Behind The Scenes With Natosha Washington of Repertory Dance Theatre 

When Repertory Dance Theatre choreographer Natosha Washington came up with the title for her two-part performance Say Their Names, she was unaware of its use as a rallying cry to bring attention to victims of systemic racism and racial injustice in the U.S. “In the past, I have stayed away from anything that was politically charged,” says Washington. But it was 2018 when every night’s top news story was about police brutality or another innocent black person killed by officers. For Washington, the danger came especially close to home. “We had a cousin in Georgia who was gunned down by police—innocent,” she says. “And I could not properly function without addressing it in my body and addressing it in the studio with the dancers—which is technically how Say Their Names came to be.”

Repertory Dance Theatre
Repertory Dance Theatre. Photo credit Sharon Kain

In 2020, while developing Part II, Washington says, compared to 2018, “I felt like my experiences, or the things that I’ve been sharing, were suddenly being valued, but it took it being publicized for people to actually hear what I had been saying my entire adult life.” She summarized the feeling with a quip to a friend, “I feel exceptionally black lately.” Washington had also become more engrossed in equity in the workplace. “I think it’s important to make sure that you are sharing space with people who look and think differently than you,” she says.

As the work continues, she’s noticed a need to also surround herself with people who do share some of the same experiences. “And I am needing that and craving that more than I ever have.” 

Which brings us to I AM. 

I AM, choreographed by Washington for RDT’s 2023 season, is the spiritual sequel to Say Their Names, parts I-II. In discussions with RDT Executive Director Linda Smith and Development Director Nicholas Cendese, Washington wanted broaden the idea of Say Their Names. “And this idea of sharing who I am and my experience as a black woman in the state of Utah.” 

In I AM, Washington creates sections that invoke a spectrum of her experiences. The section photographed for Salt Lake magazine channels “a number of ways of loss, not just death, but loss of relationship, loss of community, loss in any way you can think of it,” she says.  “Another section will play with this idea of religion.” Washington was raised Mormon in Georgia, but the section in I AM references multiple Christian faiths and nondenominational beliefs. 

The section also plays with religious stereotypes, an aspect Washington collaborated on with the dancers, who shared some of their personal experiences. “I could not ask for a more exquisitely beautiful group, as dancers and human beings, to work with. I feel like the story that we are creating together is going to be that much more palatable and beautiful and tangible for the audience,” Washington says. 

Washington admits, “Modern dance is weird. As a modern dancer and somebody who got her degree in modern dance, I can say, it’s weird stuff.” 

Weird, yes, but not inaccessible. “We’ve got to build a community, so why don’t we create stuff for the audience that they can relate to? And for me, that is through storytelling—talking about you through dance.”

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Christie Porter
Christie Porter
Christie Porter is the managing editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, writing about everything under the sun, but she really loves writing about nerdy things and the weird stuff. She recently published her first comic book short this year.

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