I typically leave Repertory Dance Theatre performances feeling satisfied by an evening of enjoyable, well-crafted dances, and Thursday night’s Brio program was no exception. Brio featured five works by Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith. Several were creations by both members of the choreographic duo; others were created by Smith, who continues to choreograph following Shapiro’s passing in 2006.
Being shown an entire evening of Shapiro and Smith works offered up a key to unlocking their choreographic minds. Similarities cropped up from piece to piece: narrative elements, props, text, even some movement-based motifs. Proven many times over was their ability to extrapolate, both narratively and choreographically, on a theme, verse, or physical prop, and create myriad entertaining scenarios and images surrounding them. Also, while small elements potentially dated some pieces a bit, I think it still holds true that a piece’s date of origin does not determine its success or relevance in the present, if the piece is well-crafted and touches upon timeless subjects.
Clad in candy-colored jumpsuits reminiscent of the 90’s (the piece was created in 1992), the dancers in “Dance With Two Army Blankets” somersaulted over said blankets, spun into them, arrested others’ leaps with them, and caught, counterbalanced, and catapulted with them. Motion and momentum never ceased throughout the piece, as was visually manifested by the continual transfer of blankets between hands. As my performance companion Erica Womack observed, “Dance with Two Army Blankets” seemed to be on the cusp of revealing something deeper, while it maybe didn’t quite get there for her. The blanket-integrated choreography did provide endless points of interest, but I agreed with Erica when I remembered Dan Higgins getting dragged offstage at the end, holding onto a blanket for dear life. Nothing had seemed that dire up until then; but maybe that was the point? Maybe it’s all happy-go-lucky until it’s not?
“Turf” (1997) was a thorough, and at times more serious, investigation, of the territorial tendencies of humans. Different sized rugs represented personal continents that were constantly in jeopardy of other parties, who ran and soared on, off, and across the stage. Justin Bass opened “Turf” with a stand-out solo of high leaps, contractions, and small ski jumps. As the piece went on, all conceivable variations on the theme of territory, or turf, were explored, and the ending (Bass swiftly pulling a rug away just as Tyler Orcutt lunged, airborne, for it) was a final underlining of the ongoing nature of such conflicts.
“Pat-A-Cake” (2011) employed body percussion, both in its recorded track (like beat-boxing) and onstage (Ursula Perry tap-danced barefoot and clapped like a flamenco dancer, and the two even slapped each other a couple times). The women’s duet was playful yet antagonistic, as they waged nonsensical, nose-poke battles over who was “baby” and who was “me” (From: Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man/Bake me a cake, as fast as you can/Pat it, prick it, and mark it with B/Put it in the oven for baby and me!).
The biggest surprise of the evening (SPOILER ALERT) was unquestionably the ending of “Pat-A-Cake”. Suddenly, Jaclyn Brown indicated she was pregnant and the “baby”/”me” war took on a completely different meaning. Hilariously according to Perry, the baker’s man had “put it in the oven as fast as he could.”
I have no idea how a child would receive or interpret this ending. Would it just exist as part of the fabric of well-timed humor found in the rest of the duet, or would it not make sense and then not be funny anymore? While at times the show felt didactic, and thus well-suited for younger audiences, “Pat-A-Cake” was certainly one for the grown-ups. I loved that it strayed like this; it left me feeling like Bass had pulled the rug out from under me as well, and that Smith had temporarily snatched back that key to her choreographic secrets.
“Jack” (2013) similarly used nursery rhymes, this time the many with characters named Jack, in an entertaining duet danced by Bass and Orcutt (click here to read my review of this same cast from RDT’s Revel last November).
“Bolero” (2010) closed the show, but it was the one piece for which I wasn’t completely along for the ride. Maurice Ravel’s composition is iconic and a host of well-known and local choreographers spring to mind who have tried their hand at matching the score’s driving climax (with varying degrees of success). In their other pieces, Shapiro and Smith’s devices and narratives read so clearly, and here, while it appeared the music could be the prop, it was not as compelling of a pairing. If anything, I thought the movement was too simple to vie with the overpowering music, except for in a group unison section at the end where more movements were packed into less counts. I would understand if the choreography aimed to provide juxtaposition to the score, but instead it mostly seemed to fall somewhere in the middle.
I’m open to the suggestion that had “Bolero” not been last, I would have felt differently about it: it was more serious in tone than the other pieces, with no whimsical diversions. I did think the dancers’ moments of injury, where they would collapse down or stumble a bit, were intriguing in their subtlety and equally intriguing in their resolutions, which quickly found their way back into the abstract from these small moments of drama. And the ending of “Bolero” was exactly how I wanted it to be: an energetic group unison section ended with the music, and with flying-squirrel jumps, horizontal in mid-air, the blackout occurring in the split second before the dancers had all landed on their stomachs. It was exactly the ending I wanted to a strong program.
RDT presents Brio again Friday (tonight) and Saturday, 7:30pm at the Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts.
Amy Falls is loveDANCEmore’s Program Coordinator and has a BFA from the University of Utah’s Modern Dance program.