by Sarah Thompson
Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company kicked off its 49th season with FOUR this past weekend. FOUR refers not to the number of dances performed (there were five) nor to the number of dancers (six) but to the start of the four performances remaining until the company’s exciting Golden Anniversary next season. 50 years of presenting excellence in dance is a remarkable testament to founders Shirley Ririe and Joan Woodbury as well as to the commitment the Salt Lake community has made to supporting quality contemporary dance.
FOUR also counts down the remaining performances under the creative direction of Artistic Director Charlotte Boye-Christensen who will be leaving at the end of June. She is internationally renowned both for her own choreography (nearly three new works a year) and for her collaborations with not only a variety of leading choreographers, but also local artist Trent Call, The Figura Music Ensemble from Copenhagen, writer David Kranes, architect Nathan Webster, and comedian and TV star Ethan Phillips.
“I have loved the creative work that I have done with the company over this last decade,” says Boye-Christensen. “It has been an inspiring and thought-provoking journey. I want to thank in particular the Ririe-Woodbury Dancers, the staff, Shirley Ririe and Joan Woodbury, my collaborators and the community for 10 amazing years of contemporary dance in Salt Lake City.”
Joining the company this year is the charming, fearless, passionate, and joyful Mary Lyn Graves, who says she’s been “dreaming of this night for 20 years”. Like second year-dancer Bashaun Williams, Mary Lyn’s background is in ballet, which adds a lovely grace and lyricism to her dancing. From her first moment on stage, Mary Lyn showed she can hold her own with this accomplished group, and it will be exciting to watch her grow as the season progresses. Also returning are dancers Brad Beakes, Jo Blake, Alexandra Bradshaw, and Tara McArthur.
FOUR opened with the moving and topical GRID by choreographer Brook Notary, featuring the dancers passing, ignoring each other, interacting, trapped, or free in spirit, within an ash-covered grid, in a work inspired by the events of 9/11.
The Finish Line, a new work by Boye-Christensen, is a duet featuring dancers Beakes and McArthur racing about the stage to the music of Radiohead. It’s short, fast, exhilarating, and the dancers smiles gave a hint that more was going on than might be apparent – as is always the case with this choreographer’s work.
Lines to Read Between, by Australian choreographer John Utans incorporated multiple televisions showing northern Utah scenery, primarily the lake and the mountains. As someone newly returned to Salt Lake City, the exploration of land and place was particularly poignant, lyrical, and provided an opening to experience both local beauty and dance through new eyes.
Audience favorite Turf followed, re-interpreted through the new combination of dancers. (An excerpt of a previous incarnation is at http://www.ririewoodbury.com/media/video-gallery/item/82-excerpt-of-turf-by-charlotte-boye-christensen).
Finally, choreographer and performance artist Ann Carlson closed the show with 50 years, re-staged from the 1996 original, appropriately enough in anticipation of 50 years of Ririe-Woodbury. Like many of Carlson’s works, 50 Years deals with animals, or humans as animals. The work appears deceptively primitive and humorous and yet raises profound questions about our place as humans in the animal kingdom as well as what it means to be sentient, single, or part of a group.
Ms. Boye-Christensen says her intent is to make her final season the best season yet. In addition to having Ann Carlson work with the dancers over the summer, renowned German choreographer Johannes Wieland will be arriving in November to create a new work for the company. Wieland, who also incorporates elements of performance art in his work, will be premiering a piece, tentatively called “one hundred thousand” in April.
THREE (December 13-15) will feature an evening of Boye-Christensen’s works including a a work tentatively titled The Perfect Human, inspired by a film of the same title by Danish poet and Film DirectorJørgen Leth. This 1967 film is a detached depiction of a man and a woman “functioning” in a white boundless room as though they were subjects in a zoo. THREE will also re-create audience favorite But Seriously, a collaboration among Kranes, Webster, Phillips and Boye-Christensen. While humorous, the work is among her most challenging and fearless, exploring our essential vulnerability as comedians, dancers, performers, and ordinary people.
As Ririe-Woodbury counts down to their 50th anniversary, and the end of a decade of Boye-Christensen’s creative leadership, the season promises to challenge both dancers and audiences alike with exciting and unpredictable experiences.
Whether you’re new to Ririe-Woodbury or a long-time fan, FOUR, THREE, TWO and ONE show every sign of leading to an explosive liftoff in modern dance in Salt Lake City and beyond.
Both season tickets and tickets to individual shows are available at ririewoodbury.com. Student, senior and group discounts are available.