The Wedding, in review

NOW, a brand new Salt Lake based dance company that seeks to be international and interdisciplinary, premiered their first work The Wedding to a enthusiastic and receptive crowd this past weekend.  The performance took place at the Masonic Temple, which houses an interesting in-the-round theatre.  This space bears a charge and a history of the rituals and ceremonies that are known to occur regularly.  Even walking up the many steps at the grand front entrance, flanked by stone lions statues, felt processional and added to the atmosphere of the night.  Audience members were free to pick from the three different facings of the theatre, a choice the undoubtedly affected how the movement was experienced.

The piece began with Ted Johnson, tall and calm, tracing the shape of the space, preparing both himself and the audience for what is about to take place.  Jo Blake, a former dancer for Ririe Woodbury, and Katherine Lawrence Orlowski, a Ballet West dancer, stood together, waiting for the experience to begin.  It may be assumed that the wedding was to be between Blake and Lawrence, as they have numerous duets, and both have the most developed solos.

Much of the dancing has an urgent unyielding quality, familiar textures in Boye-Christensen’s choreography.  There was also an air of solemnity and ritual, created both by the choreography, and especially by some of the music selections.  Yumelia Garcia, a Joffrey Ballet dancer, performed a solo that felt particularly severe and final, her body and performance at times rigid and uncompromising. The duets between Lawrence and Blake were cool and precise, displaying Lawrence’s strong lines and technical abilities.  They danced with a sense of execution and drive.

Blake had a solo that was both urgent and yielding, and served as a needed exhale to the mounting tension of this ritual.  He danced with beautiful abandon, allowing the movement to seep in his bones and sincerely be affected.  The moments of calculated uneven timing made familiar movement motifs seem new again.

Four Groomsmen flood the space, immediately filling the space with a non-dancer non-performer energy.  At times this pedestrian aspect of the piece works, particularly when the movement is kept to walking patterns, standing still or shifting from side to side as if in a real wedding, and at times their inclusion is alternatingly awkward and obvious, such as the moment when they pull flashlights out and begin to menacingly shine lights on a frantic Blake.

Later, a duet between Blake and Johnson gave the warmth and sentiment that some imagine and expect when a wedding is what is at stake; it is curious that this tenderness was not more explored between the two dancers (Blake and Orlowski) that were presumably the two that were undertaking the nuptials.  It is in this duet that we see Johnson, as he faces Blake, pass onto Blake his knowledge or blessing through a series of gestures.  It was striking to see these two men move and breathe together on stage.  They both are able to perform without the shell that sometimes encases a performer.

The last section of the piece includes the four dancers coming together as one united group.  This is the one part of the piece that felt choreographically rushed or underdeveloped.  The ceremony and ritual is climaxing, and just as soon as the audience catches on that the end is perhaps near, all but one are on the raised stage, arranged by the installation and four placed chairs.  Johnson, again marking a change in time and space, giving importance to what is being witnessed, quickly finishes the ritual with embodied and solemn movement.  And then the lights go to black, and similar to the events after two people experience the lightening quick change of marriage: the audience claps, congratulations are exchanged, and the crowd continues with their evening.

Erica Womack is a Salt Lake based choreographer. She currently teaches at SLCC.