June 27, 2022

Film & Performance: Traverse

Friday, July 1 
7:00 PM 
Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center
Jeanné Wagner Theatre

Six dancers. One choreographer. Five days in Utah's wild landscapes.

"Traverse," a film screening and live performance presented by TWIG Media Lab, originated in 2016 when Chris Lee, then an adjunct professor in the U Department of Film & Media Arts, approached the Department’s chair, Kevin Hanson. Hanson was excited by the project and took the lead (along with Associate Professor Connie Wilkerson and Associate Professor in the U School of Dance Eric Handman) on securing a Dee Grant that provided travel and production expenses. 

The vision was to film dancers exploring diverse biomes across Utah, letting choreography be inspired by the textures and images found there. The result would be part documentary and part art film. Handman recommended Nick Blaylock as choreographer, a student in the graduate modern dance program. Blaylock assembled a cast of dancers to join. 

They were strategic in planning their journey in a loop, with nearby towns at each stop along the way. Chris and Alex Lee had tackled filming on remote location before and had camped the entire duration, which created challenges. “The most difficult thing about being out on the road is having the ability to be able to recharge and offload media at the end of the day in somewhat of a controlled environment.”

First, the group traveled to Ibex Well where they encountered rugged desert. Next, the high alpine terrain of Tushar Mountains. Then the dreamy Coral Pink Sand Dunes, followed by Capitol Reef, Goblin Valley, and culminating in Moab. All along the way they danced in response to what they saw and felt.

During the process, the University of Utah community was watching from afar. The School of Dance shared small clips to a broad audience of social media followers, and the U posted the group’s progress on the website homepage. It was exciting for the community to feel like they were watching the piece unfold.

Once completed, TWIG knew they wanted to show the film with a live performance all along. Such a show was scheduled for March 2020 when all performances were cancelled or rescheduled due to COVID-19. But now the moment has come.

Since the filming of the project several years ago, the dancers and production team (a majority of whom are College of Fine Arts alums!) have all spread out across the world. But for Blaylock (MFA ‘17), and dancers Samantha Matsukawa (BA, BFA ‘14) and Eliza Tappan (BFA ‘16), it will be an exciting reunion – a chance to revisit what they made and share it with some new performers. It’s an opportunity not many artists get after a project wraps.

“There are alot of questions that it brought up for me,” Chris said. “For example, particularly when you are getting ready to leave college, how will you continue to have dance in your life? What does dance mean? What does it mean now, years later? What emotions does it bring up?”

Looking back, Matsukawa has vivid recollections of 'Traverse.' “The project was so informed by space that retracing memories takes you right back to the texture of the cracked earth from one location, to the fluid sand at another, and the feeling of scrubbing off the dirt after a long exhausting day yet being so full from work we created,” she said.

Blaylock had similar thoughts. “I think about Hoodoo creatures, sunset dances in ash mountains, explosions of pink sand, and friction burns from the salt flats.”

Above all, they remember that being together was the best part. “Everyone had a lighthearted approach to the travel and inherent time crunch, as well as a reverent zeal when arriving at the locations,” Blaylock recalled. “They were so interested in each environment and cared about honoring the landscape with their efforts. Their relationship to the project and to each space was inspiring.”


Nick Blaylock, choreographer

Maddie Andersen

Micah Burkhardt

Brianna Lopez

Samantha Matsukawa

John Sotele

Eliza Tappan

Film Crew 

Chris Lee, director

Alex Lee, director of photography

Adam Essig

Karem Orrego

July 1 Cast/Performers 

Nick Blaylock, choreographer

Olivia Beck

Natalie Border

Samantha Matsukawa

Megan O'Brien

Eliza Tappan

Bashaun Williams

Last modified on June 27, 2022