Ririe-Woodbury recently performed its Winter Season at the Capitol Theatre, just a few blocks from the Rose Wagner (the Rose is RW’s rehearsal residence and where they most often perform). The evening included four separate works that dually complemented and contrasted one another, all curated like a well-balanced meal, including vintage and contemporary portions as well as environmental and social side dishes.
The company typically performs the work of the late choreographer Alwin Nikolais around this time of year. However, Winter Season did not include a Nikolais piece; alternately, “Physalia”, choreographed specifically for the company by Alison Chase and Moses Pendleton (who together created Pilobolus Dance Theater) in 1977, was reconstructed as this season’s playful, postmodernist dance.
The work was a delightful float through oceanic ecosystems. The Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish, also known by its scientific name Physalia physalis, and other sea organisms were all embodied with sustained, acrobatic movement by the dancers dressed in speckled, spandex bodysuits to clearly create unified shapes with one another.
Guest dancer Ching-I Chang Bigelow had a darker solo in which she was sprawled on the ground, belly down, her whole body precisely flapping and slapping like a fish out of water. Mary Lyn Graves was separated from the group with a crouched, sticky foot solo. The piece was dated with the projection of various still images of deep ocean life that weren’t necessary, as the dancers already evoked those images so fluidly.
“You and the Space Between” was choreographed by Miguel Azcue of the Swedish company Memory Wax. The piece began strikingly with sound, curtain, then lights, revealing Alexandra Bradshaw and Bashaun Williams center stage. They performed a mirrored duet, and were joined by the rest of the company paired off in duets, all moving one another’s body parts in a disjointed way as if they weren’t used to touching one another. Then, the dancers descended to the ground where they were captured live on camera from above and projected onto the cyclorama.
They moved through scenarios playfully, jumping from one horizontally-moving body/platform to a higher one, play-fighting, swinging from each other’s legs, and generally appearing to be in a video game. Eventually, everyone but Graves rose to standing, leaving her alone amongst the tops of heads on the video projection. This eye-level-to-bird’s-eye split was a compelling way to reveal two perspectives, literally and metaphorically, but after many minutes the comparison became belabored.
“Super WE” was created in collaboration between Tzveta Kassabova and Raja Feather Kelly in 2013, making this performance the Salt Lake City premiere of the work. On Saturday night, Yebel Gallegos and Graves took the stage. They rapidly executed phrase-work in circles, bobbing their heads while bent over, and trying to hold hands while also smiling at each other. The duet was fast and friendly with a frantic edge supported by Kelly’s original sound score: birds tweeting joined sporadically by a repeated “ha-ha-ha-ha” á la Laurie Anderson’s song “O Superman”. The dancers themselves sat down and began chanting “ha-ha-ha-ha”, effectively commandeering the soundtrack by making it themselves.
Graves and Gallegos had a litheness like that of the dance’s choreographers and their unison movement emphasized physical rituals - locomotion, holding hands, pointing, sitting in a chair – that the majority of humans do: sometimes robotically, sometimes with abandon, sometimes with gusto, always amidst personal dialogues, and creating meaning beyond the action itself.
I would like to take this opportunity to honor that this season is Bradshaw’s last performing with Ririe-Woodbury. The inclusion of many University of Utah dancers in director Daniel Charon’s “Snowmelt” prodded me to imagine a future member of the company, perhaps even one of the students on stage, and how they might fit into the current community of RW dancers. Bradshaw’s strong, elegant presence will surely be missed, though it is an exciting time for the company to continue to re-create itself.
“Snowmelt” concluded the evening starkly, but without very much explicit commentary on the subject of snowmelt itself due to global warming. The projections accompanying the piece depicted pieces of glacier falling into water, wind turbines, snow literally melting, a log on fire, the sun through orange haze, and bird’s-eye views of a freeway system. Sometimes the image would flip upside-down. The images were all very sharp and similar in compositional quality to the “natural” scenes of Utah displayed on giant screens in the new 111 Main building in downtown SLC. Both are highly produced and curated to demonstrate some kind of institutional acknowledgement of the natural world juxtaposed with the industrialized world. Charon’s piece did seem to acknowledge the interrelatedness of the two worlds, but only with the projections themselves which dominated the performance. “Snowmelt” was danced with rigor and physical acuity, but lacked moments of stillness to punctuate the movement or connect it to the projected images. I am interested in experiencing this highly kinetic piece without projections blatantly telling the story instead.
Winter Season was a cohesive yet eclectic evening of dance. We were plunged undersea, then swept up to the ceiling, pressed into reality of rhythm, and finally, confronted with a taste of our nature and nature itself.
Emma Wilson is a graduate of the University of Utah and a regular contributor to loveDANCEmore. She frequently jams with Porridge for Goldilocks and was a choreographer for Red Lake at the Salt Lake Fringe Festival this past summer.