| Company dancers come from all over the nation to dance with Idaho Dance Theatre. Courtesy photo by John Kelly
Competitions are built to be won, but true art is created to express one’s self, not impress.
Such is the core philosophy of the Idaho Dance Theatre, which Artistic Director Carl Rowe says is a contemporary—not modern, not classic ballet—company, based in Boise, but driven to represent the whole of Idaho.
Thanks to a $20,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the troupe is bringing an ensemble show to the Wood River High School Performing Arts Center, Saturday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. The performance will kick off a tour of rural and hard-to-reach Idaho that includes Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Mackay and Twin Falls. The IDT, as the group is known, will also perform in schools during its trek, including at the Idaho Youth Ranch, Fort Hall School District and Challis schools.
“Touring a dance company is a big deal, so a lot of Idaho towns can’t afford to sponsor us,” Rowe explained. “This grant allows us to take our company to other parts of Idaho and introduce the company to other places. We may be in Boise, but that’s just a matter of geography. We want people in the state to feel we are equally their dance company.”
The company started with a mostly spontaneous turn of events back in 1989 when two former American Festival Ballet dancers, Marla and Fred Hansen, accepted a call to perform in Jackson, Wyo. They invited Rowe, who then was living in Sun Valley and helping launch an ensemble with local dance maven Hilarie Neely of Footlight Dance Centre.
The Hansens and Rowe gathered up a group of Boise dancers, rehearsed in a donated space, and the result was an evening of eclectic and electric dance.
The company slowly evolved over the years, thanks in part to its history of collaboration with all of the performing arts. But it’s been defined by original, compelling and diverse choreography.
“We create everything we do,” Rowe said. “It’s a very real, up-to-date art form that people won’t have seen before and we want to share it.”
The IDT came to Boise at a time when it was in an identity review. Would it be a glorified cow town or an urban center? It chose the latter.
“It’s a very exciting place to be,” Rowe said. “But Idaho is a funny place, very challenging in many ways. So much of the culture is concentrated in Boise, but the entire state should be proud of what is happening here and be able to see it.”
To start with, the dancers don’t fit a particularly wan profile like those in classic ballet; these are athletes who are nudged along if they get too thin.
“They have to be able to go to the floor. These are not just passive people that are thrown around,” he said. “They have to have a great amount of strength and health.”
Because they are so fit, they can push their bodies to dimensions rarely seen at the hands of an innovative choreographer.
“They have to be able to respond in a way that the choreographer imagines, that’s very exciting.”
This so-called “concert dancing” distinguishes itself from competitive dancing because “it is more like a musical group doing a performance, not trying to beat any one out, but to express one’s self without a conscious attempt to wow somebody or impress someone with bravura,” Rowe said.
To understand a performance package, think fiercely fit men and women with a broad diversity of physical movement crafted by at least four different choreographers put to music that is current and not at all your average “dead white guy” classical music, Rowe said.
Some music is locally grown, and this show includes music by frequent contributor and Idaho composer David Alan Earnest, known here for his work with the Caritas Chorale and “Nez Perce: Promises.”
Now in its 24th season, the IDT is always bursting with firsts, the latest being the launch at New Visions Choreography Competition. This year’s winner, Jessica Tomlinson, of Chicago, was chosen from a field of more than 30 choreographers nationwide. Her work, “Architecture, Splintered and Cracked,” will be included in the Hailey performance.
The dance newcomer should consider giving this dance troupe a shot.
“Getting a guy to a concert is tough,” Rowe said. “But once they get here, they get hooked. Once they see it, they are so surprised that it’s not what they expected, they see the power and are intrigued by the art form itself.”
A case in point is a friend of his who is married to a Wyoming cowboy.
“She’s a fan of the company, so she dragged him to the concert, a little kicking and screaming. Now, he goes twice when he sees the show. He says ‘it goes by so fast, I can’t catch it all the first time.’”
For Rowe, the mark of a successful tour will depend on the audiences.
“If people come, that excites us. If they like us, it’s even better,” he said. “These are beautiful young people doing their thing in the prime of their life. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Tickets to the dance
When: Saturday, April 27, 7:30 p.m.
Where: At Iconoclast Books in Ketchum, at the door of the Wood River High School Performing Arts Center in Hailey.
How much: $22 and $12 for students.