This summer a group of BYU undergraduates had the rare chance to be visiting students at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The students spent their time at the desert campus, known as Taliesin West, studying and doing design work under the tutelage of BYU faculty mentors.
But these students weren’t there to study architecture; they were there to choreograph.
Eleven members of dancEnsemble and their faculty advisers were at Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert compound seeking inspiration from the artwork of Taliesin West’s resident-sculptor, Heloise Crista.
Six months later, dancEnsemble performed its first-ever themed fall concert, with each of the original, student-choreographed pieces inspired by one of Heloise Crista’s sculptures of human forms in motion.
“Creating art from art is interesting because you feel a need to stay true to the essence of the original work without repeating or copying it,” said Aubry Madsen, a student choreographer. “At first we thought it might be difficult to create a full-length piece of choreography from a single sculpture, but every time we looked at our sculpture, we seemed to discover something new.”
Creating a dance piece based on a sculpture was only one challenge student choreographers faced for this concert. A decision to team with music composition faculty and students required student dancers to collaborate heavily on every aspect of the production.
That collaboration also extended to work with multiple videographers, costume and set designers, musicians, and Heloise Crista herself, now 85.
“I’ve enjoyed watching people casually enter the project and then get sucked in with all the excitement,” Madsen said. “Every moment someone has a great idea, suddenly someone else steps in to make that idea come to life. I’ve realized that when you are blessed to have this many creative people working together the possibilities are endless.”
The idea of the Heloise Crista-inspired concert started with dance professor and dancEnsemble advisor Pam Musil.
She came up with the idea last fall after first encountering Crista’s artwork on the campus of Taliesin West while in Arizona for a conference. Musil said the sculptures didn’t just impress her, they inspired her to create.
“One of the things that I noticed immediately was how much this artist understood movement,” Musil said. “There was movement inherent in these sculptures and I could see that she understood how the human body moves.”
After receiving grants from Ira and Mary Lou Fulton, The Laycock Center for Creative Collaboration in Arts, as well as funding from John G. and Linda R. Hamilton, Musil began working with the FLW Foundation to plan a trip back to Taliesin West for her students.
That trip materialized this summer, when students and faculty spent three days on the campus studying the sculptures and starting to design their dance pieces.
“Compared to previous semesters, I feel like the choreographic process has been more full of life and creativity,” said student choreographer Rachelle Baker. “Being able to talk to Heloise about her personal creative process and seeing the sculptures was beyond inspiring.”
The dancers will perform 12 numbers choreographed by many of the dancers, including Madsen, Baker, Kate Monson, Mindy Michaels, Joshua Mora, Kelly Thredgold, Katie Bourne, Rebecca Lewis, Shane Davis, Megan Rogers, Catherine Baughman, Kamarie Fernandes, Erika Cravath and Pam Musil.
Students and faculty have extra motivation to stage a meaningful performance, having recently learned that Heloise Crista herself will be attending one of the shows.
Crista is an original member of the FLW Fellowship, having joined the Taliesin West campus as a dancer in her early college years. She danced there as a performer for FLW’s guests until her 50s, when she decided to take up sculpting.
Musil believes Crista’s background in dance is a foundation for her sculpture artwork, much of which is focused on individual transformation. Musil hopes the concert will help audiences appreciate both forms of art.
“Our goal is to inspire and touch hearts and communicate something that perhaps can’t be communicated in any other medium,” Musil said. “In dance, we really believe there are some things that you can’t say that can only be expressed through the body, through movement.”