Stephen Brown likes to describe his approach to choreography as innovative with shock value. If that description seems too pretentious, he explains that his aim is different than "pure experimentation, which is like taking a crap in a teacup."
His work will be on display in his company's annual show, "The BEaST of SB Dance," a series of short vignettes curated into an evening-length work, what Brown refers to as "a taster's menu."
"It can be stuff that has been in past shows, stuff we are working on for future shows, or it might be stuff that's just been kind of 'cooking' in the studio," he said.
Brown's dance roots go back to his work, from 1985-1987, as a member of Repertory Dance Theatre, before he made the pilgrimage to New York City, where he began to develop his own dance sensibilities. He returned home to Utah, where he danced with RDT again from 1992-94. In 1996, he launched SB Dance to push his own ideas about the value of entertainment and choreography.
"I don't really care about reinforcing somebody's established point of view," Brown said. "I don't care about not doing it particularly, but in theater and dance we use things that are supercharged because that is the life we are showing onstage, and that is the one way we access people to change them, to crawl inside their heads and hearts."
He has attracted well-trained technical dancers upon which to hang his "independent shock voice," and includes their ideas in the process of developing new work.
In a recent rehearsal, six of the eight dancers who currently populate Brown's pickup company spent over an hour developing a choreographic pattern tossing four 3-by-4-foot styrofoam blocks between them. At one point the configuration became so overwhelmingly complicated that Brown began to back off. Which is when veteran SB Dance dancer Nathan Shaw joked, "No, no, no, that would be too simple we don't do 'simple' at SB Dance."
All of the dancers have other lives. After retiring last season from six years with RDT, Shaw is the dance department head at Judge Memorial High School; Juan Carlos Claudio danced with Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company for 10 years and is now an associate professor at the University of Utah; Toni Lugo currently dances with RDT; Christine Hasegawa is a trauma nurse; Jenny Larsen runs her own fitness business; and Liberty Valentine and Ursula Perry are freelance dance artists. Brenda Sue Cowley is an actor.
"I have a family and a job," Larsen said. "It helps that Stephen also has a family, and respects my time and that aspect of my life. He works hard to secure funding sources so we actually get paid for the six weeks of rehearsal and for the performance time."
The company's administrative staff is headed by associate director Carolyn "Winnie" Wood. Wood's interest in the company grew out of her 30-year history of combining dance and theater in the Utah's arts scene.
"The inherent theatricality of dance and movement interests me," Wood said. "Stephen's choreography, in particular, has a sense of urgency. He invites the audience to see something as it happens, rather than being told it is happening."
Another longtime arts supporter, Louis Borgenicht, a recent addition to the company's board, and is enthusiastic about what he terms Brown's "combination of athleticism and conceptually outrageous construction."
"I think there is a diverse cultural audience in Salt Lake ready for Stephen's vision," Borgenicht said. "He just needs to reach that community."
The subject matter Brown uses to rattle people's perspectives "might be nudity or same-sex love or a variation on a story we already know," the choreographer said. Keeping those "supercharged" topics relevant is simply the job of being an artist. So in addition to props, he also layers in actors and musicians to budge the choreographic stalemate.
"I think a lot of choreography I see these days is very standard fare," Brown said. "But even bad choreography can be improved by the performance of the dancers. And if I add great costumes and cool sets, the dance will look great no matter how bad the choreography. Choreography is difficult because it is an artistry that takes a lot of people and is very time intensive and is very labor intensive. There is a lot of pressure to get it produced and up onstage."
Which is why Brown's other crusade is to get a black-box theater built into the proposed downtown Utah Performing Arts Center. As the president of the Performing Arts Coalition, he presides over meetings of the resident arts companies based at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. He's expanded that role to include representing smaller performing arts groups in the wake of joint decisions by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and the Salt Lake City and County councils to build the $110 million downtown center.
"I want to make sure that the UPAC space serves more than just the big touring shows coming through," Brown said. "The city and county are listening, and they're getting input from national consultants, but it would be a shame if they didn't hear from the professionals in the area."
firstname.lastname@example.org Concert: The BEaST of SB Dance
The annual company performance features eight dancers, two actors and the rock band Totem and Taboo.
When • Friday and Saturday, Jan. 25-26, 8 p.m.; Sunday, Jan. 27, 4 p.m.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's Black Box Theater, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15; at www.arttix.org or 801355-2787. Jenny Larsen: The dance of fitness
An alphabet soup of credentials follow Jenny Larsen's name to verify what takes less than five minutes in her class to know she's a uniquely talented fitness teacher. Larsen formed her own business, JL's Bod Squad, to organize her teaching: personal training appointments, video classes, and dance classes. Now, she is even on The Gym Box, a fitness app, which offers consistently changing workouts for home and office use.
Larsen grew up in Utah, and her early dance training led her on a circuitous route to the East Coast and back to study exercise and sports science, eventually earning a dance degree from the University of Utah. Larsen's dance training and study of the body is what separates her from other fitness professionals.
"My goal for people is help them become efficient in their movement, so no matter what their age or lifestyle, their quality of life remains at its maximum potential," Larsen said. "If your body is equally strong and capable, you will be a well-rounded, functional mover."
Larsen says she loves the energy of a group fitness class but equally enjoys the personal relationships she forms with clients as a personal trainer.
"I've developed my own kick boxing technique JLa Kickbox that is pretty demanding," Larsen said. She also teaches Pilates, spin, hip-hop, CrossFit, Definition to Bootcamp, Xtend Barre, and a signature class that she's co-created with Stephen Brown, called AerobicOM.
Information • Jenny Larsen trains clients and teaches at BodyWise (1400 Foothill Dr., Suite 20, Salt Lake City; 801-583-0200); Xtend Barre (450 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City; 801-86-XBSLC); and trains clients.
Website • www.jlbodsquad.com
Gym Box App • www.thegymbox.com