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October 2014
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 7    

Culture Conversations: Dance
Creative Couplings
RDT's season-opening Portal

Duets abound in Repertory Dance Theatre’s fall season, Portal, in which four choreographers’ voices configure and reconfigure a company in transition (RDT has four new dancers: Jaclyn Brown, Lauren Curley, Dan Higgins and Lacie Scott). The evening is quite a curatorial feat, uniting four diverse pieces that have just enough in common; three from the company’s archive and one new commission. The thread is the idea of the duet. These are dances in which the performers are constantly pairing off, demonstrating how changeable each can be just by standing next to a new partner.

The first half of the evening seems to take place in shadows. In Zvi Gotheiner’s "Duets to Brazilian-Indian Music" and in Steve Koester’s "Fever Sleep" there’s often barely enough light to see what’s happening. In Gotheiner’s "Duets," the movement is also shrouded by the sensuous drama of the first three sections’ vocals (in all three, women dance with men). Somewhere during the fourth duet (Tyler Orcutt and Efren Corado) a fog seems to lift, and by the time Ursula Perry and Jaclyn Brown pair off, there’s rich clearness. Luminous lines propel themselves through space — gestures that will be fractured by dementia, confusion and plain silliness in Koester’s Where’s-Waldo-costumed nervous breakdown for four.

After intermission, our eyes don’t have to work quite so hard. For Viola Farber’s 1970 "Passengers," the wings are flown out, the lighting is more straightforward and the entire company games on equal footing. "Passengers" is a highly structured improvisation, using chance procedures, name-calling and other Cage-ian devices. It takes a minute, but eventually the company is engaged in a concentrated activity that is an odd mixture of free play and deconstructed dance formalism. It’s a pleasure to watch, even if, at times, it feels like a lecture-demonstration.

Finally, we arrive at the evening’s main attraction, "By the Snake," made by Noa Zuk with original music by spouse Ohad Fishof. There is one indelible picture in this work: three pairs of men and women — the entire cast — stand facing us, hand in hand. They seem to wait for a change in the room. The center pair comes forward and all pause together, breathe, and pause again, before descending into wildness.

I wonder if how I recall this recurring image has more to do with the power of this particular dance’s structure or with the totality of everything leading up to Zuk’s piece. I’ve seen so many couplings already this evening, both hetero-normative and otherwise, that I’m a little shocked to be so moved by an image that seems so predictable, so banal, so overdone. RDT has accomplished something here: they’ve made me see a new possibility for how men and women might be together on stage.

Perhaps it is Zuk’s choreography after all. These couples move with a sense of abandon that’s wonderfully at odds with the redolent forms they’re constructing and destroying together. As they swing recklessly, lofting off of each other’s cliffs and valleys, they eschew either male dominance or politically-correct pseudo-Contact Improvisation— this isn’t a dance where the number of male versus female lifts could ever be counted. And yes, I think these are largely heterosexual couplings — but only in the most fleeting, provisional and at times ironic sense invoked by the explosion of a certain kind of social dance idiom.

There are heady, heightened moments like these, in which Fishof’s score lends understated, goofy humor to a party vibe. The three couples act out a double’s version of one of the frenetic trios from Koester’s work. There are also calmer scenes, where the cold, metallic noises that create the dance’s skeleton slowly take on the comforting appeal of one’s own refrigerator’s unique hum. Things seem not to happen more than once, but there is a constant sense of cycling. The work really is as Zuk describes it, “a fabricat[ed] folk dance…with different forms and values”. When "By the Snake" ends, right after its second great group conglomeration, it feels both perfect and all too soon.

Culture Conversations: Dance
Torch Bearers
Ririe-Woodbury revisits modern dance in Fall Season

Featuring the work of three male choreographers, Ririe-Woodbury’s season opener had no particular through-line, except perhaps in its attempt to stake a claim for the group on being “contemporary."

The strongest work in the evening, artistic director Daniel Charon’s, was arguably the least au courant, harkening toward solidly 20th-century modern dance traditions. “Storm” began with a rush of orchestral sound, a score by Michael Nyman. The entire company tumbled out onto the stage and continued to enter and exit rapidly in dazzling patterns of thick, athletic gusts. It was the sort of piece where the scale, both in time and space, seem to extend far beyond the arbitrary frames of proscenium and curtain cues. Recalling the lush ensembles of José Limón, Doug Varone or Carolyn Carlson, “Storm” felt like a kinesthetic extension of the score’s three movements. Its loud, cinematic grandeur had me thinking, “If Terrance Malick had made dances, they might have looked a lot like this.” The void of the theater felt charged, like a sliver of a long expanse of flat land cut by a setting sun. It seemed that the six company members were dancing in a much larger space than that circumscribed by the building we occupied.

The entire ensemble participated, but the work seemed to hinge on the company’s men: Yebel Gallegos, Brad Beaks and Bashaun Williams. All three were shown off for their ballon, but also engaged in intimate duets and musical, self-elaborating solos. There were a few little details amiss, such as costumes that didn’t quite fit the movement, but as a vehicle for ecstatic dancing, Charon’s work was a great success. He is very lucky to have inherited this iteration of Ririe-Woodbury, which even after the departure last year of company dancer Tara McArthur seems to have maintained a unique sense of palpable friendship. New dancer Melissa Younker held her own throughout and looked like she’d been with them for years. 

Where Charon successfully channeled the efforts of his company, the out-of-towner offerings felt like they left the dancers squandered. Jonah Bokaer’s “fragments” looked like a composition class conducted in the middle of a light sculpture (there was a large triangle made of halogen bulbs on the floor and mirrors hanging in a patchwork pattern throughout the space). Many of the performers had intriguing passages of movement, but the moments of true visual pleasure — such as Mary Lyn Graves seeming to lose her feet when she stepped into the dark center of the triangle — felt accidental and were all too infrequent. “fragments” was almost worth watching for Alex Bradshaw’s rich, internal solo, but ultimately had nothing to say.

“one hundred thousand” by German choreographer Johannes Wieland, was equally lacking in direction, though somewhat more playful. Yebel Gallegos’ comic timing as he sang in a blonde wig almost saved the work from its ponderousness. It’s interesting to note that while all of this is repeatedly referred to as “contemporary dance” in advertising, it's the work of three males largely reiterating modern dance traditions of which they are contemporary exponents. At this, Charon was very successful. Bokaer (who’s past is Cunningham) and Wieland (who refers to Western European dance theatre) seem less sure of how to carry on the torch. 

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