The Weekenders, a Salt Lake City-based rock and roll band, celebrated their sophomore album release with their first headlining concert at The State Room on April 29th. Accompanying the concert was modern dance choreographed by Erica Womack over the past year with dancers Brooklyn Draper, Jamie Myers, Amy Falls and Bashaun Williams.
Viewing modern dance in an unconventional space (i.e. not your typical proscenium theater) where I could grab a drink or two and sit back was extremely refreshing. Joining the rest of the attendees with my margarita in hand, and seeing the red and orange neon stage lights illuminating the rock instruments, I was hoping to witness equally unconventional choreography.
But first, I would be unjust in glossing over the opening act. Another local band, The Quiet Oaks sieged the stage and their enthusiasm was infectious. Members of the audience, including my friend who came with me, couldn’t sit anymore. “I gotta get up and groove!” my friend exclaimed, jumping up and rushing closer to the stage. Rock and roll demands embodiment. The band members themselves were dancers in their own right, the keyboardist waving his long, luxurious locks, the vocalist closing his eyes and swaying allowing his voice to project. You could sense the joy and passion that each member of the band had for their music. Mike Moon exuberantly danced around the stage. There was no pinning him down throughout the set, his energy shone through as he bounced, strummed, and provided supportive vocals. After their opening set, the Quiet Oaks’ lead vocalist promised that the Weekenders would “blow [my] mind.” I was ready. The opening band had done their job and primed me for what was to come.
The Weekenders took position with their respective instruments and the lead vocalist Rob Reinfurt introduced the dancers. The music began as Brooklyn Draper deliberately stepped in a diagonal pathway onto the white marley. As she arrived at the center of the stage, she turned and looked out to the audience. Brooklyn has an incredible presence that subtly demands your attention. The rest of the cast, in a pedestrian fashion, walked on from the side to join her in the dancing space. One by one they commenced an arm arcing phrase, meandering throughout the space as though under a spell.
It was during this first piece that I sensed a tension between the weightiness of music and the loftiness of the choreography. Repeated movements that occurred throughout the fifty minute set were a forward step on the diagonal as an arm floated up like a silk scarf while the opposite leg lifted to attitude. I feared that the selected movement vocabulary for the evening would not match the release that I hear in rock and roll, but rather offer an insufficient contrast.
The remainder of the dancing was bound by the confines of the form and a limited stage space. While I had hoped for an equal marriage of live rock music and live modern dance, I found that the movement took backseat to the music, despite being physically placed in front of the band.
For instance, some lyrics in the third number repeated, “let it go, let it go, let it go…” getting more wild with each repetition. Rather than altering dynamics to accompany the music, the choreography remained static. Amazed as I was with the control that each of the dancers exhibits over their bodies, I yearned to see a loss of that control. Rock and roll is not a genre about holding back or stifled formality. My expectations were further denied as the music would accelerate and crescendo, and the dancers stood to the side, taking sips from their water bottles. There seemed to be a handful of these lost opportunities to showcase the talent possessed by each dancer or to at least unleash some untapped energy.
The fifth song in the set contained the lyrics, “People are screaming ‘Jesus,’ but I don’t know if he can hear us,” which struck a personal chord with this ex-Mormon and waffling Atheist-Agnostic. My stomach jumped to my throat in a visceral reaction and I was disappointed to see the dancers holding their arms rigidly and orderly. It may have been the intention of the choreographer to create this uncanny dissonance yet I wonder what a more literal accompaniment of movement choices would have looked like; something to illustrate the words, “mama’s got no steam left for the fight,” or allowing the dancers to become “lost in the synergy.”
It wasn’t until the sixth dance where I noticed dancer Jamie Myers cracking smiles, hinting that she was taking some pleasure in her duet with Amy Falls.The other dancers broke out of their stoic, dutiful completion of saut de chats and arabesques as the finale began, revving up their tempo to match that of the band, jumping with the crashes of the percussionist, and grinning, making eye contact with the other performers.
The dancing was technically strong, but I would have wished for a choreographic choice to “let go” of the dancers’ training and create more room for the music to possess their bodies rather than rely on the formalities of tried and true choreographic rules and tools. I understand the necessity of contrast when it comes to choreography, in this case it allowed for the music to be the main focus of the evening. Yet a stronger parallel between movement and music may have offered a more cathartic experience, and dare I say, left me more satisfied and uplifted.
I would urge that future works of collaboration between local rock bands and modern dancers tap into a release rather a containment of energy to showcase the rebellious and unpinnable spirits inside the performers, and invent unconventional movements and formations. If you can name the movement, change it.
Shane Davis is an MFA candidate at the University of Utah. He’s recently performed as a guest dance with RDT for Jose Limon’s “Missa Brevis.”