Idaho Dance Theatre is one of the most well-respected professional contemporary dance companies in the state. Under the direction of founders Marla Hansen and Carl Rowe, the company has been inspiring audiences since 1989.
IDT produces three gorgeous concerts in Boise each year, with an emphasis on modern dance and ballet. When creating its educational outreach program, which travels to cities throughout Idaho, the company utilizes dance in most all of its forms, showcasing original choreography and a multitude of styles including ballet, modern, jazz, ethnic, character and contemporary dance. Rowe has a clear purpose for expanding the repertoire. "We want our audiences to experience all types of dance so they might develop an educated appreciation for the art," he says.
The North Idaho Rural Tour is part of the company season and takes place during a two-week period, usually in the spring. For the last 10 years, students from pre-kindergarten to college have been invited to experience a performance created specifically for the tour. Each year, a select cast of six to eight dancers pack up the costumes and sets in director Hansen's Suburban and drive to the farthest reaches of Idaho. They perform in places such as Parma, Marsing, Potlatch, Lewiston, Sandpoint and Grangeville, allowing audiences to have the opportunity to enjoy the somewhat ethereal and often misunderstood realm of dance.
Rowe explains that many students in outlying areas are not exposed to live dance performances and may have preconceived ideas and images of dance that may be "askew." He emphasizes that IDT's goal is to provide a positive first experience to as many kids as possible.
"Dance is a natural form of expression," says Rowe. "It creates healthy, fun feelings, it is physically challenging and requires a lot of trust, cooperation and hard work to be successful."
The interactive outreach show presents a different theme each year. This year, IDT explored ideas around "Magic." The show unfolded like a scripted play in which the dancers spoke lines and became characters to draw the audience into a special world.
"As the students become engaged, they discover that dance is magical," says Rowe. "It takes one thing and transforms it into something else."
Once the students are involved in the underlying meaning of the performance, they are prompted to participate. They may be asked to learn rhythms with the music, go on stage to be a dancer's partner or learn a step. These "tricks" lead up to the magic moment in which students are transformed from mere audience members into participating artists.
At times, the directors utilize elements from the school curriculum to create a show, and often introduce the different dance forms as a journey, moving from place to place in transition. Rowe recalls a performance that was based on the solar system. "A group of dancers would travel to different planets, and meet aliens who would articulate themselves in the way of a certain dance genre," he says. "The jazz planet, for example, had some very flashy inhabitants."
In this way, the students exist in an interactive setting where they can explore and express themselves naturally, not only by watching, but also by becoming performers themselves on the stage.
Enormous in scope, the program requires new choreography, study guides, scripts, sets, costumes, lighting, transportation and accommodations every year. Getting the performance into the schools is achieved by writing grants to help subsidize the expense of creating a road show with all of its many components. Schools can either request that the tour come to them or be notified that the company will be in residence in their area. Some schools pay to see the show, while others are subsidized by matching grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Whittenberger Foundation and private citizens to help ensure as many students as possible have the opportunity to see the show.
Rowe and company understand the importance of reaching out to local communities. "Once captivated by the power of live performance, students are transformed by the beauty and accessibility of the art," he says. In this way, the next generation of dancers, aritsts, and supporters of the arts are encouraged to follow their dreams.