Odyssey Dance Theatre announced its final “Thriller” season this fall, after which the company will close its doors and the founders will prepare to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Founder and artistic director Derryl Yeager started the company 28 years ago, becoming one of Utah’s pioneers to run a company that combined various types of dance such as ballet, jazz, hip-hop, ballroom and tap.
According to Yeager, the beginnings of Odyssey Dance Theatre were tough, as they didn’t count on any outside funding, unlike other dance organizations and companies in Utah.
To be able to follow the company’s vision and put on the shows Yeager thought were going to help the dancers grow and learn, he explained they needed a unique production to set Odyssey Dance Theatre apart from the rest of the dance companies.
“‘Thriller'” came about because when we started the company we couldn’t get any funding, and we needed to come up with a successful show that would allow us to do what we wanted to do with the studio,” Yeager said. “Then I realized that there were no dancing shows happening around Halloween, and we came up with the idea of doing little Halloween themed vignettes that would make people laugh and enjoy the dancers’ talent”.
Although it took three years for “Thriller” to go from selling only 50 tickets to having its first sold out performance, the show eventually became one of Odyssey Dance Theatre’s staples and it now consists of 45 performances across Utah.
However, after 25 years of running the company, and especially after the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic brought for the dancers and staff, the Yeagers decided it was time to move on and close the company.
Yeager explained that “there was no one in (their) sphere of influence that would be able to do what (his) wife Cheryl and (he) did, and to work for as cheap as (they) do.” This lead to the decision of closing the company instead of keeping it open and finding someone else to run it.
He also added that it was a decision they had studied and considered for the past four years, and planning on serving missions for the Church factored in.
The owners broke the news about the closure of the company to their staff and their dancers this past fall, letting them know the spring show, “Shut Up & Dance,” and the Halloween “Thriller” show in the fall would be the last ones for Odyssey Dance Theatre.
“It’s something we have been thinking for several years, but it was difficult to tell the dancers that we would be closing the company down,” Yeager said. “There were tears, but a lot of them are looking forward to a lot of new opportunities.”
One of the priorities of the Yeagers was giving their dancers and staff enough notice so they could have time to look for new opportunities and studios.
“I was a little bit surprised at first, but not completely in shock” said Eldon Johnson, who danced with Odyssey Dance Theatre for 18 years. “Derryl and Cheryl built a legacy in Utah and I think it’s fair if you have a business and you don’t want the legacy to be lost, letting it go and letting it run its course.”
The news of the company closing were hard to hear, especially for some of the dancers like Darby Jones, who started her career at Odyssey when she was only 18 years old.
“It was really hard to learn about the company closing because it is not just my work, but it is where my home is, and after a company closes, you need to find your way around again,” Jones said.
When reflecting on their time at Odyssey, the dancers explained they were grateful for how much it pushed them, the diversity of genres and the networking opportunities it offered by bringing choreographers from all over the world.
“Odyssey has been one of the best things of my life,” Odyssey’s assistant director and former dancer Veronica Cabling said. “What does hurt is that I feel like the dance community is going to take a huge hit, because Odyssey was one of a kind, but hopefully people will take the example and start their own company and be pioneers as well.”