Repertory Dance Theater is as much an educational resource as it is a dance company. By facilitating dance workshops in elementary schools and using informal performances to reach the community, the company strives to align the arts and education in order to reveal their symbiotic relationship. RDT’s new work, entitled Place: Dancing The Green Map make use of the growing interest that Salt Lake residents have in environmental issues. A collaboration with the Green Map© Project, Place is a dance concert inspired by Green Map © icons that are located throughout a community to label a location’s relationship with the environment. RDT “mean(s) to raise consciousness and concern about the health of our community” by taking the icons and translating them into “movement essays”.
It is not often that a review of a dance performance will open with comments about the musical accompaniment. However, Scott Killian’s dated sound scores were distracting enough to command my attention more times than I would have liked. Killian’s synthesized pop beats and simple melodic progressions call to mind a PBS Public Service Announcement. “Mass Transit,” is winningly performed by Toni Lugo. This piece solidifies the premise that Place is a made-for-PBS special. In “Mass Transit,” Lugo performs a lengthy rap illustrating the benefits of buses and “UTA-Trax,” and the plights of our transit system. Getting funky, Lugo gamely hip-hops her way through the decidedly PG performance, which would have made a lovely educational segment for PBS’s Sesame Street.
Paired with one minute dances in which dancers embody the environmental icon related to that piece— for example, “Solar Energy” was danced by a sweat-swiping, sun-basking Aaron Wood— the affect was that of a long string of short commercials. The music, which alternated between evoking moods of sadness and sexiness, also had trouble correlating with the dancers’ intent, often dictating the style of dance. “Wind Energy Site”: sexy. “Oil and Gas Site”: sad. “Solar Energy”: sexy. “Recycling”: sad. Often times the mood inspired by the music’s attributes diverge from the content of the dance. Since when is recycling an emotionally wrought subject? In “Recycling,” the dancers lean listlessly on one another, their faces torque with despair. The emotions displayed by the dancers are at all times correlated with the music, which sometimes left the movement’s purpose behind.
Zvi Gotheiner essentially created a full length dance performance (although Gotheiner credits dancers as collaborating choreographers). Such singular choreography credit is rare in the modern dance world, where productions are often comprised of multiple choreographers with multiple inspirations and aesthetics. The singularity of choreographic intent in Place, merging environmentalism and dance, was an organizing and unifying device for the performance. The seamlessness of Place was also its’ Achilles heel, though, lulling the audience into passivity. With such a strong through-line required by collaboration with the Green Map©, Place might have benefited from using multiple musical artists or choreographers. In Place, we saw the same interpretation of the icons and environmental issues over and over. Ellen Bromberg, a Salt Lake resident and multimedia artist, provided simple projections of sky-line or waste-sight to add another level of visual stimulation and interpretation of the icon for each dance. With collaboration being a key-focus of the project, inviting even more artist community members could have enlivened the performance.
In the opening mini-documentary projected onto the screen onstage, Chara Huckins-Malaret says that in her experience teaching elementary students as part of RDT’s educational program, “the boys shine a bit more” than the girls do as dancers. Apparently, talent evens out between males and females during maturity, because both sexes performed equally well this weekend. Nathan Shaw transformed his solidly muscular arms into snaking rivulets of oil in “Oil and Gas Site”. On the girl’s team, M. Colleen Hoelscher dissolved into hilarious belly-laughing in her duet with Christopher Peddecord in “Water Pollution”. Glimpses of physical beauty appeared onstage as fleetingly gleams of filmy oil on the surface of the ocean might attract your attention. On the sea, the unnaturally colored water which tells of contamination is unwelcome. In Place, the moments of brilliance were too far and few between, a result of choreographic simplicity rather than physical and artistic inability.
RDT’s dancers brought all of their strength and humility and honest performing voices to Place, and were sometimes met with choreography that seemed only half-hearted. A marathon compilation of 24 dances, the brevity of each piece was at times startlingly incomplete; in “Diverse Neighborhood,” two dancers sit in a pool of light and take a bite of noodles, only to walk off before they have even had time to swallow. Pleasingly, some short dances display all of their intent with quick completion, often aided by literal gestures that allow the audience to grasp the connection between the icon and the dancer. When gestures or literal images are not easily deciphered though, mystification and befuddlement cloud understanding.
As is often the case in performance with lofty aspirations, some goals are met while others fall short. RDT has and continues to collaborate with the community and youth in the educational system with a commitment and energy that cannot fail to inspire a love of dance in others. The recent partnership with Green Map© is no doubt successful when implemented as an educational program. However, bringing education and environmentalism to the stage is difficult to do without acquiring a preaching voice. Humor and RDT’s powerful performers helped to alleviate the educational feel of Place, but leaving the theater I immediately started craving for more dancing, less learning. Luckily, RDT is planning a full day of free dance in May, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. It’s an informal showcase of 45 pieces of RDT’s repertory that will more than assuage my appetite.
Sofia Strempek is a University of Utah BFA candidate and a regular contributor to the Daily Chronicle.