RDT's Passage

In a recent review I mentioned the difficulty of locating a beginning while writing about a singular artist. Today, I eat my words and find it more difficult to write about a four-artist evening. So I ask, in advance, for forgiveness about the length of this review or its meandering path but I want to talk about each work on its own terms and also on the terms of the program which, true to the title, is a passage. The journey begins with the crispness and clarity of history, continues with comfort of recent classics, and concludes with questions from new investigations.

Passage was dedicated to the memory of Utah dance figure Susan McLain and the reconstruction of "Karyo" was a worthy tribute. The abstract forms and articulate phrasing remind me what draws many of us to dance in the first place – dancers can move through space in ways that echo daily life while simultaneously deepening the experience through the ever-expanding artistry of their bodies.

From this place of history there are the more immediate memories of "Songs I Wanna Sing (to you)" and "Ghost Ship" choreographed by Satu Hummasti and Eric Handman respectively. I confess that I did not see either premiere and I can’t speak to them as a true second viewing. What I can say is that they feel like reconstructions because each choreographer has gone on to deepen some of the idioms they explored in these earlier works. Just a few weeks ago, on a University of Utah program, Satu continued an exploration of text as it relates to music and performance while Eric dealt again with constructing situations designed to reveal virtuosity. Songs… and Ghost Ship also feel like reconstructions because unlike McLain’s work fixed in historical context, both of dances appear to be beginnings and as such they showcase curiosity about how much to edit and how to represent their choreographers’ own shifting identities.

In Songs… it is clear that despite the second performance some of the dancers are beyond their comfort zone. For a general audience maybe this discomfort wouldn’t read well but, in my opinion, it was a good thing. After seasons of attending RDT and feeling like I know what to expect, this piece left me with intrigue into directions the company could go. The technical range of the performers viewed alongside the vulnerable act of singing was satisfying, to put it simply, and I went along for the ride. While the oscillation between song and dance was a comfortable way to keep me engaged, the vast genres of singing illuminated the real lack of diversity within the company. While the company makeup is an immutable fact it was something I could not escape and my longing to watch diverse performers alongside the range of songs still resonates.

In Ghost Ship I have an inverse experience: the performers are deep within their comfort zone of intensive partnering and intricate yet full-bodied dancing but the structure comes into question. For example, I’m faced with the conundrum of choosing to watch rice do a dance from the rafters rather than watching the sheer physical feats before me. I’m also faced with the mystery of what exactly is printed on those costumes…in the Blackbox it seems like I should be able to tell but I can’t. Neither is a bad thing, they make me reflect on whether dance is enough and what, if anything, layered visual images can contribute to what I see on stage.

From these recent and not as recent histories there is a premiere by the collaborative team of RawMoves (Nic Cendese & Natosha Washington). "What You Leave Behind" is a true passage as it draws choreography from one of RDT’s own company members and features at least a handful performers that regularly perform with the choreographic duo. Seeing them in context of the program reveals the ways in which their relationships with RDT have fostered their choreographic identity – they know the strengths of the performers and cast them into new situations. For example, watching Nathan and Aaron partner one another was a rare joy and Toni and Sarah were both give precise and strong material that I feel they aren’t always given.

The criticism I levy however is that this interpersonal strength can, at times, become a dialogue that I’m left out of. There is a type of dance I’ve come to know as BOSWWIP which stands for “based on secret words written in private”. What You Leave Behind is one of those dances. The text, written by the performers obviously has weight and impact for each of them and perhaps to select audience members. But to me it’s a puzzle that I’m missing a key piece of. Maybe this is the choreographic point Nic and Natosha are trying to make but I’m not so sure; I think the goal is to have me find myself within the act of weaving of the narrative and that is something I hope happens more clearly in a future iteration of the work.

At the end of the evening it’s ironic that the most historical work appears the most fresh but it makes sense because it’s the most composed. The remainder leave me asking questions of how they are seen differently in relationship to one another and how they could be seen differently if I imagine them moving on their own historical path.

I close my eyes to imagine…

…how Satu’s work could translate to different performing spaces or dancers, how the songs she wants to sing (to someone) could change by the day…

…how Eric’s physical strengths appeared so close in the Black Box and how they persist in my memory even without rice, even without painted costumes….

…how Nic & Natosha struggle valiantly to create collective voice, a journey in democracy many have taken before and a journey without end…

Ashley Anderson

notes on the dance for camera fest @ the U

On Friday, I went to see a retrospective of the work of the main draw of the festival, screendance legend Katrina McPherson. Her work brought up a lot of interesting issues and a lively, valuable discussion ensued with the artist after the show. Eric Handman, a professor in the dance department who also makes work for stage and video, asked McPherson to elaborate on the role of repetition in her work, which was evident in the first three abstract dance shorts of the evening This is a place, Moment and Sense-8 (which offered a glimpse at a partially blind contact improv group). McPherson ruminated on the difference between repeating movements on stage and repeating the same piece of footage in a film. This got me (and the friends I was with) thinking in new ways about how the filmic idioms of montage versus the kind of reality-fracturing mis en scene Maya Deren did function and interact as screendance develops through the years.

McPherson also showed a documentary piece about a dance company in Addis Ababa founded by a British ballet teacher who taught largely homeless Ethiopians “contemporary dance”. There was a lot to discuss here too, in the lobby, and in the car on the way home. We started to dissect what we thought of the film and of the project. It seemed undeniable that he’d done a lot of good by bringing new ideas and opportunities to these kids and also that a lot what he said suffered from some Colonial attitudes toward the value of “contemporary” versus “native” dance. That said, it got us all thinking, both about issues of culture, poverty and dance and about the idea that dance could change the world for the better.

Sam Hanson holds a BUS from the U & makes dances & films about town