The lights came up on six Ririe-Woodbury Company dancers standing shoulder-to-shoulder directly upstage, staring straight across toward stage right. The music blared and their first movement was a head flick and punctuated arm movement so characteristic of its choreographer Charlotte Boye-Christensen that the moment felt something close to sentimental.
But Boye-Christensen's choreography is the antithesis of overly romantic, and Brad Beakes, Jo Blake, Alexandra Bradshaw, Mary Lyn Graves, Tara McArthur, Bashaun Williams, and guest dancer Elizabeth Kelley Wilberg danced the hell out of this material.
The first and last pieces on the "Three" program were charged with sexual energy. I have seen "Lost" several times since its 2007 premiere, but in the past the focus was everywhere except on their dance partners. On opening night the vivacity was so real, the dancers actually stumbled a few times in their enthusiasm. But I say, bring it on. I would far rather see this level of intensity than a safe or cautious performance.
The other sensual work, "Interiors," is oddly still, pedestrian, and intimate. At one point the men walk behind the women (and vice versa) with their heads dropped snuggled into their partners' backs, while coaxing their partner's foot forward with their own. Such a private moment can only read as believable from a group of dancers who are as honestly connected as these.
These six dancers are a well-balanced ensemble, each pushing and feeding the other to his or her potential. The male component is at its strongest since I began reviewing this company ten years ago. Whether partnering the women or as a male ensemble, the hard-hitting masculine authority of Beakes, Blake, and Williams influences the choreography. Their expressions are genuine, which invites the audience in.
I believe that contemporary dancers should have a contemporary personal style, and Bradshaw drew my eye with her stark blonde hair and conspicuous red lipstick. On opening night, she danced with urgency and influence. And the performance of the newest dancer in the company, Mary Lynn Graves, was particularly nuanced, even within some of the most jarring and severe choreography.
Tara McArthur has enormous emotional range and gradation of tone in her movement. Her performance is so open, it feels as if she is sharing her interpretation of the choreography, rather than telling her audience what to think. The beauty of Beakes and McArthur's performance on "The Finish Line," which premiered earlier this year," is that the dancers' partnering reflects a modern relationship. Duets in the 1970's represented the way we looked at romance then, but as cultural dynamics have changed, so should our artistic expression of it.
But for dancers to perform at full capacity, the movement itself has to be rich enough to be the vehicle for their expression. They have to be strong technically and be independent thinkers. They have to be incredibly hard workers, aware of their process and clear on the work's message.
Boye-Christensen has devoted the past ten years to communicating this awareness and curiosity to Ririe-Woodbury dancers. In this retrospective, Boye-Christensen has reduced her works to its essence, adding color and interest where in previously drab spots through lighting, backdrops, and costumes.
Fortunately Salt Lake City isn't saying good-bye as Boye-Christensen retires from artistic management, as she plans to stay in town while working as a freelance choreographer. But I will greatly miss the milieu she has created around this set of six dancers, even as I look forward to her next incarnation.
Review: Ririe-Woodbury's 'Three'
A retrospective of the work of retiring Ririe-Woodbury artistic director Charlotte Boye-Christensen, performed with amazing vivacity by a strong company.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
When • Thursday, Dec. 13; continues through Saturday, Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m.
Running time • 90 minutes, no intermission
Tickets • $30; $15 students/seniors at arttix.org or 801-355-2787