Modern-dance review: Working together brings mixed results in RDT's 'Embark'

Review • "Hello World" premiere combines dance and digital imagery.
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Repertory Dance Theatre opened its 2012-13 season with "Embark," a program of collaborative works that reaches back nearly 50 years to modern-dance icon Merce Cunningham's 1965 "How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run," fast-forwards to the thematic "Hello World" by Utah's Jacque Lynn Bell, and includes the playful, company-choreographed "8 Seconds of Fame."

Also on the program is a revived and edited "Selected Choreography by Michio Ito" (1893-1961), previously performed by RDT in 2010.

Collaboration — or co-authorship by artists — investigates innovative ideas. Sometimes working together results in a single performance. Or, in the case of Cunningham and composer John Cage, new works are created many times over a lifetime.

In several of the works mentioned, dance is integrated with different media, and the results are distinctly different.

The premiere work on the program, "Hello World," integrated choreography by Bell, digital imagery by social psychologist Barton Poulson and costume design by Christopher Larson and RDT dancer Toni Lugo. The piece was uncalculated yet precise, and personal yet scientific. The work's synergy may be explained, in part, because Bell and Poulson are married and have a shared interest in the performing arts. But the concept and the methodology were seamlessly integrated. Poulson's digital imagery was mostly of primitive forms and figures, projected by modern technologies. The combination provided thematic connectedness and smooth physical transitions for Bell's simple, effective choreography.

In contrast, Cunningham is known for purposefully unhitching the collaborative elements. He and Cage, his lifelong personal and artistic partner, created a body of work in which the sound score was separate from the movement. It is important for the audience to know that "How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run" was choreographed in 1965, because its experimentation is much of its intrigue. Two local celebrities, musician Ricklen Nobis and X96 "Radio From Hell" co-host Bill Allred, provided the sound score for RDT's performances, reading short segments written by Cage and operating under the original controls of a stopwatch and chance decisions designed by Cage and Cunningham. The narrators add necessary interest to the 25-minute piece.

But more important than the how and why of "How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run" was the movement, beautifully articulated by dancer Rosy Goodman. Although much of Cunningham's movement looks pedestrian, Goodman informs us of the meticulous detail and requisite strength by repeatedly extending her leg in développé, while pushing up and through a controlled forced-arch on her standing leg. Dancer Sarah Donahue also performs the slow, controlled movement, then suddenly and amazingly repeats it in double time. Guest dancer Robert Goodman, Rosy's brother, is also a powerful presence in "How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run."

The company looked strong overall, and the community-based work "8 Seconds of Fame," created from the contributions of Utah Arts Festivalgoers, was playful but fell short of its potential.

The piece was in three sections; the third was the most successful for its actual movement and structural choreographic relationships. The music, which was listed as traditional, had no reference to the contemporary movement contributed by the community. It seems like a great idea, and with a change of music, and more direct harvesting of actual movement, it might still be worth reworking. —

Repertory Dance Theatre's "Embark"

The modern-dance company offers an interesting contrast in the meaning and effects of collaboration.

When • Reviewed Thursday, Oct. 4; repeats Thursday to Saturday, Oct. 4-6, 7:30 p.m.

Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City.

Tickets • $30 adults, $15 students/seniors; 801-355-2787 or

Running time • 75 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.