After a decade as artistic director of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Charlotte Boye-Christensen has announced she will step down at the end of the 2012-2013 season to take on more choreography work, although she doesn't plan to move out of state.
The amicable parting leaves Ririe-Woodbury with big shoes to fill on the advent of the company's 50th anniversary. Boye-Christensen is only the company's second artistic director since its founding in 1964 by Joan Woodbury and Shirley Ririe, whose philosophy remains at the core of the company's artistic vision to this day.
On Thursday, managing director Jena Woodbury said there's no heir apparent, and the company will immediately begin a worldwide search and set up an advisory committee, although she will have the last word on the new hire.
"Charlotte has been phenomenal for the company," Woodbury said. "We want the new director to maintain the high level of quality and contemporary edge Charlotte brought. But we also have a 50-year history that we need to keep in mind. So it is a balancing act."
The decision to leave was difficult, Boye-Christensen said, and it comes with a change in her personal life: She plans to marry Nathan Webster within the year. Webster is an architect who has collaborated with Boye-Christensen on several projects, most impressively the 2010 work "Touching Fire."
"I call this the year of surprise decisions," Boye-Christensen said. "I do want to be clear that it is very painful for me to leave the dancers. I care very deeply for them. And I am so appreciative that Joan and Shirley gave me the opportunity to develop this company their company."
Boye-Christensen is noted for a strong, discernible point-of-view in her work, "which is what you want in a choreographer," said Eric Handman, choreographer and assistant professor at the University of Utah's department of modern dance. "She has staked out a very new, quite singular, physical territory."
R-W's company philosophy includes fostering the Alwin Nikolais repertoire, which was the basis of Ririe and Woodbury's training.
"As a freelance choreographer, Charlotte will have the time to work differently than she is now," Handman said. "She may have a totally different vision. It is a challenge to any director to balance the mission of a company. With R-W, the balance is to look backwards with the Nikolais work, while trying to look forward too. It is even a unique dancer that wants to take on that very difficult challenge."
The company dances the Nikolais work well, and should continue to pursue that, Boye-Christensen said. "But in my life right now, I want to push a level of experimentation even further in my own work freely by thinking outside of the box with regards to venues, site specific work, longer work, different collaborative efforts," she said. "One of my main goals when I came here, was to develop a new audience for contemporary dance and this remains an overriding focus."
Boye-Christensen is known for her very physical choreography, and her artistic process is to work out movements on her own body before working with dancers. She said the job of artistic director is so demanding that it takes away from her energy to choreograph, which is her first love.
"I really have to do this while my body is still young enough," she said. "I have to take the commissions I'm offered so I don't look back someday and regret my choices."
Boye-Christensen, who is known for working collaboratively with artists from other genres, is taking that a step further too. Never one to miss an opportunity, she and Webster are considering premiering a new work at their wedding.
Ririe-Woodbury by the numbers
The dance company will mark its 50th anniversary this season, which is Charlotte Boye-Christensen's 11th and last as artistic director.
Sept. 20-22 • The program "Four" will feature "50 Years," choreographed by Ann Carlson as part of her series of work about the passage of time; "Lines to Read Between," by Australian choreographer John Utans about images and landscapes; and revivals of New York choreographer Brook Notary's "GRID" and Boye-Christensen's "Turf."
Dec. 13-15 • "Three," a program of Boye-Christensen's work, including a work inspired by the film "The Perfect Human," by Danish poet and film Director Jørgen Leth, and a revival of "But Seriously...," her collaboration with writer David Kranes, comedian/actor Ethan Philips, architect Nathan Webster.
Feb. 1-2 • "Two," the company's family show featuring "Kaleidoscope," featuring the choreography of modern dance pioneer Alwin Nikolais, will be performed at the Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City.
April 25-27 • "One," features a world premiere by Johannes Wieland, artistic director and choreographer-in-residence at Germany's Kassel Ballet; "Short Stem Roses," by Arizona-based choreographer Douglas Nielsen, and the premiere of Boye-Christensen's "Place," by Boye-Christensen, exploring place identity.
Tickets • $75 for new season subscriptions, $85 for renewal, $52 students; individual show tickets are $30, $15 students/seniors, at www.ririewoodbury.com.
Where • The company's September, December and April shows will be at 7:30 p.m. at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City. The December show includes a 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15 matinee. The February show will be at 7 p.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2 at the Capitol Theatre.
Changing of the dance guard
Job requirements of the company's artistic director position is posted at www.ririewoodbury.com.