Here and Now with Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company

Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company’s show HERE TODAY played January 12-14 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in downtown Salt Lake. The performance featured an engaging, diverse program of work from three choreographers – Raja Feather Kelly, Molly Heller, and Charles O. Anderson.

The evening opened with a premiere by local choreographer Molly Heller. Her group Heartland Collective collaborated with Ririe-Woodbury in 2020 on the screendance Full View, and her new piece for this concert, Long View, was a reengagement with the same visual language (made distinctive by the film’s setting in a room painted entirely, delightfully green). Heller’s work likes to play with bright colors, bodies pulsing through ostinatos, and a studiously blank effect interrupted by moments when these colorful fractals suddenly kaleidoscope open to reveal something expansive and emotional before spinning and fracturing back again. Her willingness to wait for that opening, to keep us in the pulse for long enough before finally letting the beat drop, was what gave this work its strength. Long View’s first movement, an extended sequence with a cluster of bodies rocking under the light of a glowing cloud, was delicious to sit inside of for as long as we did. When the dancers finally asked us to sit with them again at the end of the piece, the green furniture from Full View had appeared onstage and they took their places among it with that same sense of patience mixed with wonder as the beginning. It wasn’t a return to the past, but something more fluid and recursive. Full View was a strict container of a piece, the camera recording a single room that filled with bodies like a microscope filling with a single slide. Long View was a telescope, less interested in the container of space than the channel of time.

The second piece of the evening was a restaging of Charles O. Anderson’s Rites: Come As You Are, featuring a strong showing by dancers from Westminster College. It was a spell cast for future equity and freedom, and it was an elegy for past and present injustices. The white costumes, gentle haze, and video projection (a favorite element of mine in the way it moved from swirls of mist to strident lines of text) set a simple stage for highlighting the work. Anderson’s movement was grounded in African Diasporic vocabulary, and his choreography swayed between long, lithe cascades of movement and sharp syncopations in large groups, illuminated by bright individual moments of stillness. It was a dance performed in circles: structural, rhythmic, kinesthetic, and thematic. A particularly evocative moment came when a circle formation returned about two-thirds of the way through the piece, this time as a half-circle that now required the audience to complete it. Anderson, in his exploration of racial justice and his own experiences as a Black artist, made a piece about synecdoche – how the whole can stand for the part and a part for the whole, and how these processes of identity and unity are manifestations of power. The rites and rituals in this dance took many forms – incantatory, celebratory, lamentory, oratory. It asked us to consider the ways in which solidarity too can take many forms: as witness, as action, as unison, as polyrhythm.

HERE TODAY ended with a premiere by Brooklyn-based choreographer Raja Feather Kelly. Scenes for an Ending was a maximalist delight – full of stormy weather, thick smoke, pulsing pop music, and flickering lights. Kelly assured us in the program notes that “whatever you see is real – it’s actually happening.” The piece tessellated whip-fast through moments of tenderness, violence, play, fantasy, and tragedy. It was so successful because it was able to hold that kind of multiplicity, to channel its fluidity in an evocation of gender, power, relationships, and perception. An early duet between Peter Farrow and Fausto Rivera was a dizzying collision of bodies that at turns wrestled and caressed each other – a scene that was so absolutely stunning it threatened to overwhelm the rest of the piece. It found its necessary counterpoint near the end of the piece, when Alexander Pham twice took a surreal, slow descent to the floor, face uplifted and fingers curling inward in a sort of rushing stillness that felt exactly like love. There was a taste of the mythic in each of HERE TODAY’s dances: time-travel, incantation, and transfiguration. But each were grounded in a very human connection to the body, the way it moves and touches, and what it owes and is owed by the world around it. Where the show might have faltered, it did so by an unfortunate confluence of programming. Sitting through three long, multi-movement pieces (two of them scored by the same composer) that each featured slow walking and some sort of individual moving against the backdrop of a group unison proved difficult at times. But where the show excelled, and it did, it was with startling grace – a trust in the next moment to get us where we needed to go and a kindness towards the past moment, faults and all. It was an evening that wasn’t afraid to sit and wait when it needed to, and it also wasn’t afraid to throw itself headlong into whatever came next.

This piece is published in collaboration with

Categories: Dance

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