Ririe-Woodbury premiered two new works this past weekend, “On Being” by artistic director Daniel Charon, and “Two Hearted” by Keerati Jinakunwiphat. Jinakunwiphat is a New York-based dancer and choreographer, and recently graced the cover of Dance Magazine as one of their “twenty-five to watch” in 2021. Both works reverberated as reflections of the pandemic, creations made after living, dancing and coming-into-close-proximity were suspended and theatened. What exactly was it about dance that initially drew us in? What did we really miss? What will we rediscover when we come back together?
The answer for these choreographers seems to be relishing in the simple act of sharing space. Both of these works were paired down; bodies sweeping, lifting and carrying. The sensation of touch and partner work, trusting another enough to let them propel you through space … really is and was enough.
“On Being” begins with dancers running, one by one, and eventually all together. I’m transported back to the early days of the pandemic, the treadmill-like monotony, the seeming endlessness of it all. In that monotony there is a comforting beauty, not unlike hearing a clock tick and being reminded that time exists. The piece ends with a nod to this beginning, but instead of running, the dancers are grouped together, touching, swaying in a reduced slow dance. A dancer is then carried off the stage, spinning round and round. I half expected this duo to circle backstage and reappear — the work continuing on indefinitely — but instead the lights went dark.
More notable elements of the piece are costumes by Melissa Younker, a former RW dancer. Each ensemble was unique in line and shape, and the color palette of sky blues, mustard yellows, and olive greens created a striking ensemble. Lighting by William Peterson progressively gets darker throughout the piece, potentially offering metaphor, or, at minimum, providing a linear structure. Megan McCarthy and Fausto Rivera have a beautiful duet; McCarthy has the extension of a ballet dancer, but the “organic everything can shift at any moment” energy of a modern dancer. She forces nothing, is well partnered by Rivera, and they walk off the stage holding hands.
Charon’s work is satisfying in its clarity and quiet restraint. Unfortunately, Jinakunwiphat’s work suffers by following it. They are similar in structure, and although on the surface look very different, they employ similar choreographic strategies, and Charon’s is the stronger of the two. “Two Hearted” did have its own beauty, like the R&B music broken up with text delivered by Miche’ Smith, who at one point stands atop her peers shoulders in a silver sequined dress. She speaks clearly to the audience, “Mirror, mirror on the wall … who is even there at all?” Peter Farrow performs a fully embodied solo, his body breaking, undulating and finding stillness in interesting ways. I struggled to find the underbelly of this work, but after such a hiatus from seeing live dance, I was also content to sit back and let the movement wash over me.
The last work of the night, “Pantheon,” is a dance theatre work by Raja Feather Kelly and it originally premiered in 2017. Nothing escapes the pandemic lens, and when the lights came to reveal the dancers in white underwear, white socks, white shoes, and white wigs, my first thought was, “Oh yeah, before the pandemic we made pieces like this.” This is an ambitious, often outrageous, hyperbolic work, with the program note detailing that it draws on celebrity culture, reality TV, The Rite of Spring, the work of Andy Warhol, and his (in)famous fifteen minutes of fame. I could see all these references, and while none of them were painstakingly investigated, they often did combine to form striking visuals, which maybe is enough. If a still life is enough in visual art, can moving still lives be enough in dance? I think Andy Warhol might yell Yes! Considering Kelly lauds Warhol as one of his biggest influences, perhaps that is the key into this work.
The dancers spread their legs, torso hanging over, pelvis suggestively pulsing up and down. It was performative sex, devoid of any pleasure or organic impulse, ritualized and hinting at the driving groupthink we often see in The Rite of Spring. There was also a fair amount of running in this work, and while the running in Charon’s piece hinted at monotony and melancholy, these runs felt saturated in futility. We run because we run. The final image of the night was red rose petals falling from the rafters, bodies sprawled on the stage as if dead, suggesting that perhaps beauty will exist in destruction, but only if it is framed that way.
Erica Womack is a Salt Lake based choreographer. She teaches at SLCC and regularly contributes to loveDANCEmore.