World premieres of works by two of Salt Lake City’s preeminent dance institutions (Repertory Dance Theatre and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company), along with a splendid, innovative solo piano concert by Hsiang Tu, as presented by the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, continue an impressive spring of performances in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. Incidentally, all three concerts will be made available for streaming video on demand viewing, either now or in the near future.
RIRIE-WOODBURY DANCE COMPANY: LO AND BEHOLD
A fantastic exhibition of dance ensemble chemistry, the Lo and Behold concert by the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company was the perfect spring tonic. In all three works – a new commission created by Culture Mill with Clint Lutes, Murielle Elizéon and Tommy Noonan, the first complete performance of Yin Yue’s composition which was originally slated for spring of 2020 and a world premiere by Daniel Charon, the company’s artistic director – the ensemble of six dance artists was a paragon of symbiosis. This point deserves emphasis because there have been numerous personnel changes in Ririe-Woodbury’s core ensemble during the last three years. Nevertheless, the dancers (Peter Farrow, Megan McCarthy, Fausto Rivera, Corinne Lohner, Alexander Pham, Miche’ Smith) clearly have connected and evidently enjoy their work together. Incidentally, Lohner, who has been with the company for two years, is moving on to other artistic pursuits.
Charon’s The Break of Day was a starburst of choreographic joy, with the dancers in costumes designed by former company dance artist Melissa Younker. Charon has a keen sense of rendering the music in its full integrity through movement. The rhythmic language popped perfectly with the music of The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestra by composer John Adams, a musician who has been a particular favorite of numerous choreographers.
It’s a curious choice of music but it was a gratifying example of good artistic risk taking. The dance music was an outtake inspired by the third act of Adams’ opera Nixon in China, which he was working on when he composed these dances. The Chairman Dances ended up being composed to fulfill a 1985 commission Adams had received from the Milwaukee Symphony. Charon beautifully translates this intriguing “outtake,” which was envisioned as turning the stuffy, stale protocol of a state banquet upside down with a foxtrot led by Madame Mao who might have stripped to a skin-tight cheongsam (to reiterate: a scene that does not occur in the final version of the opera). But, Adams set the music as a liberating expression of bravura, to spike one’s resolve for plunging head first into a fresh moment where we do not need to feel isolated or constricted. On this dimension, the six dancers delivered a grand slam of choreographic and theatrical execution.
Bodystorm, the second work, which the company commissioned from Culture Mill, is an organic composition. This piece will always morph into a new variation with each performance, as the dance artists change and as dancers draw from the experiences of interacting with people living with Parkinson’s Disease. This work is perfect for Ririe-Woodbury’s bailiwick, as a good bit of recent additions to the choreographic repertoire are agile and flexible works, which fully incorporate the unique personalities and experiences of the dance artists performing a specific piece. Indeed, the performance was very generous in its personable character. Culture Mill, which is based in North Carolina, has dedicated its creative resources to setting works such as Bodystorm. Their work not only extends the expressive therapeutic benefits of dance movement for various purposes but also underscore that audiences can comfortably draw their own interpretations without feeling intimidated that the work has some sort of secret theme or meaning only discernible by those who are experienced patrons of dance.
Finally, Yin Yue’s In The Moment Somehow Secluded received its much deserved first complete performance. Yin had started setting the work in 2019 for Ririe-Woodbury, which would have been performed in the spring concert of the company’s 56th season. She had participated in Dance West Summer Fest, a collaboration of Ririe-Woodbury, Repertory Dance Theatre and The University of Utah Dance Fest, in the summer of 2019. At the closing concert for the event , Ririe-Woodbury presented a glimpse of In The Moment Somehow Secluded. The 2020 premiere was sidelined because of the pandemic. Only one dance artist (McCarthy) has been a part since the beginning of this work’s patient journey toward a full performance. In 2021, a streaming video-on-demand version of the company’s spring concert also featured a fragment of Yin’s work.
The full performance, with five of the six dance artists being newcomers to the work, was a striking, superb cap to this hugely entertaining concert. Yin sets a cinematic painting in motion, with mesmerizing results. Yin, who directs YY Dance Company, developed the FoCo technique that comprises the expression of five elements (root, wood, water, metal and fire) and three stages (pulse, drop and flow). This ravishing work epitomizes this hybrid technique of East and West aesthetics, in which the dancers are fluid in both posture and positioning but they also execute their movements with the expected tight precision of contemporary technique. This is so complex in terms of control, but the emotional kinetics of watching the dance truly come through cinematically. The music includes Rutger Zuydervelt’s (a/k/a Machinefabriek) Wheeler and Session I by Peter Broderick and Machinefabriek, excellent examples of the oscillating moods of electro-acoustic music which defy conventional ambient categorization.
It was a pleasure to see the company perform this concert at the new Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center in Taylorsville, a venue that should be used more frequently by downtown-based arts organizations. This season, Ririe-Woodbury performed their season in three venues: the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts (where they are a resident), the Black Box Theatre at the Eccles Theater and the Taylorsville center.
Streaming video on-demand of Lo and Behold will be available, beginning today (May 9) and continuing through June 6, with purchased tickets. More information is at the Ririe-Woodbury website.
REPERTORY DANCE THEATRE: SIX SONGS FROM ELLIS
Viewers are encouraged to purchase access to the streaming video on demand recording of Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT)’s most recent concert, Six Songs from Ellis, which will be available through June 6.
Last month’s live performances comprised a thorough, enlightening theatrical celebration of Ellis Island and its history as the first stop for immigrants. Featuring 10 actors, nine dance artists, audio, music and video projections, with text coming exclusively from the recorded words of immigrants, many of whom came to the U.S. during the first decades of the 20th century, the evening-length concert reminds viewers of the contemporary value and historical significance of staying true to the legacy of immigration.
Conceived and choreographed by Marsha Fay Knight and directed by Leigh Selting, the work succeeds on many points, even if there were occasional bits of repetition and several of the “songs” (acts) could have been trimmed and tightened. The research that went into this work is prodigious, as Knight develops the script entirely from oral histories collected from immigrants many years after they settled in the U.S. Incidentally, the archives are housed in the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration/Oral History Library.
Thus, Knight capitalizes on how dance becomes part of the chronicling of these histories and memorializes them appropriately. The “songs” are really about storytelling, which separates the provenance of this genre from the conventional musical production (think Ragtime, for example). Instead of breaking into the narrative with ballads and dances, the work continuously relies on dance movement and recorded music representing the national origins of the immigrants whose stories are being told either through snippets of the recorded oral histories or in the transcripts as voiced by the actors. It is a celebration of immigration, sometimes sentimental and nostalgic, periodically poignant but more often an exuberant appreciation.
Knight adds nuances that prevent the work from seeming naive, manipulative or too tinted with rosy and lavender lenses. Often, the first impressions of being on American soil were less than ideal or favorable. But, in their own words, the immigrants often described such discomforts, inconveniences and delays as worthy sacrifices for the opportunity to eventually find the ideal corner to make their new American homes.
As mentioned previously in the preview published in The Utah Review, the six songs represent the critical steps in the journey of migration, starting in the homelands of immigrants with The Walk Away, and ending with At the Lady’s Feet, which captures the reflections of immigrants upon viewing the Statue of Liberty in the New York harbor and how they progressed to putting their own stakes in their new home. Joining the RDT dancers were actors Tyler Fox, Jonah Kirkhart, Benjamin Raymant, Aria Sage, Olivia Buck and Smith Hannah Staudinger. Other supporting actors were Anne Cullimore Decker, Karineh Hovsepian, Andrew Maizner and Jon Pezely.
For more information about purchasing access to the streaming video on demand production of Six Songs from Ellis, see the RDT website.
GINA BACHAUER INTERNATIONAL PIANO FOUNDATION: THE IVORY MENAGERIE
This has been an exceptionally kaleidoscopic concert season for the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation and there was no better way to cap it then with pianist Hsiang Tu bringing his ingeniously crafted The Ivory Menagerie program to the Salt Lake City audience.
Tu presented 22 short works, ranging from barely more than a minute in length to 10 minutes, with each one based on a theme of animals. The program clipped along at an ideal pace, perfect for audience members that might have included families with children or teens. He lightened the formalities with plenty of witty banter about the pieces and the animals. Tu has done his homework, which results in a perfect platform for demonstrating once again how the arts can fit in a STEM educational environment. And, his playing chops are undeniably on par with the world-class pianists who have graced the Bachauer stage throughout the 2021-22 season.
Tu loves interacting with the audience and he astounds with not losing one bit of his laserlike focus on executing. The works he presented, even those readily identifiable by the audience, are technically demanding and he effortlessly switched between genres and styles. He was as impressive with Liszt’s St. François d’Assise. La prédication aux oiseaux (St. Francis of Assisi, The Sermon to the Birds) and Schumann’s Vogel als Prophet (Bird as Prophet) as he was with the ebullient piano rags by William Bolcom. He also assumed the occasional theatrical duties of performing pieces representing the animal kingdom, including the occasional swatting of an imaginary fly or the stretching and yawning of a cat ready to nap.
No doubt, Tu seems at home with any stylistic period regarding works he performs publicly in such a program. His playing often has this rare gossamer essence but he truly imbues the expressive character of the animal being celebrated in the music. To wit: in 2020, his debut solo album, Bestiary on Ivory, was released through Bridge Records, and received wide praise.
For more information about upcoming streaming video on demand options, see the Bachauer website.