by Sarah Thompson
Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company’s THREE, performed last weekend, was a broad exploration of the work of choreographer and Artistic Director Charlotte Boye-Christensen, as well as a rousing tribute to her in honor of her last solo show with the company. You could feel it in the dancers’ passion, the sold out shows, the enthusiastic standing ovations.
The dancers took their work to an entirely new level, dancing with both a previously-unseen level of ferocity and physicality as well as a touchingly graceful lyricism depending on the work.
The program opened with “Lost”, which I’d seen before more than once – but never like this. The dancers attacked the piece with both fierce intensity and precision as well as near-reckless abandon, reflecting the lives of the rootless, country-less, dispossessed gang members who inspired it. During the first section, set to The Doors’ “LA Woman”, I felt like I was back in East LA. I also felt small tears running down my face. After a brief interlude where the dancers returned to line formation for Jurgen Knieper’s exploration of loss of innocence in German, the company resumed with equal passion and a bit more sexual tension to Nick Cave’s “From Her to Eternity.” Of particular note was veteran dancer Jo Blake, also retiring after this season, whose grace, passion, flexibility and precision added an extra flair and marked a new level of accomplishment in his remarkable career.
Next, with barely a moment’s rest, dancers Tara McArthur and Brad Beakes dashed into “The Finish Line,” literally running in circles around the stage. “The Finish Line” is a duet for the new age. Unlike classical and balletic duets which are romantic, exist in a world of fantasy and have strictly defined gender roles, this duet features two modern people living in a fast-paced world, running together, pushing, pulling, leaping, coming apart and reconnecting and yet always supporting each other in their journey. It reminded me yet again of Charlotte’s statement that her choreography is about relationships and problem-solving.
“But Seriously”, Boye-Christensen’s collaboration with comedian Ethan Phillips, architect Nathan Webster, writer David Kranes, and videographer Hoda Peterson followed after only a pause for set-up. The intensity of THREE allowed for no intermission, no time to lose momentum. In the past I’ve at times seen this piece as distracting, with my attention pulled between Phillips’s video and the dancers. This time I experienced a much more visceral connection between them, with the dancers and Phillips functioning as an ensemble illustrating not only the explicit theme of the vulnerability of all performing artists, but also the vulnerability of all of us, and how humor and playfulness can break down the self-imposed barriers of isolation. And as an added treat, the lovely (and now “retired”) Betsy Kelley-Wilberg returned to reprise her role in this unique work.
“Siesta”, a last-minute addition, added a wonderful depth to the solo show. It is one of Charlotte’s first works and was instrumental in her joining Ririe-Woodbury. The dance follows the journey of three monks, ironically set to the sensual music of “Carmen,” and involves both ritual movements and more playful moments. Some of the movements from Siesta could be seen, evolved and yet essentially the same, in the newer works. The three male dancers each brought a unique aspect of masculinity to their performances adding additional layers of interest. And after nearly 18 years, the piece is still fresh.
The show closed with “Interiors”, the 2008 collaboration between Charlotte and visual artist Trent Call. Once again, the company brought a new level of intensity, energy and precision to this dance, along with a remarkable tenderness. Tara McArthur in particular brought a lovely lyrical vulnerability to her work, which evoked deep emotion without itself being overtly emotional. The theme of leaving one’s mark during an all-too-brief life and career, in an ever-changing world, is eternally relevant, and served as a fitting close to the final solo show of this phase of Boye-Christensen’s career.
THREE was a new high point for this particular company of dancers. And while no single evening of dance could do justice to Charlotte Boye-Christensen’s long, prolific and accomplished career with Ririe-Woodbury, THREE clearly showed the depth, range, physicality, precision, curiosity, collaborative experimentalism and courage of her work.