Repertory Dance Theatre’s Sounds Familiar: A Modern Marriage of Unlikely Bedfellows 

What do Beethoven—and Puccini and Bach and Haydn—and modern dance have in common? Plenty. So says the choreographers and dancers behind Repertory Dance Theatre’s Sounds Familiar, a series of modern dance pieces set to iconic classical music. This high-energy, old-meets-new mash-up runs at the Rose Wagner Performing Art Center November 21-23.  

“So many people don’t listen to classical music anymore unless it’s part of a movie score, especially younger people,” says Linda C. Smith, RDT co-founder and current executive/artistic director. “We thought what a great way to highlight this incredible music than to see what twenty-first-century choreographers would do with classic works.” Along with local composer and frequent RDT contributor Scott Killian, Smith selected 36 classical music pieces (some just a single movement of a larger composition) and posed this challenge to 12 local choreographers: create a compelling, modern dance using one of the pre-selected classical music pieces. “We did work with the choreographers to program the concert so we could present a thoughtful, well-balanced performance—some of the pieces include the entire company, some are duets,” Smith said. “But other than that, the choreographers really had free rein to create whatever they wanted.”

Sounds Familiar choreographer Nathan Shaw, a former RDT dance company member and now full-time dance teacher at Judge Memorial High School chose to create a four-minute piece to “Nessun Dorma,” an aria from the final act of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot.I personally believe that modern dance can be performed to any type of music from any time period,” Shaw said. “I went into the studio ready to play and enjoy myself with the amazing RDT dancers. I actually created all of the dance’s movement using improv and didn’t play the music until the third day of rehearsal. I found that this strategy challenged both me and the dancers to find our own musicality.” 

Each of the 15 dances making up Sounds Familiar is, like Shaw’s, brief, ranging in length from two-and-a-half to eight minutes. “So if someone doesn’t like one there’s not a long wait until another begins,” Smith says. The format of the evening is intentionally fast-paced and full of surprises. Spoiler alert: one of the choreographers is an aerialist and so, during one of the pieces, dancers will fly. “We realize that attention spans are getting shorter, and this concert definitely appeals to that,” Smith says. But don’t expect to get away without learning something. Smith worked with the Utah Symphony to gather interesting tidbits about each music composer which was incorporated via video at the beginning of each piece.  

Sounds Familiar runs November 21, 22 and 23 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, each evening at 7:30 p.m. For more details and to purchase tickets, visit  


Written by Melissa Fields