a review of Fall Season

Ririe-Woodbury’s Fall Season showcased three dances, two of which were world premieres, this past weekend.  Each piece showcased six dancers, the first two with guest Breeanne Saxton, and the last with Alexandra Jane Bradshaw making a return after an injury.  The company looked strong, dancing with confidence, nuance and polished athleticism.

Adam Barruch’s prima materia offered a clear sense of craft and traditional partnering where the women shine.  The stage was set with three transparent pillars that divide the space and blur the dancers into hazy forms as they move behind them.  This gives an otherwise crystalline work an air of ambiguity.  It was beautiful to watch the dancers show us line, breath and shape, and this is a piece that doesn’t polarize or offend.  It shows lovely dancing and clear emerging relationships; it is "the first material", before life (the show) unravels with questions and tension.

Shift, choreographed by Daniel Charon, wastes no time in establishing intent as the lights go up to Mary Lyn Graves dancing vivaciously in a bright red dress, while Bradley Beakes faces upstage pantomiming being on his phone, oblivious to the world around him.  This work, which is part one of the trilogy Together Alone, has several truncated sections; a fun dance party, an exploration of isolation within a group, a young couple in duet, and even a section evoking the beloved musical West Side Story.  All these sections add to a disjointed and non-linear experience, not unlike the experience of scrolling Facebook and reading statuses of civil unrest, displaced refugees, celebrity follies and cute cats.

The idea that our virtual lives are perhaps more interesting, or at least more commanding than our flesh and blood is again confronted when the dancers’ shadows are projected on the cyc.  On the cyc they are clear, sculpted, and larger than life, making their real bodies on the stage seem terribly ordinary.  When given the choice, what do we chose to see?

At times it was hard to decipher if Shift was being cheeky or was making an unapologetic departure from the cool abstraction many expect of modern dance.  A duet using the projection of texts (complete with emoticons) show us a juvenile tumult, a cellphone loudly ringing interrupts the dancing, the dancers stark and undressed become trapped in the image of their phones…whether serious or obvious, cheeky or scattered, the message was clear: Get Off Your Phone. But this message becomes more complicated when one considers all the exposure and advertising companies garner via social media.  Before coming to the show I had read a preview, promotional material, and several status updates surrounding Fall Season.  So maybe I should get offline, but not so fast that I miss ‘liking’ Ririe Woodbury’s status update.

The show ended with States Rendered, a Doug Varone piece choreographed last year which features video design by Ellen Bromberg.  This piece hardly settles or solidifies; the dancers are like popcorn in hot oil, simmering and then exploding through the space. The electronic sound mixed with black and white video gives off tension and contributes to a rich, if not overwhelming, sensory experience.  Perhaps instead of showing us what our modern life with technology has become like Charon did, Varone exaggerates it until it becomes almost unbearable to experience.  Alexandra Jane Bradshaw has a strong solo juxtaposing breath and tension, and like the piece generally, hints at aggression and violence.  The grey muted costumes echo a structure that is just shy of finding one thing, and just as an image is found, it is broken and dissipates into another. The piece ends mid-sentence with the dancers barely making it into a pile downstage and then the lights go black and it’s over.

Erica Womack is a regular contributor to loveDANCEmore. She is also a choreographer, performer and adjunct faculty member at SLCC. This piece is shared with 15 BYTES

Ririe-Woodbury’s Fall Season

Featuring the work of three male choreographers, Ririe-Woodbury’s season opener this last weekend had no particular through-line, except perhaps in its attempt to stake a claim for the group on being “contemporary”. The strongest work in the evening, artistic director Daniel Charon’s, was arguably the least au courant, harkening toward solidly twentieth-century modern dance traditions.

Charon’s “Storm” began with a rush of orchestral sound— the score was by Michael Nyman. The entire company tumbled out onto the stage and continued to enter and exit rapidly in dazzling patterns of thick, athletic gusts. It was the sort of piece where the scale, both in time and space seem to extend far beyond the arbitrary frames of proscenium and curtain cues. Recalling the lush ensembles of José Limón, Doug Varone or Carolyn Carlson, “Storm” felt like a kinesthetic extension of the score’s three movements. It’s loud, cinematic grandeur had me thinking “if Terrance Malick had made dances, they might have looked a lot like this.” The void of the theatre felt charged, like a sliver of a long expanse of flat land cut by a setting sun. It seemed that the six company members were dancing in a much larger space than that circumscribed by the building we occupied.

The entire ensemble participated, but the work seemed to hinge on the company’s men: Yebel Gallegos, Brad Beaks and Bashaun Williams. All three were shown off for their ballon, but also engaged in intimate duets and musical, self-elaborating solos. There were a few little details amiss, such as costumes that didn’t quite fit the movement, but as a vehicle for ecstatic dancing, Charon’s work was a great success. He is very lucky to have inherited this iteration of Ririe-Woodbury, which even after the departure of Tara McArthur seems to have maintained a unique sense of palpable friendship. New dancer Melissa Younker held her own throughout and looked like she’d been with them for years.

Where Charon successfully channeled the efforts of his company, the out-of-towner offerings felt like they left the dancers squandered. Jonah Bokaer’s “fragments” looked like a a composition class conducted in the middle of a light sculpture (there was a large triangle made of halogen bulbs on the floor and mirrors hanging in a patchwork pattern throughout the space). Many of the performers had intriguing passages of movement, but the moments of true visual pleasure– such as Mary Lyn Graves seeming to lose her feet when she stepped into the dark center of the triangle– felt accidental and were all too infrequent. “fragments” was almost worth watching for Alex Bradshaw’s rich, internal solo, but ultimately had nothing to say.

“one hundred thousand” by German choreographer Johannes Wieland, was equally lacking in direction, though somewhat more playful. Yebel Gallegos’ comic timing as he sang in a blonde wig almost saved the work from it’s ponderousness. It’s interesting to note that while all of this is repeatedly referred to as “contemporary dance” in advertising, its the work of three males largely reiterating modern dance traditions of which they are contemporary exponents. At this, Charon was very successful. Bokaer (who’s past is Cunningham) and Wieland (who refers to Western European dance theatre) felt like less sure of how to carry on the torch.

Samuel Hanson is a dance writer here and at SLUG Magazine and 15BYTES.