Jordan River Trail, providing a unique outdoor component—and an ideal one for adapting a work by an author as closely identified with Utah's natural beauty as Williams.

"It's such a complicated space," Izkovich says of the venue, "used by so many different kinds of people. And there are beavers, and birds, this really amazing cross-section of wildness and urban life. There are these built elements that are a little bit falling apart at this point, then efforts to restore native plants. And I always love that about Terry's work: Combining wildness and social life together, not as separate."

The performance is also unique in using the intimate space for an interactive performance where audience size will be limited to 25 for each of the six scheduled performances. According to Izkovich, audience members will have opportunities to make choices regarding what they want to see and experience, and the performers will interact with them along the way. The lack of conventional seating also means people requiring ability accommodations should contact the company through its website.

"This is part of all of our own creative journey. What is the kind of work we wanted to see?" Izkovich says. "It's where we could have that intimate experience with the audience, where you could be connecting. The smaller the audience, the more we feel we can offer people that intimate experience."

Key to that experience, however, is capturing the emotions inspired by Williams' book as it explores what it means to have a voice, and to try to understand the inner life of a loved one. "It's thinking about silence and emptiness," Izkovich says of When Women Were Birds, "what's public and what's private. Dance is about relationships, about how you create that energy between audience and performers, and between the performers and the space, so that there's some kind of emotional resonance. ... This is the human story of us, as women, and what happens to our voices."

@scottrenshaw

There Were Trees

There Were Trees
"The first performance of this summer series entitled there were trees took off last Thursday, May 25. The work was performed at Three Creeks Confluence, which is a wooded area right next to the Jordan River with three Utah creeks running under it. The first placement of audience chairs faced the river, within view of the sun sliding down the horizon."

Those With Wings

Those With Wings

By Amy Brunvand | Catalyst Magazine

A beloved book inspires a place-based dance.

When I arrived at Bend-in-the-River Park by the Jordan River, Liz Ivkovich and Ashley Anderson were busy unrolling a huge bolt of white fabric along the Jordan River trail. The two women were deep into a creative process, working out details for an immersive dance experience inspired by Terry Tempest Williams’ book When Women Were Birds. They had already put in a year of work to raise money, form a creative team and get permits. In less than a month a live audience would come to see the show, titled Those with Wings.

“The dancers are going to follow the path,” Anderson explained. “The floor gets rolled up while the dance is happening and when it’s rolled up the dance is over and it’s gone.” The disappearing “stage” and fleeting experience relate to themes in Williams’ book which is subtitled Fifty-Four Variations on Voice.

Ecology and a sense of place are constant themes in Williams’ writing, and the “stage” for the dance performance is the whole park. The audience follows the dancers as they travel through the different spaces, sometimes integrating the audience.

Bend-in-the-River was selected as the site because it is what Ivkovich terms an “in-between” space— an uneasy mix of wildness and urban neglect. Majestic old cottonwood trees grow alongside dilapidated constructions of wood and rocks that might have been intended as artwork. A shabby pavilion labeled “Urban Treehouse” was dedicated for Earth Day 2001, intended as an outdoor classroom. Mallards floated on the brownish river which gave off an un-fresh smell, and iridescent blue dragonflies hovered overhead. As we talked, people passed by on the Jordan River trail—kids with skateboards, couples holding hands, moms pushing strollers, people on bikes. Nobody lingered except for one man in filthy clothes who stopped to rifle through the trashcan.

One idea behind Those with Wings is to restore a relationship between the westside neighborhood and the environmentally damaged Jordan River. The dance performance is a collaboration between Anderson’s organization loveDANCEmore and Seven Canyons Trust, a nonprofit with a mission to restore the seven creeks in the Salt Lake City watershed.

“I think that every dance is about ecology,” Izkovich muses. “It’s about space. This is going to say something specific about conservation and the wilderness in your own backyard.” Anderson concurs, adding that performing outdoors allows unexpected things to happen. “When we did the last show, there was the beautiful dance happening and there was this fridge floating down the river and it was sort of horrible and wonderful and Brian [Tonetti] said you mean that it was sublime? Which it totally was.”

Ivkovich has done this kind of thing before. Together with Alysia Ramos she created The Mists, a magical immersive dance based on the legends of King Arthur, performed in 2015 at Red Butte Garden as part of the Garden After Dark Halloween event. The scale was considerably larger—60 performers with a sum total audience of 7,000 people. “This time we are going to have a super intimate audience—only 25 people per show.”

Anderson says her ideal audience wouldn’t just see the show and leave; they would be people who live in the neighborhood and have an ongoing relationship with the place. Ivkovich says her ideal audience would be Terry Tempest Williams. “She’s a genius. My deepest hope and desire is that she would come to the show.” She laughs and admits, “I don’t think it will happen. “

$1.2M to bring 'daylight' to 3 creeks

$1.2M to bring 'daylight' to 3 creeks
"But just as nature will change its course, so will the philosophy and needs of urban planning, and in cities across the country, creek 'daylighting' — or returning them to a natural state — is taking hold. One such project involving Red Butte, Emigration and Parleys creeks will begin next year to expose 200 feet near their confluence with the Jordan River at 900 West and 1300 South."

Input for westside park and trail

Input for westside park and trail
"According to Tonetti, Saturday’s outreach will be the first of several future community outreach events led by Seven Canyons Trust. Feedback from Saturday’s event will be incorporated with the student created data which will serve as a launching point for the Folsom Trail Corridor."

Artist sought for tactical urbanism

Artist sought for tactical urbanism
"For Tonetti, the parcel also provides an opportunity to raise awareness about his organization’s goal to daylight the Three Creeks Confluence, a block to the west near 1300 South and 900 West. The three creeks, Emigration, Parleys and Red Butte, flow beneath the parcel before converging with the Jordan River."

Group wants to uncover and restore Emigration Creek

Group wants to uncover and restore Emigration Creek
"According to the Seven Canyons Trust, 'daylighting Emigration Creek has the potential to improve water quality, mitigate flooding, improve access to nature, stimulate economic vitality, formulate a living laboratory for nearby schools, create walking and biking trail connections and design more livable cities to enhance the quality of life.'"

Rivers Revisted

Rivers Revisted
"When Mormon pioneers traversed Emigration Canyon on the final leg of long and difficult trek to find their mecca and Brigham Young proclaimed, 'This is the place,' he was looking over our pristine valley surrounded by a great protective wall of mountains and watered by seven blue veins of life. Those creeks are all tributaries of the artery now known as the Jordan River whose rich plains and creek beds provided for our earliest pioneers the essentials for life in this high and hostile desert."

Local group wants to reintroduce city creeks

Local group wants to reintroduce city creeks
"For Tonetti, Seven Canyon’s focus is that of environmental justice. Many of the creeks were buried a century ago in an attempt to protect the water supply and prevent accidental drownings. Because how the city uses and treat water has changed in the last 100 years, Tonetti feels it’s time to uncover the city’s creeks."

Project underway to ‘daylight’ three creeks

Project underway to ‘daylight’ three creeks
"Imagine being able to walk or ride a bike from your house, along a stream, to any of the seven canyons of the Wasatch mountains. Imagine narrow, natural corridors, where fish swim in the stream with birds chirping in the trees, stretching from the Jordan River to the top of the Wasatch canyons. This is the vision of the Seven Canyons Trust: that one of Utah’s greatest assets, the Wasatch Front Mountains, would be connected to the Jordan River along urban trails and restored creeks, as it was 100 years ago."

Salt Lake & the Seven Creeks

Salt Lake & the Seven Creeks
"Enter the Prince Charming of our tale, an organization called Seven Canyons Trust. SCT aims to restore and reintegrate Salt Lake’s seven creeks by raising awareness with true love’s magical kiss—er, wait. Actually, it’s a relay race taking place May 14 called Range 2 River Relay … twice as practical and just as fun!"

Engineers struggle to put streams back

Engineers struggle to put streams back
"Burying streams and channeling storm water into pipes and paved channels causes more flooding, whereas more natural stream systems can retain excess water and naturally filter it.
In addition to the flooding, researchers reported last year nitrates travel much farther in buried streams than open ones. Nitrates, which enter water via both farms and industry runoff, are necessary for plants but if they build up too much in water can result in harmful blooms of algae, which are toxic to fish."

Seven Canyons

Seven Canyons
"Students, instructors and local citizens found that the water running out of our beautiful Wasatch mountains should not only contribute to our health and well being, but be showcased to anyone who visits the capital city. 'The journey the water takes from the Wasatch Mountains to the Jordan River should unify all the communities and ecosystems,' the group declares."

Celebrating Cities

Celebrating Cities

"Similar to the Brazil Walk, Brian Tonetti with the Seven Canyons Trust in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA has been leading Walks with local community members to rediscover the seven hidden creeks of the Salt Lake Valley. During these walks, participants discuss ideas, challenges, and share stories of what the area once was and what it could be."

Making the Invisible Visible

Making the Invisible Visible

"Replacing green with grey, the creeks were traded for bricks and mortar. Gone were the natural, open space veins transporting clean drinking water, as well as, fish, mammals, and birds from the Wasatch Mountains to the Jordan River. Gone were the ecosystem services, nutrient retention, flood mitigation, and erosion control to name a few, that these creeks provided."

Project Aims to Uncover Hundreds of Buried Rivers

Project Aims to Uncover Hundreds of Buried Rivers
"Cidade Azul (Blue City) is an idea that was implemented in a single week to bring attention to a part of São Paulo, Brazil that has been buried for a long time. In order to bring the smells, sounds, and freshness of the hundreds (yes, really) of rivers that cut through the city..."