The Arts and U

U School of Dance combines live orchestra with new works

The University of Utah School of Dance’s second annual Gala concert, held March 16-17 at 7:30 p.m. at Kingsbury Hall, will showcase both ballet and modern programs featuring live music by the University of Utah Philharmonia, led by Robert Baldwin. The event will include new works from special guests Michele Wiles, artist and former principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre and Matthew Neenan, distinguished choreographer and founder of BalletX. The concert will also include new choreography by U faculty members Molly Heller and Eric Handman, with a special encore presentation of “Swan Lake” Act II, reimagined by Jan Clark Fugit.

Wiles will perform on stage along with the U dancers in her new piece “Bach + 8.” She and her cast will be joined on stage by pianist, Vedrana Subotic, associate professor-lecturer of music at the U. “Bach + 8” is a flirtatious and charming piece with a surprising end that places eight female dancers in a playful comedy suggestive of a modernized version of Edgar Degas’ masterpieces depicting ballerinas.

“I am honored and humbled to be able to work and dance with the University of Utah performing arts program and its gifted dancers,” said Wiles. “My hope is that each student will be able to express and experiment with their artistic voice in the solos, duos and trios that show both individuality and the ability to come together as a group.”

Neenan’s “in the cold light of day” includes a cast of 18 dancers from both the modern dance and ballet programs. His piece pairs beautiful, flowing choreography with jolts of interruption that bring to mind the idiosyncratic moments that disrupt the fluidity of daily lives and begs for closure and resolve.

“I have forgotten who in my cast is a ballet major and who’s a modern dance major,” said Neenan. “They have really come together and formed a comradery, which has been such a blessing for the piece. I can see the variety in their training from the U, and I really wanted to exploit that variety in the work. These students are exceptional talents. Their futures are very bright and these are dancers you will be able to follow for the rest of their careers.”

Heller, assistant professor of modern dance, will premiere “The Middle,” a dance for five which draws on Buddhist ideology. Dancers in “The Middle” will be costumed in what Heller has dubbed “tennis shoe couture.” The choreography is athletic and will challenge the performers’ endurance as the piece unfolds.

Handman, U associate professor, will present his  new work, “Galatea Prime,” for the Gala audience. The piece will include five dancers and a flying drone, and will draw connections between the writing of Freud, E.T.A Hoffman, and the Ballet classic “Coppelia.” “Galatea Prime” will also highlight and complicate the presentation of gender in modern fictional artificial intelligence narratives in films such as “Ex Machina,” “Solaris,” “Blade Runner” and “Westworld.”

On the evening of Friday, March 16, there will be a pre-performance talk by Kate Mattingly, U assistant professor of dance, dance writer, researcher and historian, at 7 p.m. in the Legacy Gallery.

Tickets can be bought at the door or at

About Michele Wiles

Wiles founded New York City-based BalletNext in 2011 with the vision to pair classically trained dancers with performing artists from diverse backgrounds and interpretations. BalletNext creates new work in a collaborative setting that encourages risk taking and a focus on process.  Wiles was a Princess Grace Foundation – U.S.A. Dance Fellowship recipient for 1999–2000 and won the Erik Bruhn Prize in 2002. She joined American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company in 1997 and joined American Ballet Theatre in 1998.  She was promoted to soloist in 2000 and to principal in 2005. In 2011, she left that position to start BalletNext. Wiles has been choreographing on BalletNext dancers since 2011 and has premiered several new works to critical acclaim including “Ushuaia” to music by Heinrich Biber, “Apogee in 3” in collaboration with legendary jazz trumpeter Tom Harrell, “Don’t Blink” in collaboration Flex Master JayDonn.

About Matthew Neenan
Neenan’s choreography has been featured and performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet, BalletX, The Washington Ballet, Colorado Ballet, Ballet West, Ballet Memphis, Milwaukee Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Tulsa Ballet, Ballet Met, Oklahoma City Ballet, Juilliard Dance, New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute, Sacramento Ballet, Nevada Ballet Theatre, Indiana University, Opera Philadelphia and LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts (NYC), among others. In 2005, Neenan co-founded BalletX with fellow dancer Christine Cox. BalletX had its world premiere at the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival in September 2005 and is now the resident dance company at the prestigious Wilma Theatre. BalletX has toured and performed Neenan’s choreography in New York City at The Joyce Theater, The Skirball Center, Symphony Space and Central Park Summerstage, Vail International Dance Festival, Jacob’s Pillow, The Cerritos Center, Laguna Dance Festival, Spring to Dance Festival in St.Louis, and internationally in Cali, Colombia and Seoul, Korea. In 2010, Neenan became a trustee member for DanceUSA. His ballet “The Last Glass” was praised in the New York Times as the “The Top 10” of 2013.

About the School of Dance

The School of Dance is home to the disciplines of ballet and modern dance, which each have long traditions of excellence and prominence in the state and across the world. Each discipline boasts renowned faculty who connect individually with students, unique and plentiful performance opportunities, a breadth of scholarly and creative inquiry, rigorous and challenging coursework, and interdisciplinary explorations. The internationally acclaimed dance programs at the NASD-accredited University of Utah offer a comprehensive program of Dance study, maintaining a balanced emphasis on both performance and scholarship while presenting students with the training necessary to excel within their chosen field. The student body is comprised of approximately 200 undergraduates and 25 graduate students seeking the following degrees: Minor, BFA, HBFA and MFA. A commitment to excellence in Dance education, its teaching, performance and research, is the hallmark of the programs — known worldwide for their versatile and gifted alumni. The School of Dance is one of five units in the College of Fine Arts, including Art & Art History, Film & Media Arts, Music, and Theatre. The University of Utah is located in the Wasatch foothills, overlooking Salt Lake City, the Great Salt Lake and the Great Basin’s west desert.