Repertory Dance Theatre’s RITUAL marked the first performance of the company’s 50th anniversary season. While the company’s repertory itself is steeped in history, RITUAL was also a celebration of the company’s dancers and choreographers over the decades. A photo gallery of past company dancers hung in the lobby of the Rose Wagner, and RDT alumna Lynne Wimmer compiled a documentary-style video featuring a host of past and present RDT affiliates paying homage to the company and its continuing legacy.

Those speaking in front of Wimmer’s camera in “For the Love of Dance: Reflections on RDT’s 50 Years” emphasized the importance of RDT, its repertory, and opportunities gleaned through time spent working with the company. A deep respect and passion for RDT and its mission by the dancers was apparent in the evening’s performance.

Six of RDT’s eight dancers gave us a taste of the clarity and poise they bring to the stage in Chant, a brief but satisfying foray into the classical modern world of unitards and arms held in low and balletic roundedness. Tim Wengerd’s choreography from 1967 gave us glimpses of Merce Cunningham and even of Martha Graham (whom Wengerd danced for), broken up occasionally by coquettish knee swings while seated.

Energizer (Section III) by Molissa Fenley highlighted the stamina and performative abilities of RDT’s men. Section I of the same work, performed later on the evening’s program, similarly highlighted the stamina and precision of RDT’s women. Both sections of Energizer left me wondering, at times, “When will it end?”: repetitive scores by Mark Freedman accompanied rather than propelled the oft-repeated motifs, phrases, and formations, many of which were executed while prancing. Variety, however, was found in each dancer’s approach to Fenley’s mix of both quirky footwork and classically identifiable steps (stag leaps, chaînés, etc.). Efrén Corado Garcia drew the audience in with his passionate engagement, Justin Bass with a subtle sensuality, Dan Higgins with a stalwart strength, and Tyler Orcutt with his lithely airborne leaps. The dancers of RDT understand how to imbue the works they are given with continued relevance via both the clarity and excitement with which they perform.

Pigs & Fishes, created originally for the Alvin Ailey Company by Elisa Monte in 1982, featured more full-bodied movement and groundedness than Wengerd and Fenley’s upright dances. Ursula Perry had a stunning opening solo before she was joined by the group, who entered rocking their pelvises back and forth while flexing their hands. Similar to Wengerd and Fenley, Monte finds power in form; her use of shapes, repetition, and formations all solidified the strength of the group as a unit. Pigs & Fishes exhibited a noticeable continued growth alongside Glenn Branca’s avant-garde ambient guitar score. It’s a different experience when we know the apex of the dance is approaching: where Fenley keeps us guessing and the effect is durational, Monte guides us with a traceable arc that is more narrative in nature.

Dabke, by frequent RDT choreographer Zvi Gotheiner, premiered in New York in 2012 and takes its name from “dabkeh” – the national dance of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine, and of which Israel has its own version (Gotheiner was born and raised in Israel). The curtain opened on the first group section to reveal an exposed backstage area, and subsequent sections meandered through different “subplots” in the dance’s structure.

A solo by Jaclyn Brown exhibited dynamic stamps, whacking kicks, and tossing of the hair. Bass lifted Orcutt in a duet while Orcutt continued to push off the floor with his hands. Garcia removed his shirt, engaged in tumultuous inner dialogue with it, and was joined by three others who entered and removed their shirts in solidarity. Lauren Curley and Higgins had a fairly collaborative duet, despite each exhibiting moments of quaking in place and moments that felt rougher in touch than others; when three women entered and accusingly pushed Higgins offstage away from Curley, I wondered what he had done to warrant such treatment.

After diverging in many directions, the dancers came together in a line to make obscene gestures at the audience. Clearly rebelling against a force from either the dance or the outside world, it was unclear where their frustration truly stemmed from. Billed to be about global conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, the dance undermined a nuanced exploration with this display. Each dancer did perform this section with gusto with RITUAL demonstrating, at large, the dancers’ versatility and strength.

Amy Falls coordinates loveDANCEmore’s Mudson series and has a BFA in modern dance from the University of Utah.

Most of our reviews are shared with 15 BYTES. For “RITUAL” we had two different writers, click here for Geoff Wichert’s take.