An Interview with Summer Belnap Robertson
Summer Belnap Robertson is the artistic director of St. George Dance Company in St. George, Utah. After dancing in New York City, she returned to her hometown in southern Utah, where she has played a major role in building the adult dance scene. She describes her experience catalyzing dance in a small city.
This interview is part of Where Dance Is, a series of interviews with dance artists working outside major metropolitan centers.
Where do you live and work, and how did you come to be based there?
I currently live and work in St. George, Utah. I am originally from St. George and have returned here after 10 years on the east coast. My passion for dance took me to the North Carolina School of the Arts and then to New York City to dance with Avila/Weeks (now Delirious Dance) and Michael Mao. I also attended Columbia University and earned an MA in dance education.
Can you describe your current dance and teaching practice?
One reason I was hesitant to return to St. George was because there was not a strong adult dance community. If I wanted to be a part of a dance community, I would have to be a big force in helping to create it. So, for the past 11 years, I have produced a choreography showcase (now part of the Red Rock Dance Festival) that provides the opportunity for choreographers to present their work. It has brought dancers together and been the springboard for the St. George Dance Company, of which I am the artistic director. My daily practice is very administrative. I write the grants, create the contracts, hire teachers, guest choreographers and dancers, rent the space, create the programming, update the website, and do all the marketing. Most of the things I do each day are not what I studied in school. However, I get the pleasure of setting dance work on adult dancers who are delighted to be there and want to work with me.
How would you describe the general dance scene where you live?
Utah is very supportive of the arts and dance. There are numerous studios for dancers under the age of 18. My goal has been to fill that big gap for dancers who have lost touch with the art form because of no opportunity to continue practicing it after college. The dance scene now provides classes and rehearsals and pays principal dancers to perform. We are growing and attracting more skilled dancers. The strong and consistent management over the years is something fellow dancers appreciate and want to be a part of.
What do you perceive are some benefits to working where you live?
The city and county fiscally support us. The city provides us with subsidized rehearsal and performance space.
What are the drawbacks?
Speaking very generally, audience members seem to appreciate sensationalized dance that is entertaining rather than artistic. Many people expect what we will perform for them will be something they may have seen as halftime entertainment at a sports event. However, there is a group of our supporters who appreciate what we do and attend regularly. Another drawback is I am over-worked and under-paid like many artistic directors/administrators, so staying consistent for many more years may not be viable.
What do you perceive your influence has been on the community where you live?
The St. George Dance Company is the only adult modern dance group that many people in our community have ever seen. We have been most successful in introducing them to the art form largely through collaboration with other large arts organizations in our community such as the local symphony, choir, art museums, visual artists and even poets. Finally, the Red Rock Dance Festival has brought together dancers and choreographers from all over the southwest and allowed them to feel connected with the rest of the dance world and work with companies such as Paul Taylor II, Repertory Dance Theatre, SALT Contemporary Dance and SampleDance.
Summer Belnap Robertson is originally from St. George, UT, but spent 10 years on the east coast, primarily in New York City. She received a BFA in Contemporary Dance from the North Carolina School of the Arts and an MA in Dance Education from Columbia University. In 2001, she founded Summer & Company, which presented work at various New York City venues. Summer was a member of the Michael Mao Dance Company and the Avila/Weeks Dance Company. She danced as a guest with the David Parsons Dance Company in the Millennium Celebration at Times Square, with Karla Wolfangle for Paul Taylor’s 70th birthday celebration at Jacob’s Pillow, and with Janis Brenner & Dancers at the Alvin Ailey School. She is the founder and director of the St. George Dance Co., which recently hosted its 10th annual Choreography Showcase as part of the Red Rock Dance Festival. She has four children: Seva, Wells, Inga, Loa, and a creative husband, Joel.
Photo by Kathy Cieslewicz
To learn more, visit www.saintgeorgedance.com.