On Thursday a receptive audience joined Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) for Legacy, the opener of their fall season which will run through the weekend at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. RDT has recently gone through some big changes, and this weekend dance goers not only get to see the company performing Jose Limón’s iconic “Missa Brevis” for the first time, they also get to see four new company members: Justin Bass, Efren Corado Garcia, Ursula Perry, and Alyssa Thompson.
The show opened with “For Betty,” an energetic romp choreographed by Bill Evans in 1970. This work, characteristic of ‘classical modern dance,’ is heavily structured and musical, the dancers entering and exiting with varied linear and curved shapes, frontal jumping sequences, and energy qualities that build and then morph into something new. While not as flawlessly executed as the other pieces in the program, “For Betty” was a pleasant way to open the evening, and the dancers’ performed it with sincere enthusiasm and vigor.
Next came a series of solos in which each company member proved that when movement is fully embodied and deeply understood, it is irrelevant when in history it was choreographed. Staging, movement motifs, musicality, and thematic material that can feel dated and un-relatable are suddenly infused with a second life and seem new again in these performances. History and Modernity merge, and the audience can feel connected to what has gone before them. In the solo “I Call Upon Thee, My Lord” (1940), choreographed by Ted Shawn, Efren Corado Garcia manages to shed the held tension that sometimes accompanies historic modern dances when performed by dancers with contemporary training. He finds softness and a surrender that gives this solo an honest vulnerability. Consistently breath-taking in all the work that she does, Rosy Goodman Tennant shines with clarity and precision in “Ariadne” (1985) choreographed by Ze’eva Cohen.
The evening culminated with “Missa Brevis” (1970), which called on dancers from UVU and BYU, all of whom merged seamlessly with the company. This is a masterful work, choreographed by Limón after witnessing the devastation, as well as the hope and resilience that resided in the people of Poland after World War II. Aaron Wood dances the part of the outsider, a man who is perhaps unable to shake the sadness, anger and loss of faith that can accompany the aftermath of war. The rest of the company portrays individuals that are able to unite as a community with renewed faith and humanity. All perform the work with maturity, and this is perhaps the must-see dance piece of the year.
Overall, RDT seems to be teeming with potential and growth and Legacy is a show worth braving these first chilly days of the season.
Erica Womack is an SLC based choreographer who is currently teaching at SLCC.