Repertory Dance Theatre’s Emerge an artistically satisfying start to the new year

One of the most important takeaways from Repertory Dance Theatre’s (RDT)  artistic culture is the sincere encouragement its dance artists receive not only as performers but also as choreographers. In the fourth annual edition of Emerge, undeniably the strongest so far in this RDT series as a New Year’s opener, the dancers embraced their creative opportunities with meaty but sensitive works that also were multilayered yet still clarifying in meaning and purpose.

Quickly setting the bar for quality was Jaclyn Brown’s graceful, elevated ode to a treasured teacher and mentor, Angela Banchero-Kelleher, who danced the solo created in Indebted. Set to the music Day 5: Golden Butterflies by Ludovico Einaudi, the work flowed with warmth and heart, along with Banchero-Kelleher’s movement lines augmenting and enhancing the music’s figurative core. Indebted is as perfect a tribute as any student or graduate could have expressed as appreciation for a teacher, who also is an RDT alumna.

Angela Banchero-Kelleher, Indebted, Jaclyn Brown. Photo Credit: Sharon Kain.

RDT dance artist Daniel Do and collaborator Mar Undag set a duet This Is What It Feels Like – a quick journey of simple recollections that two friends might share – featuring Morgan Phillips and Nicole Smith. A fast-paced counterpoint comprising solos and duets, the work precisely matched the eclectic sampling of styles from four short musical clips.

Selections included music by Dominique Charpentier, Shifted, Gent and Jawns, and, then for a surprising turn of effervescence, Belinda Carlisle’s 1987 pop hit Heaven Is A Place on Earth. The movement paralleled the appealing mix of musical textures. Charpentier is a French minimalist composer of piano music that has an innocent, delicate character, while Gent and Jawns are known for club music and Shifted for techno instrumentals.

Morgan Phillips and Nicole Smith, This Is What It Feels Like, Daniel Do and Mar Undag, Photo Credit: Sharon Kain.

The second of four solo performances at Emerge featured Mikaela Papasodero, in a short piece soliloquy set by Lauren Curley to the music of Roses by Jean-Michel Blais. There are moments in dance when classical elegance – in this case, with movement based on a contemporary derivate of the historic Limon technique – is the ideal tonic to draw us into a meditative moment of pure joy. A truly stirring presentation, soliloquy was developed via long distance – Curley in Salt Lake City and Papasodero in New York City.

As Curley previously explained, “We used a mix of improvisation prompts, video recordings of phrases, and developed the solo long distance over a period of several weeks. Mikaela also had additional rehearsal direction from Nina Watt (under whom we both trained at Hartt and who has frequently restaged Limon and Humphrey works on RDT).”

Mikaela Papasodero, Lauren Curley, soliloquy. Photo Credit: Sharon Kain.

Nicholas Cendese, RDT artistic associate, staged two works for the concert, including Proto featuring Jennifer Beaumont, Eileen Rojas, Jonathan Kim, Megan O’Brien, Nahan Shaw and Alicia Trump. Set to the music of Danish composer and singer Agnes Obel, the work comprises a series of movement passages that are recapitulated in different combinations.

The sensations switch accordingly as well, paralleling the various effects in Obel’s music—sometimes poised and confident and at other points, melancholic and on the verge of fragmenting.

Proto, Nicholas Cendese. Photo Credit: Sharon Kain.

Cendese’s second work closed the concert: The Hours featuring a dozen local dance teachers: Savannah Angle, Missy Craven, Bethany Hansen, Teresa Homer, Chelsea Lujan, Roxanne Paulsen, Tara Richardson, Nathan Shaw, Natalie Terry, Shelti Thompson, Sofia Waugh-Berrett and Natalie Wilson. Cendese was inspired by a line in Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel The Hours (1998), a modern-day masterpiece of stream-of-consciousness, which translated well to what the daily experiences of dance teachers are like in their schools.

The Hours incorporated three benches as props which served effectively for the perception that even in the routine elements of the day, there is something profound in helping students find the joy of movement and that nothing is as trivial as it might seem. This is the second time local dance teachers appeared in an RDT concert, after Cendese set Voices for similar purposes last spring.

Nicholas Cendese, The Hours. Photo Credit: Sharon Kain.

Dan Higgins, who has gained a solid reputation for incorporating theatrical elements into his movement compositions, offered a delightful and whimsical piece I……..Me……..We featuring Phillips in a solo and the choreographer seated in a chair providing the spoken word component.

Amusing and appropriately absurd, the piece delivered on its witty premise as Phillips responded to Higgins’ terse exclamations with fluid, flirtatious movement and marvelous eye contact and nonverbal gestures.

I……..Me……..We, Dan Higgins, Morgan Phillips. Photo Credit: Sharon Kain.

RDT dance artist Ursula Perry and the two principals of LajaMartin, Laja Field and Martin Ďurov, collaborated on femme, an impressive duet that expresses in movement quite compellingly the significance of the distinction between feminine and femme in queer coding. Perry and Field performed the duet with music created by Ďurov. Dance can be a marvelous platform for elucidating an epiphany that gets confused or lost in the measured, even clinical, vocabulary of sociology.

The duet works well here, as Perry and Field demonstrate that it is not mainstream expectations about how feminine or femme should be presented but about subverting those expectations women face everywhere – from the workplace to the arts – solely for being women.

femme, Ursula Perry, Laja Field. Photo Credit: Sharon Kain.

Megan O’Brien’s Trick Mirror, with four dancers (Bayley Banks, Haleigh Larmer, Tyler Orcutt and Mar Undag), was inspired by the choreographer’s recent experience of a long recovery from surgery, which left her wondering if she’d be able to return to the life and physical activities and demands she had prior to the procedure. As O’Brien explained previously, “We all need support in different ways at different times. I am not alone in that experience. When we have support we begin to see ourselves in others. Through this process these four people bring their own individual experiences with disruptive change. They represent unlikely strength, delusion, hope, magical joy, and freedom. It is a gift to be able to bring life’s complexities into the work. It is a reminder that joy and pain can fit together or exist in the same place.”

O’Brien’s piece evokes clearly the mirror images of pain and joy, both in movement and music. She selected wisely on all accounts. The first part featured the music of Floating Points, the name of an electronic music DJ who also happens to be Sam Shepherd, the neuroscientist who studies how DNA operates in neurons that encode the sensation of pain.

Trick Mirror, Megan O’Brien. Photo Credit: Sharon Kain.

The piece closed on a song that certainly surprised many audience members but nevertheless made sense in Trick Mirror – the Bee Gees disco hit Stayin’ Alive, from  the 1970s, with the dancers coming to the front of the stage and lip synching as a flourish.

Ever since RDT was founded in 1966, the company’s dance artists have been expected to create new work and the fourth and final solo of this year’s Emerge featured a restaging of Lynne Wimmer’s Trapped, which premiered in 1974 with music by Evan Ballinger. This was the first work that Wimmer created for RDT during her time at the company and more than four decades later, she decided to restage the work as inspired by the stories of domestic violence survivors. Tiana Lovett’s performance crystallized this inspiration in approachable, sensitive movement—a reminder of how RDT always has been at forefront of manifesting dance as a potent platform for elevating social conscience and community.

Tiana Lovett, Trapped, Lynne Wimmer. Photo Credit: Sharon Kain.

Kim, who performed earlier in the concert, presented a duet in his first appearance at Emerge, titled until you are no more, featuring himself and Kerry McCrackin. Unlike the earlier duet set by Do and Undag, this one was an understated bittersweet reflection of a relationship that gradually crumbles as both individuals realize they no longer are growing at the same pace or on the same path.

Like other works in Emerge, the musical selections signal the relationship between soundscapes and movement is meticulous to a fault. Kim selected music by Julien Baker, Kelman Duran and Mess Kid and Isaac Gracie: respectively, a worthy eclectic slate highlighting an intimate ballad from alternative rock guitarist-songwriter from Tennessee, a spiritual remix by a Dominican musician with reggaeton roots, and the soft, hushed lyrics of a lo-fi acoustic singer from Britain.

Kerry McCrackin and Jonathan Kim, until you are no more, Jonathan Kim. Photo Credit: Sharon Kain.

RDT continues its season with its touring schedule. Next up will be Regalia (March 7), RDT’s annual fundraiser featuring a competition in which choreographers will set a new work on the day of the performance for the prize of a commission premiere for next season. For more information, see the RDT website.

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