The countdown began last September when Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company opened its 2012-13 season with a performance titled "Four." Through the subsequent months it has performed "Three," then "Two," and now, this week, it ends with "One."
The evening includes the premiere of "one hundred thousand," by German choreographer Johannes Wieland, and it marks the last production for artistic director Charlotte Boye-Christensen.
Wieland, who divides his time between continents and companies, is artistic director and resident choreographer of the State Theater of Kassel in Germany and associate artistic director of Paradigm in New York. Last November, he was in Salt Lake City for two weeks to create "one hundred thousand," which explores contemporary urban life.
Feeling the pressures of making a new piece in so little time, Wieland was pleased to find the Ririe-Woodbury dancers readily open to new ideas and skilled in participating in the choreographic processes.
"The first thing I do is see how the dancers take in the movement," he said. "These are creative people on their own hungry for information. So we work together using various choreographic tools just trying to get closer to the idea without being too literal. If it is too literal, there is nothing left for the audience to think about."
Though he danced with and studied under such greats as John Neumeier, Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart, Wieland said his artistic coming of age was at the elbow of his musician mother and grandparents. He also appreciates that his physician father did not expect him to take over his medical practice.
"I learned early that making honest work is about relevancy," Wieland said. "Whatever pulls the idea closer to being able to convey it. So I use text sometimes and props other times. Why not? There is no right or wrong, it is just whatever brings the idea out to the audience."
In rehearsal for "one hundred thousand," the dancers wore brightly colored wigs and wacky shoes to convey the extremes people often go to in an attempt to "fit in." But Wieland said the "concept is just a point of departure." Starting Thursday, audiences will see if those elements made the transition from rehearsal to performance.
Also on the program is a tightened-up version of Mexican choreographer Alicia Sanchez's "If My Right Hand Would Say What My Left Hand Thought," a piece Ririe-Woodbury has performed several times since it premiered in 2005.
It will be followed by Boye-Christensen's 2004 work "Bridge," about the division created between men and women and the physical entanglements that ensue.
"The three works are each from choreographers from completely different parts of the world," Boye-Christensen said on the eve of her departure. "I like showing what is going on in dance in Latin America through Alicia's work; in Europe through Johannes' work; and here through my piece 'Bridge.' "
Goodbye Charlotte • Boye-Christensen joined the company in 2002 to assist in its artistic direction and in 2008 was named artistic director. She is only the company's second artistic director since its founding in 1964 by Joan Woodbury and Shirley Ririe. Managing director Jena Woodbury said the company plans to announce a replacement later this month.
As the dancers prepare for a change in leadership, they took time to look back and share some tender and humorous moments. One undeniable conclusion is that Boye-Christensen the artist is indiscernible from Boye-Christensen the person.
Her habit of running 10 miles each day when possible in the Wasatch Mountains but even on tour is motivating, said Alexandra Jane Bradshaw, who joined the company in 2011.
"Charlotte has an intense determination and she holds us to the same standard. In rehearsal when we are pushed to the limit finding things in ourselves that we didn't know were there I remind myself that if she can do all this and also run 10 miles a day, I can certainly run the piece again."
Bashaun Williams, who divided his last years in high school between being the captain of the basketball team and performing with Texas' Ballet Lubbock, came to Ririe-Woodbury as a ballet major at the University of Utah. Once Williams experienced Boye-Christensen's choreography, "I felt baptized or born again into Charlotte's ballet-based, new contemporary style." Williams said he will miss Boye-Christensen's "leadership and companionship. She is someone I feel I can confide in any time and I have."
"Charlotte juxtaposes intensity against the tender moments," added Tara Rozen McArthur, a three-year veteran. "Charlotte's voracity for creating new material is inspiring, and the experience of absorbing Charlotte's movement into my body directly from her."
Another veteran, Brad Beakes, said he gets excited by her passion for motion. "She loves to move and loves to create – and it is fun to watch her go to that place where it is not about her, it is about what she is creating. It is thrilling to follow that intensity and her faith in us to grab hold and go with it."
One of Boye-Christensen's many strengths is her commitment to the dancers, explained Joseph "Jo" Blake, who has been with Ririe-Woodbury for 10 years.
"She was always there for us professionally with new work, new ideas, new inspiration and always there for us personally to make sure we're healthy, ready for the show, taking care of our minds and bodies," he explained. "She truly cares about us as a familyshe is a mother, an aunt, a friend and a boss. I hope the dancers receive from the new artistic director the care that Charlotte was able to offer to us throughout the years."
'One' is the last number
Ririe Woodbury ends its season with performances of "One," which features the premiere of "one hundred thousand," by German choreographer Johannes Wieland.
When • Thursday-Saturday, April 25-27, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $30; 801-355-ARTS
Artistic director Charlotte Boye-Christensen is stepping down after 11 seasons with Ririe-Woodbury. Friends shared a few secrets before her farewell. Boye-Christensen:
Drinks several 16-ounce four-shot Americana coffees every day.
Speaks five languages.
Comes from a family of blondes.
Is good at math.
Prefers Sauvignon Blanc.
Makes up her own words when playing Scrabble.
Is competitive at Wii Tennis.
Has intense opinions about actors James Franco and Mel Gibson.
Has a soft spot for puppies.
Asks her future husband's opinion on her work, but always has the last word.