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

RawMoves: Babble review

Maybe I was the only person that didn't enjoy "The Story of Eight," RawMoves' prop-driven escapade of 2009. Then again, maybe I wasn't. But I think I had a unique reason for my dislike. 
I thought the poster for that show, which featured ropes and ladders and such, looked like the scene from a ship, I thought the title referred to pieces of eight and I assumed the show would be about pirates. Needless to say, I was mistaken and a little disappointed. I walked into this year's show with a taste of regret still on the tongue.  


I was astounded. The first ten minutes of "Babble" fulfilled my need for textual banter and fast, classy moves. The dancing from this troupe is often fierce, but the choreography is not always this seamless and complex. I found my eye roving from one pair of cheeky fork-lovers to the next with gleams of anticipation. The text elements continued to push boundaries, striking an engaging balance between chaos and clarity. There were very impressive Russian sounding rants, a few lyrical motifs (When A Man Loves a Woman -- yes!!) and an incredible lack of gesture-driven phrases where dancers cover their mouths with their hands and sprinkle unsaid words to the ground like dust. 

The smaller ensemble dance sections were often quieter, but still enjoyable. Tyler Kunz left his paperwork behind for an evening and rattled us with a macabre solo. A notable trio engaged in a beautifully interwoven set of phrases. The larger ensemble pieces, especially the finale, fell a little flat in my opinion, though they were full of fine dancing. Perhaps too full. Arranged in cumbersome lines, the dancers seemed to tread water instead of stir the space. A fellow audience member mentioned that the dance sections seemed like the "safety net" in an otherwise daring show. 

I have always been impressed that choreographers Natosha Washington and Nicholas Cendese manage to find room in the busy SLC dance scene for their professionally produced, but small company. This year, my respect for them as choreographers has grown. Here's hoping that they keep surprising audiences for years to come. 

Kitty Sailer is a MFA candidate at the University of Utah


Raw Moves: Story of Eight reprise

Raw Moves’ The Story of Eight opens with all eight of its props waiting on stage, arranged in a careful pile and under a dim pool of light. Pillows, jackets, a ladder, a very fake looking bouquet of roses, an oversized mattress, a washing basin, some rope, and a few small chairs sit as if posed for use by the school photographer. They ominously await the spooky action that will ensue- an alternately boring and disturbing parade of underdeveloped images of sex and violence mixed with sequences of disappointingly predictable groupthink dance.

One of the first striking images we see is of a man suffocating a woman with a pillow. He smothers her just long enough for us to recognize the image and then gives up on it, moving on to some other quick and dirty partnering around the mattress. This will be a recurrent theme in Eight, a little abuse, nonchalant and then back to the dancing. Eileen Rojas jokingly flirts with suicide (jacket and rope). Nathan Shaw and Ursula Perry will perform what looks like Dancin’ with the Stars’ answer to interracial sex. You guessed it- the rope is alternately a noose, a whip and a lasso. Karin Fenn, the oldest performer, will chase a bouquet tied to a string. And finally, at intermission, they’ll tie Jennifer Beaumont to a chair and leave here there smiling while the lights come on in the house.

At the risk of being compared to Arlene Croce, at this point I must make a confession. At intermission last night I snuck out the back door of the Rose and stole away into the night with my companion. I couldn’t take it any more. I felt like I was watching a pale imitation of what RDT tries to pass off as contemporary with slap stick scenes of racism and sexism added to give the work a controversial flair. In my defense, I had watched the whole thing in January when it premiered, and found it about as satisfying an experience as this review indicates. After seeing the first half last night, I could tell things hadn’t changed much since then.

If I was reading this review I might find myself thinking that the person who wrote it was just uncomfortable with what he was seeing. Everyone in Eight is actually very talented and they care a lot about what they do, and so I owe it to them be clear here. What annoyed me was that all of these very real societal issues were raised in a such brief slap-stick scenes and then dropped like hot potatoes so that they can get back to the real dancing (which wasn’t a tenth of what they’re capable of anyway). But what disturbed me was listening to the audience laughing at all of this. Again, let me make it clear, I love the offensive. I am not even uninterested in the idea of “offensive” humor. But what is there to laugh at when we tie a woman to a chair for no apparent reason, or make a middle aged woman jump up and down for a fake (wedding) bouquet? Where’s the joke? Did I blink and miss something?

I fear the joke is on all of us in the dance community if this kind of work is the best we can do. There a crushing irony when a young company like Raw Moves can only seem to use the reality of their performer’s identities in such a cheap way. It almost makes me long to return to the oblivion of Nikolais where all the bodies on stage are infinitely replaceable, neutered, raceless creatures who emerged from the womb in nude unitards. I hope that we are laughing and crying and standing up to applaud at The Story of Eight because of the very real discomfort I felt. I hope we don’t really think that The Story of Eight is funny or poignant, because it’s neither. I hope we know how bad the music is and how derivative the movement is. I almost can’t blame the dancers, it’s hard to see something you’re inside of for what it is. But I’m having a harder time forgiving the audience or the choreographers. We should know better.

Sam Hanson is a BUS student in Performance & Media at the University of Utah