SALT LAKE CITY — Sure, “The Bridge” involves contemporary dance. But don’t let that scare you away.
Because, Andrew Maxfield assures us, this genre-bending performance is so much more.
The Salt Lake City native and his brother, Fictionist singer/bassist Stuart Maxfield, created “The Bridge” with librettist Glen Nelson. The performance, which will be presented Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 8-10, at Kingsbury Hall, is a retelling of the Ambrose Bierce classic short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” The tale will be brought to life by SALT Contemporary Dance, a Utah-based company of classically trained dancers.
The performance is more than a traditional dance recital in which you see one choreographed dance performed after another, according to Andrew Maxfield.
“This is a story, and it’s relayed or interpreted through the visual medium of dance and the sonic medium of music,” he said. “We think that’s an exciting thing to do.”
Maxfield admits he knew very little about contemporary dance going into this. He was even a bit leery of the idea at first.
“My background is music, and I didn’t know a lot about contemporary dance myself until getting neck-deep in this collaboration,” he said. “Previously, I wouldn’t have thought of myself as a contemporary-dance fan — whatever that means — but now I’m hooked.”
About three years ago, Maxfield was an adjunct teacher in the school of music at Brigham Young University when a faculty-member friend said, “I think I can get us the big performance hall on campus. Do you want to do something?”
“My response was, ‘Say no more, you bet,’” Maxfield recalls. “In a way, we had our order of operations exactly reversed. Usually, you think of coming up with a show, and then look for a place to perform it.”
Still, before they knew what had happened, the two men ended up with a performance hall booked for February 2016. Now, they just needed something to put in it.
Maxfield, who’d already produced more than his share of concerts over the years, wanted something different.
“I was genuinely interested in creating something that wasn’t just another concert,” he said. “Stuart and I had done a lot of concerts.”
Maxfield liked the idea of somehow creating a story from beginning to end. Nelson brought the idea of the Bierce short story — set during the American Civil War — to the table. It was perfect, Maxfield recalls.
So that year, at BYU in Provo, they presented a workshop performance involving live music — written mostly by Stuart Maxfield — and contemporary dance.
Fast forward two years, and UtahPresents at the University of Utah commissioned a new performance of “The Bridge.”
Andrew Maxfield said the performance is particularly fitting given the country’s current state of affairs.
“What makes it relevant and timeless is this is a story about a person who is so in love with his ideals that he takes them too far,” he said. “Maybe that’s what creates war in the first place, but this is a very personal narrative about this guy who decides to risk everything for his ideals — and loses everything because of it.”
The original short story takes place during the American Civil War and tells the tale of a plantation owner being prepared for execution by hanging after attempting to burn down a railroad bridge.
“He’s setting off to do something dangerous and crazy, and we realize he’s tricked into it and meets his end at the hand of people who lured him into a trap,” Maxfield said. “A performance like this, with its good storytelling, invites us to slow down our own storytelling, to check our assumptions, to consider the costs, and maybe do better than the protagonist.”
Maxfield describes the music in “The Bridge” as a new film-score-length composition using what he supposes would be called contemporary electronic music. It’s one part song, one part sound design/sound effects, and one part ambient music, according to Maxfield. Modern, but “listenable and intriguing.”
“If you’re on the fence about the dance, come for the music,” he said.
Maxfield said they took actual folk recordings from the early 1900s and weaved them into the soundtrack.
“People who come, if they close their eyes they get a terrific music experience, and if they open their eyes, it’s a terrific visual experience with a story,” he said. “It’s so much better than turning on Netflix. A cool thing to do that you’ll be glad you did.”
Maxfield says the best entertainment and art invites an audience’s imagination to participate as an equal player. He thinks of “The Bridge” as a blank canvas.
“We’re going to put some paint on it, but we want the audience to put some paint on it, too,” he said. “This is an opportunity to sort of engage and use your imagination. I think books are the best example of that. There’s some content on the page, but every sentence you read, your mind is inventing and participating in the story. A good musical, a good dance experience, invites that sort of exciting participating.”