BYU alumna premieres dance short film about complexity of her faith

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Utah artist and BYU alumna Jessica Heaton traveled to New York City for a weeklong residency program with the Center for Latter-day Saint Arts. There, she choreographed and produced a dance short film titled “Nonlinear.”

Jessica Heaton is a BYU alumna and the artistic director of the Wasatch Contemporary Dance Company. During a residency program with the Center for Latter-day Saint Arts, she produced a dance film called “Nonlinear.” (photo courtesy of Jessica Heaton)

The film explores the complexity and depth of evolving faith, Heaton said. 

“How (faith) starts is very simple and untested … it’s not sustainable … so it’s about rebuilding after that point and finding the softness and humanity and really connecting with the love of God,” she said. 

According to Heaton, the dance film mirrors aspects of her own faith journey over the past year as her husband has chosen to leave the Church while she’s decided to stay. She said she has seen the beauty in his journey and their marriage is stronger for it. 

The concept of a nuanced faith perspective is something that many Latter-day Saints can relate to, she said.

“I do think it’s an important message right now for a lot of people inside and outside of the Church,” Heaton said. She hopes people of all faith backgrounds will relate to the film’s themes. 

Heaton said she felt a great desire to reach out and connect with other faiths while working on this piece. The Center for Latter-day Saint Arts residency program in New York gave her the opportunity to spend time with New York dancers with diverse faith backgrounds. 

Emily Larsen Doxford, director of communications and marketing for the center, said it is not affiliated with the Church, but it seeks to collaborate with Church programs and be a resource for Latter-day Saint affiliated artists. 

“The mission is to explore the intersection of divine creativity and cultural relevance,” she said. 

The center offers programs, grants and other offerings for artists all over the world who identify as Latter-day Saints, whether by faith, cultural upbringing or both. One of many programs available through the center is the residency in New York that Heaton participated in.

The purpose of the residency was to connect six Latter-day Saint artists from all over the world and bring them to New York City, a “cultural capital,” where they could be inspired and celebrated, according to Doxford. The center’s board sought artists of various skill sets and levels of experience. 

McCall McClellan is a BYU graduate who studied media arts and dance and relocated to New York after graduation. She worked as the videographer and editor on the dance film.

Dance film is unique from other types of film because it helps viewers experience the sensations of being immersed within a dance piece, McClellan said. 

“You can be a lot closer to the dancers or you can see details that you would never see live … dance film is an opportunity to maybe see a new perspective,” she said. 

Heaton said she hopes a variety of people will come see the show, and that they’ll be able to connect with it in one way or another, regardless of their religious identity. 

“I think it applies to a lot of ideologies in life, that we start with a very simple understanding of the world and then we see reality and we see the gap between what we believe to be true … and reality,” she said. 

“Nonlinear” will premiere on Nov. 11, 2023 at the Wasatch Contemporary Dance Company’s fall concert, “Chronology,” of which Heaton is the artistic director. The concert will be at the Orem Library Hall. Tickets can be purchased on their website.

Artists interested in applying for a residency or grant can follow the Center for LDS arts on social media or subscribe to their email on their website to be notified of openings, Doxford said.

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