In 1964 two University dance professors, Joan Woodbury and Shirley Ririe, combined their love of choreographing, performing and teaching by starting Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. 50 years later the group is an internationally known and renowned contemporary dance company.
Current Artistic Director, Daniel Charon, would like to continue the philosophy of Joan and Shirley by making dance accessible, but thought provoking. Charon says, “Dance is emotional, introspective and self reflecting.” He wants to not only entertain, but challenge audiences by evolving and morphing to reflect changes in society.
As the Artistic Director Charon is not only in charge of the company’s artistic vision, he also choreographs his own pieces, commissions choreography from all over the world, teaches class, mentors new dancers, trains, plans the programs, writes grants and handles administrative duties. Handling both creative and administrative due can be daunting, but Charon says, “I have a good team and we all work together. It can be overwhelming, but I like it.”
Charon spent 15 years in New York as a dancer/choreographer with Limon Dance Company and with Doug Varone and Dancers. When the job opened up with Ririe-Woodbury he was interested and applied through the normal channels. He was offered the job and packed up and moved to Salt Lake. He feels his experience makes him a good fit for the company. He is excited to be here for the 50th anniversary and looks forward to propelling them into the next 50 years. One of the ways he wants to do that is by changing the audience experience moving it away from a theater full of people watching dancers on a proscenium stage by using video technology in performances.
As long as Ririe-Woodbury has been around they have been involved with teaching dance and making it accessible to new audiences. Gigi Arrington is the Director of Education for Ririe-Woodbury. She thinks Utah is an amazing place for a dance company and it is because of our state legislature. Thanks to a funding programs called POPS, Professional Outreach Program in Schools, professional dancers are able to take their art and teach it to school children all across the state.
The company sends dancers to six elementary schools each year for an in-depth residency. The program starts with an assembly for the whole school where elements of dance are introduced and they teach school children what life is like for a professional dancer.
After the initial assembly two dancers teach for two weeks to three lucky classes every day. They also offer evening classes for children to attend with their parents and they can dance together. The kids become the “experts” and they are in charge as their parents get to see what the children have learned during the day.
On the last day of the residency the new dancers put on a performance for the school. The idea, according to Arrington, isn’t to teach just for the performance, but to give kids a chance to learn about dance from world renowned dancers and choreographers. “But performing is fun.”
The schools involved are also invited to a performance at Capitol Theatre. Students get to meet the dancers and even get on stage to dance with them. They learn to understand dance in the workshops and then are able to see a fully produced performance in a beautiful theater.
POPS funding guarantees that rural areas of the state also experience dance education from Ririe-Woodbury. The Rural Dance Tour goes to remote schools where the dancers perform assemblies and if schedules permit they teach mini-community parent/child classes. Arrington says, “Our dancers have probably seen more of Utah than native Utahns.”
Arrington can’t say enough about the dancers of Ririe-Woodbury. “They are amazing and technically skilled. They are electric on stage and wonderful to watch. They are generous, terrific, good people who love working with kids.”
And that, according to Arrington, makes the POPS program a great investment of taxpayer money.