Repertory Dance Theatre’s REVEL, the latest installment in the company’s 50th anniversary season, showcased works by four choreographers, each in some way integral to the company’s history and legacy. Throughout, RDT’s eight dancers exhibited zeal for honoring the past as well as diving headfirst into new ideas.
Jacque Lynn Bell’s “She (A tribute to Virginia Tanner)” featured the company dancers alongside both RDT alumnae who studied under Virginia Tanner and current Tanner Dance students (Bell herself studied with Tanner). Among these guests was current RDT artistic director Linda C. Smith, radiant on stage, who at several points kissed each of her fingers as though to express enthusiasm for a well-executed meal. Dancers from all three backgrounds held hands in a circle, periodically melting into shapes in each other’s arms. At one point, a small boy lay down on the floor, not wanting to continue; RDT dancer Dan Higgins picked him up, brought him to center stage and spun him around as the boy began to laugh and dance again. This moment was a touching encapsulation of the mission of “She,” to honor a seminal figure in Utah’s pedagogical dance tradition.
“Jack,” choreographed by Joanie Smith (of Shapiro & Smith Dance), was a whimsical duet to text that spun off of children’s nursery rhymes. The text informed choreographic choices in humorous ways, executed with gusto by Tyler Orcutt and Justin Bass. Both appeared comfortable with the silliness required of them in these roles, and looked equally comfortable in the duet’s virtuosic dancing moments (such as Orcutt’s lithe leaps). “Jack” provided easy laughs for all ages, but was peppered with darker humor that allowed adults to re-access these familiar rhymes in unconventional ways.
“Begging the Question,” a world premiere by Claire Porter, wove together language (from Gertrude Stein) and movement – at times humorous, at times chaotic – to explore the nature and persistence of the question. Orcutt, challenging someone to ask him “the difficult ones,” continued making the contorted face and fist that accompanied his repeated “Ask!”s long after his voice had subsided. He and Jaclyn Brown had a very contrary section where both, nearly shouting, insisted that they “didn’t do questions.” The dancers popped their heads out of the wings to yell a question at those onstage, only to be dragged back into the wings by a hidden partner (Higgins’ question in this section – “Did you read my blog?” – got a good laugh from me, considering why I was at the performance.) A final group section brimming with gestures and repetition morphed into the piece’s surprisingly distilled conclusion: Lacie Scott, lit by just one down-pool, sat mouthing silent questions, as though the dancers had merely been the manifestation of her mind’s buzzing subconscious.
As a musical interlude, 3hattrio (self-dubbed players of “American Desert Music”) rose up from the orchestra pit and were later joined by William “Bill” Evans, who tap-danced to their Southwest-inspired tunes. 3hattrio’s music was transporting, evoking the types of locations listed in the band members’ bios: “the edge of the Virgin River” and “a pecan orchard in Virgin, Utah.” Evans’ masterful tapping was a complex complement to the band’s often simple, at times haunting, melodies. Evans spun into the wings to conclude his solo, blowing offstage like a desert tumbleweed.
Evans’ world premiere “Crippled Up Blues and other tales of Deseret” also featured live music by 3hattrio. Each dancer was paired with a unique, antique wooden chair, and simple yet old-fashioned pedestrian clothing; American West-inspired music served as references to a community of a bygone era. The dancers clapped and stomped, changing hands and partners, and took turns standing on a chair as though giving a public lecture or sermon. Evans paired more lyrical, sweeping movement (a duet between Lauren Curley and Higgins was particularly lovely) with chopping hand gestures and a waddling, straight-kneed walk to exhibit the many facets of this community. Exultant hands and faces turned skyward faded into dancers crumpling to the floor underneath their chairs. They overcame that burden and made it to standing once again, though any frolicking became feebler in this later iteration. The last image, Orcutt balancing on a chair, quaking visibly, was a clear testament to this onstage community’s ability to toil together and to overcome.
The works featured in REVEL touched upon the qualities and strengths that yield a dance company with a well-known and lasting legacy. From nurturing and teaching, to incorporating humor, musicality, openness to collaboration, and honest hard work – RDT has made it this far for good reason. Evident in their approach to the offerings of the evening’s program, the dancers know they are each a part of this lasting legacy.
Repertory Dance Theatre’s REVEL was performed at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center November 19-21.
This review is published in collaboration with loveDANCmore.org