RDT Dancers Emerge as Choreographers in Company’s Annual Showcase

Dan Higgins and Natalie Border in Higgins’ “Denizen.” Photo by Sharon Kain.

Dan Higgins and Natalie Border in Higgins’ “Denizen.” Photo by Sharon Kain.

Repertory Dance Theatre is a collection of noticeably varied talents. Its company members possess distinctive personalities that can be glimpsed regularly in all RDT productions, no matter the program or how seamlessly they may move as a group. The second year of RDT’s Emerge, a choreography showcase for the company’s dancers, gave us a chance to see those individual interests continue to develop. The program on Jan. 5-6 presented eight works that, while formally unconnected in content and style, all benefited from RDT’s acutely personal approach to the work. Below is a small window into each.

Set to a Philip Glass score, Lauren Curley’s choreography was a complex study in pattern and numerical manipulation. Six identically clad dancers performed sweeping athletic movements that multiplied and varied as they traveled along parallel and intersecting trajectories. The movement built up from simple walking and continued at a steady pace, adhering like clockwork to the unending and obfuscating evenness of the music’s rhythm.

A solo for the lovely and intense Tiana Lovett, “Blue Sun” by Tyler Orcutt was well crafted and even better performed. Lovett is a clear and technical dancer, suited to the fast and rolling fluidity of Orcutt’s style, and she sold the frenetic emotional drama of his contemporary-lyrical work perfectly. Chronicling a story of coping with an unavoidable “ending of a cycle,” Lovett shook and thrashed and fell to the floor over and over in passionate protest. The piece ended in silence and with a fade-out as she continued to jerk and twitch, suggesting any measure of peaceful acceptance might be out of reach.

Cue audible squeals and cooing from the audience – newborn Layla Brown and small, giggling cherub Shae Scott accompanied Jaclyn Brown and Lacie Scott onstage in a testament to the life of dancing mothers, and what was very likely the cutest thing ever presented onstage. Drawing inspiration from the games, rocking, bouncing, and cradling of real life to create the choreography, the two mother-daughter pairs sweetly bobbed and capered around the stage to the tune of Bob Marley’s “Be Happy.” Their hijinks were punctuated by a section for the mothers alone who danced a weaving duet, nodding to the compound layers of identity that come with motherhood.

Dan Higgins’ choreography for “Denizen” depicted an intense relationship between a pair of strong and violently entwined forces. Natalie Border was tremendous and compelling in her uncompromising intensity. Brooding and moody, Higgins battled her. The exact nature of their spiraling relationship remained unclear, alternating between roaring aggression and something that was not quite tenderness, but maybe the insular comfort of familiarity. She got in his way and he attacked, neither able to extricate themselves or eliminate the other.

Justin Bass has been with RDT for four years now, and recently announced this season will be his last. “Doors,” likely one of his final pieces with the company, reflected this dawning life-shift, exploring themes of change, saying goodbye, nostalgia, and keeping faith in oneself, communicated through a spoken monologue by Bass that played over soft instrumentals. Four dancers stood apart, oriented toward each of the stage’s four corners. They performed subtle movements, sometimes in unison but holding the distance between them. While each dancer was lovely and interesting to watch alone, the choreography of the piece as a whole underwhelmed when paired with Bass’s personal, moving, and deftly crafted poem.

Ursula Perry’s work is always a personal favorite and often a revelation; nearly every time I see her perform I learn something that feels astounding and vital. (Perhaps a hyperbolic statement, but it feels true.) Her technical skills and power are beautiful and unforced. “I’m OK…” displayed a devotedly tended and honed strength, bowing and cracking under the weight of a pain the body can’t expel. A story of treading water, of keeping the surface intact while the inside roils, trying to glimpse the thing that used to make you feel joy when the world keeps tossing salt in your eyes. Twisting and flaking into the most beautiful and fragile shapes, Perry’s solo was devastating.

Efrén Corado Garcia’s “Collateral Beauty” was a lighthearted duet, simple and sweet, danced by Orcutt and Lovett and accompanied by Michele Medina on violin. The piece gave me the sensation of watching a ballet – something neoclassical, attuned only to music, lightness, appealing lines and a shimmering feeling. A little goes a long way with that kind of ebullient frivolity; the willful obliviousness and oversaturation of it in my own balletic background can feel exasperating, but it’s very refreshing in smaller doses. I particularly enjoyed the moment in which Orcutt won over Lovett with some jellyfish-esque grand pliés. The two flirted, they dipped, swooped, darted, and brushed softly into each other without allusion to any world beyond.

Following last year’s model, Emerge came at the end of RDT’s Winterdance Workshop and utilized the final piece as a showcase for the workshop’s participating dancers. This year’s workshop, unlike last year, was also an audition for the company. This seems to have drawn a larger group than previously: a good thing, but one that made for a somewhat uncomfortably tense viewing experience. The dancers did an admirable job with the crowded space and choreography that appeared overly tricky for a large group of newly acquainted people to pull together in several days, but the “they’re-looking-at-me” tension was viscerally palpable. A more informal, workshop-dedicated showing might have been more appropriate, and still could have offered dancers a chance to both prove their abilities and partake in a rewarding performance experience.

Winterdance Workshop participants in “The Color of Sand.” Photo by Sharon Kain.

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