SALT LAKE CITY — Raymond Van Mason is passionate about dance, and not just pencil-thin ballerinas in tutus. The former principal dancer with Ballet West, now artistic director of Imagine Ballet Theatre (IBT), told the Intermountain Catholic April 13 he thinks everyone should dance, no matter their shape, and even in street clothes.
"I went from the bottom to the top in my 17 years with Ballet West and I loved it," Van Mason said. "But in American traditional ballet you age out. In Europe, where the arts are subsidized, dancers can maintain their careers as long as they can keep their quality up."
After Ballet West, Van Mason danced and choreographed freelance in the United States and Asia while living in California. Time and again his friends and colleagues told him he ought to have his own company. Put off by the cost of such an enterprise, Van Mason held off, tamping down his deep desire to build his own dance company.
"Five years ago my father died, and I moved back to Salt Lake City to be with my mother, and that was nice, because Mom makes costumes," he said. In 2003, he began building Imagine Ballet Theatre from a corps of young Ogden dancers who made up the Ballet West North arm, operating then out of the Eccles Community Arts Center in Ogden.
In a year, he’d changed the group’s direction, and amidst growing pains at the Eccles Center, he moved the company to the Egyptian Theater’s studio space.
Today, IBT is home away from home for dancers from Orem to Tremonton and Logan. In addition to the company’s 30 dancers, ages 8-21, Van Mason teaches 85 students ages 5-21.
"Ideally, I would like to have a company of 45 dancers, but adding people adds to the cost, and the girls will go through three pairs of toe shoes a week sometimes."
Van Mason and IBT were the first to bring dance to the Cathedral of the Madeleine in 1992, he said. The 2007 Festival marks the group’s third appearance there.
The April 22 performance will include a variety of styles, including one number that begins with the young dancers in street clothes.
"People don’t always dress up to go to church or to pray," Van Mason said. "I want the audience to feel comfortable watching dancers who look a lot like they look."
"Forest Hymns" by Miguel Chuaqui presented the choreographer with a real challenge. "When I heard the music, I wasn’t sure what the choreography would look like. So I took it to the dancers. One of my dancers who is Catholic listened to the music, then laid down on the floor on her face with her arms outstretched like a cross. We started from there."
"Sacred Dances" begins at 8 p.m. in the Cathedral of the Madeleine. This event is free.Call 328-8941 for further information.