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Creative Terrain

Three uniquely Idaho landscapes are taken over in this collaboration of dance, music and film

Bruneau Sand Dunes landscape
Bruneau Sand Dunes | Photo by Crystal McBrayer

Idaho’s rivers, mountains and deserts have inspired artists for generations. So they were the perfect setting for three music, dance and film faculty who came together for what they called “a dance on camera” project.

The locations, while inspirational, provided unique challenges not found on the stage. Smoke from fires across the West postponed the City of Rocks shoot. Cactus, rocks, pine cones, uneven ground and the occasional snake challenged dancers’ feet and sometimes required on-the-spot choreography changes. A river scene chilled dancers to the bone, and park rangers prohibited the use of a drone needed to film. Then there was the issue of filming only with natural light.

“We had to do a lot of last-minute fixing,” said Hansen, whose Idaho Dance Theatre dancers performed the three pieces.

“I don’t know how they did it,” said Alexander, who first created a digital soundtrack for choreography and filming then later recorded with live musicians, including five students and three faculty members.

Three faculty standing next to Boise River
Rulon Wood, Marla Hansen and Eric Alexander | Photo by John Kelly

Composer and assistant professor of music Dr. Eric Alexander wrote the score, which was performed by string and saxophone quartets. Dance professor Marla Hansen choreographed three pieces set to Alexander’s score. Finally, film professor Dr. Rulon Wood brought it all to life on film.

Called “Art of Nature: Idaho,” the film was funded by a $10,000 School of the Arts grant designed to spark collaboration between departments. Running about 20 minutes, the piece is set in three locations, the Bruneau Sand Dunes, the mountains above Lowman along the Payette River and the City of Rocks.

Wood and Hansen created the themes and stories that were set to dance. The Bruneau Sand Dunes piece became a story of a man who goes into the desert to meditate and rediscover his relationship with nature. The mountain piece featured dancers representing water, wind, fire and earth, who first set out as a group of friends hiking, then transform into the elements of nature. In the City of Rocks piece, Hansen is an older woman who goes back in time and meets the four dancers who represent people from the past who lived there.

The collaboration was instigated by Wood, who had worked with Alexander on the film “And Beyond,” created and produced by Boise State students (see the story on the Narrative TV Initiative on page 30). A colleague of Wood’s also had collaborated with Hansen on an Idaho Dance Theatre piece.

As they began, Wood scouted locations. Hansen and Alexander sat down to figure out the instrumentation.

“Marla said she liked the sound of both string and saxophone quartets, so I decided to put them together, which is not a traditional ensemble,” he said. “But we thought, sky’s the limit.”

“I didn’t want flute or trombones or tuba,” she laughed.

“Rulon was always looking for words and imagery that expressed a point of view – poetry, for example, that expressed a point of view for nature,” Hansen said.

The creators then were challenged to merge the film with the dance and music. They hope to debut the film at the Egyptian Theatre in downtown Boise this spring and private showings could be used as fundraisers for Idaho Dance Theatre, during film festivals and as advertising for the School of the Arts and Idaho tourism.

Alexander said the collaboration came together beautifully. He stressed that learning to collaborate across disciplines is as important for faculty as it is for students.

“These days you have to collaborate with other people no matter what,” he said. “Even if you’re a musician you have to get out there. You can’t just sit in a room and be a composer. You have to be open to all sorts of collaboration.”

Dancers on sand dunes
Female dancers, representing the spirit of the desert, frolic through Bruneau Sand Dunes. As the collaboration progresses, a male enters the dance and loses his shirt, boots, hat and eventually himself to the power of the desert. || photo by Dylan Pfaffenberger and George Hysmith