It’s been nearly 20 months since Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company had a live concert — Allegory — in its regular season. This week, the company opens its 58th season in the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts’ Jeanne Wagner Theatre with Total Ellipse, a program featuring two world premieres and a work that premiered in 2017. Five of the company’s six dancers are new since the last live concert. Peter Farrow, Alexander Pham and Miche’ Smith join Megan McCarthy (fifth season), Corinne Lohner (second season), and Fausto Rivera (second season).
One premiere will be Two Hearted by Keerati Jinakunwiphat, a New York City artist who dances with Kyle Abraham’s A.I.M. “This jewel of a piece evokes reconciliation of past relationships and the value of 20/20 hindsight,” Daniel Charon, Ririe-Woodbury’s artistic director, notes. The work is based on R&B music composed by Bryndon Cook, a genre not typically used by contemporary dance choreographers. Cited in Dance Magazine’s 2021 25 to Watch, Jinakunwiphat, a SUNY-Purchase graduate, studied with Doug Varone, a choreographer whose work has been widely featured at Ririe-Woodbury. Abraham commissioned Jinakunwiphat to set Big Rings, for A.I.M.’s season at the Joyce Theatre in 2019, marking the first time one of its members choreographed a piece for the company.
Charon says Jinakunwiphat developed the piece with the dancers very quickly during her two-week residency in Salt Lake City, honing in immediately on what she wanted to communicate. “She was super chill and got down to business quickly,” he says, adding that she already had envisioned the costume designs and the text to accompany the work, which has a poetic tone.
The second premiere will be Charon’s On Being, a work for social healing after the tumultuous period of the last 20 months with the pandemic, social unrest and emotionally polarizing national election politics. Using music by Icelandic composer Eydís Evensen, Charon sets the work in a simple, accessible nostalgic spirit, reflecting upon how he and the artists are happy to be back in the studio creating movement and returning to partnering in dance. “The momentum has been fantastic with everyone back together in experiences that have not been possible for a long time,” he says. Charon likens the work’s five poetic movements to Impressionistic paintings put together as a simple, joyful Hallmark greeting card, a pleasant necessity that comforts, heals and nurtures. Former company dance artist Melissa Younker returned to design the costumes for the new piece.
Raja Feather Kelly’s Pantheon, which premiered in 2017, returns to the stage for this season opener. Raja Feather Kelly, an award-winning choreographer from Brooklyn, New York, received a choreography fellowship from the Princess Grace Foundation-USA to create Pantheon, a work inspired as a follow-up to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring ballet (1913), which was choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky. Kelly is motivated by the classic ballet’s thematic ideals of ritual and sacrifice, as he contemplates contemporary pop culture and what, if any, good virtue can be gleaned from the sacrifices many seem eager to make in achieving celebrity status, even if it’s a fleeting moment in social media or reality show.
In 2017, Kelly mentioned that just a single day separates the time of his birth from the death of Andy Warhol (who died at the age of 58 in 1987). But, this bit of trivia is far more significant, considering how the young choreographer’s work has developed. While Warhol obviously has influenced the underpinnings of Kelly’s choreography, Warhol’s contributions in the visual arts have directed pop culture’s evolution and the ideal that fleeting, instantaneous celebrity is within the reach of anyone’s hands, deliberate or accidental.
“In college, I became obsessed with Warhol,” Kelly said in a 2017 interview with The Utah Review. “I watch a lot of TV, movies, and social media and I constantly study it and dissect it,” he explains, adding “that these experiences shape my blueprints and devices for choreography.” During a rehearsal for Pantheon, he talked briefly to the dancers about enjoying ritualistic movement. He imagined a MTV show about rituals with reality actors participating in confessionals. One mentioned how “awesome” rituals are and another complained that rituals are boring and “so overdone” – spot on in tone in what most MTV reality shows reveal.
As noted at the time of its premiere, Pantheon is a grueling workout as evidenced in the speed of movement: one Ririe-Woodbury dancer recorded seven miles on her Fitbit during a rehearsal. And, like Stravinsky, Kelly aims for a dance work that shows even when the world is encumbered by intense pain, it can become exhilarating and amidst the presumed ugliness a much more liberated, likable world is possible. The work includes an original score by Sam Crawford.
Charon says returning to Pantheon, especially with five dancers who are performing it for the first time, is like experiencing a fine wine that has had time to age. “It’s fun to revisit a piece which is a project put together in an Intellectual, instinctual way just like a math problem,” he explains.
Performances for the 75-minute concert are scheduled for Sept. 16-18 at 7:30 p.m. The Sept. 17 performance will be available as a live stream for patrons who do not wish to attend in person.
The Moving Parts Family Series returns this season along with sensory friendly capabilities, in a shorter program on Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. This family-friendly option will include the two premieres by Jinakunwiphat and Charon along with excerpts from filmed content the company produced last season for its educational programming. The Moving Parts performance includes an American Sign Language interpreter along with sensory friendly accommodations in lighting and sound levels, as well as time out boxes for individuals who want to step out of the dance performance for a few moments. Moving Parts attendees also are advised to avoid wearing strong perfumes and colognes.
For tickets and information, see the Ririe-Woodbury website.