In its third annual edition, the Repertory Dance Theatre’s (RDT) Emerge concert revealed so much character and soul of the company’s dancers in the works they created for this concert that underscores why, indeed, this is an extraordinary period in RDT’s life as a performing arts institution.
Every new piece offered a significant theme, personal or otherwise. Equally fascinating were the musical sections the dancers used to shape their choreographed compositions. Their cosmopolitanism was most enlightening, emphasizing how new voices continue to shape the contemporary dance landscape.
One of Utah’s most popular outdoor recreational activities – climbing and bouldering – shaped Elle Johansen’s trio, featuring her, RDT dancer Lauren Curley and Hannah Marks. The piece’s title VO-V26 represents the range of scaled grades covering the levels of progressive difficulty in the recreational sport. Johansen’s choreography opened with the dancers crouched and hidden by their climbing packs and the work parallels nicely the transition from one grade of difficulty to another. The work captures clearly the motions of a boulderer and it percolated with the exuberance of three dancers who prepared for the piece precisely through a climbing expedition. She featured music from Brock Lefferts’ A Cloud for Climbing.
First-year RDT artist Daniel Do followed with A Collective Resilience, again quite a clear, even literal, reflection of finding safe haven during times of crisis, fears and threats and the importance of community members consoling one another. Do’s choreography matched the emotional intensity of the dancers’ movement, amplified by the eye contact and the shifts in distance of contact. As mentioned earlier in The Utah Review, the music included Tres Dominé by Hammock and The Violent Bear It Away by Moby, and Do adeptly foreshadowed the music in his movement choices for the pieces.
Do’s work included dancers Angela Lee, Cameron Mertz, Natalie Jones, Jonathan Kim (an artist with SALT Contemporary Dance) and Edromar Undag (an artist with SALT Contemporary Dance II).
Another first-year RDT artist, Megan O’Brien, performed a solo – much more (excerpt) —that epitomized her new roles not just as a dancer but also as an educational specialist for the company. At one point O’Brien picked up a microphone but remained silent, but her unique, autobiographical piece encompassed movement that indicated unmistakably the physical and emotional impact her experience as a dancer has made.
O’Brien’s musical selection also reinforced the effect of her representing her ancestral roots. She arranged music from the Andreas Bjørkås Trio, based in Oppdal, Norway, and which specializes in string instrumental arrangements of traditional folk songs that take on a new sound in the group’s interpretation.
Trifle by Jaclyn Brown was charming, naturally funny and most substantive. Her duet featured her husband Terry, a tall, athletic man who is a business entrepreneur but has never dance professionally. As noted in an earlier published preview, Brown says her husband though has had many strong opinions about artistic choices for the works in which she has performed with the company. Brown’s comedic objectives succeeded marvelously, as her husband seemed more than adept and, in fact, quite at ease on the stage, whether he was mimicking her movements or waiting for her to try to catch him.
And, Brown did not hesitate to let her husband have his well-earned moment in the spotlight. Indeed, Trifle revealed a happy couple who respects and treasures each other, while finding an enviously comfortable balance between career and family life. Brown’s musical selections by Martin Gauffin and Elvis Presley put the proper humorous punctuation on one of the evening’s most audience-pleasing moments.
Complex, sophisticated and hypnotic in spots, Dan Higgins’ MASC (part 2) set an eerie, surreal ambience that builds tension and resolves anxieties about making the boundaries far more ambiguous when it comes to what masculinity means. Higgins was joined by Micah Burkhardt and Kaya Wolsey and all three dancers were clad in unisex costumes of white and gold. There are all sorts of subtleties in the movement language which Higgins sets to interpret the weariness of sexual objectification and the ever-insistent tribalism of the conventions of masculinity, followed by an opening that the best way to resolve the tension is to dissolve the boundaries completely.
At points in the performance, there is the sort of androgynous sexual energy one might see on a dance club floor but that liberating sense of embracing one’s genuine self also comes slowly. Burkhardt has perhaps the most aggressive role and then is relegated to the side, crouching on the floor. Wolsey confidently establishes herself as the thematic catalyst in the trio and then Higgins’ concluding solo suggests a growing ease about being comfortable without the sense of labels. At the end, Higgins and Wolsey are sitting on Burkhardt, facing in different directions. The music parallels the dance sequence perfectly with the relentless pulse of Perera Elsewhere’s Weary, followed by the gritty, dark punk-like industrial sound of Entropy Worship’s Port Holes, and then the anthem-like Luke Howard’s Hymn.
Efren Corado Garcia, who will leave RDT after this current season, asked Linda C. Smith, co-founder and the company’s current executive artistic director, to choreograph a piece for him. In a personally spot-on choreographic statement, Smith gave a sensational piece for Garcia, who joined RDT in 2013. Accompanied by music of J.S. Bach, Corado Garcia was delightful at every turn of Navigation, as he recounted the movement vocabulary representing some 20 choreographers in the works in which he has been involved during his tenure. He danced and navigated through a 6×7 matrix totaling 42 Styrofoam food containers.
Inventive and loving in every way, the piece, indeed, is a cherished gift for the dancer and his unique experiences in a repertory dance environment where one is exposed to so many different languages of movement, some easier or more natural than others. Dancers navigate and balance many roles, on and off stage and that includes, as in Corado Garcia’s case, working as a restaurant server, so that they can continue to experience their artistic passions.
In Timeston, which choreographer Tyler Orcutt, who is the veteran company dancer as he joined RDT in 2012, explains represents a “fictional place in my head,” he uses movement to explore “the constant state of monotonous flux, always an unconvincing attempt to find balance.” Intriguingly enough, Orcutt does not perform but the five dancers for which he has set the piece convey the sort of statement that any dancer of Orcutt’s experience would articulate through movement. A dancer might take the lead at one moment but then there is a melancholic pause and in other moments, the dancers flit, pierce and stab their way through the performing space, which signals sudden changes. Fleeting moments of cohesion disintegrate randomly and without notice.
All of Orcutt’s choreography captures these elements, all while shaping it into a surprisingly harmonious balance, even if it is momentary. The musical selection couldn’t have been better: Mur by the duo of Alva Noto (who manipulates and processes sounds digitally through laptop) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (pianist), taken from their 2006 album release of Revep.
One of Emerge’s most elegant, emotional highlights came in Lauren Curley’s Bare, a solo for Daniel Mont-Eton, who left Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company at the end of last season to take care of a knee injury. The work was set with Mont-Eton in a chair, stretching, moving, turning and standing. Curley and Mont-Eton created a work that matches the rich, full-bodied possibilities of a dancer who normally would not think a second more about leaping and running across stage. Indeed, it is in this setting that the dancer bares his passion for the art form he has loved and prepared for so deeply.
That strong emotion was amplified through the music of local composer Michael Wall. Curley used the middle section of a piano score called Heaven’s Dust that Wall originally wrote for choreographer Randy James and his company Ten Hairy Legs. In this particular section, the piano solo is accompanied by Wall who sings variations but there are no lyrics. It turned out to be an unforgettable match for Mont-Eton’s solo.
For Do and O’Brien, RDT’s two newest dancers, Nicholas Cendese, the company’s artistic associate, set Tsvey Fun a Min, a Yiddish title that translates to ‘Two Of a Kind.’ This turned out to be an infectious romp – with Do in a dress and faux pearls and O’Brien clad as a boy in overalls and cap. Cendese was inspired by the music of the Barry Sisters, which has been resurrected in the popular web television series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a show set in the late 1950s about a young Jewish housewife who becomes a salty standup comedian.
The forceful yet carefree music fit the bill to the utmost precision. Watching Do cavort about stage in a dress with his characteristic flair for whole-body movement and O’Brien trying to manage the stage action while calling the movement shots replicated the character tone of Midge Maisel and her gruff manager Susie Myerson. Like Brown’s Trifle, this was a comedic hit.
Closing the concert was Pulse, a piece Higgins created for students of RDT’s Winterdance workshop, which was completed just before opening night. Featuring 14 dancers, Higgins gave plenty of stage time to each of the 14 dancers with music by Somewhen and Heinali. Emerge serves a major part of RDT’s mission.
Many of the more than 100 RDT alumni have established their own companies or have become international choreographers with many awards, commissions and distinctions of reputations. There is no doubt that legacy will expand with the company’s current corps of dancers.