Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company's farewell performance to artistic director Charlotte Boye-Christensen honored her 11 years of dedication with a tasteful tribute video, an artistically truthful program of work and a company of dancers at their peak.
What elevates this company seems to be the very thing that interests Boye-Christensen most about dance a dancers' individual expression of the work. In performance the RW dancers take in the unison movement with clarity and specificity but the explosion that follows takes each on his or her own path.
Boye-Christensen's "Bridge," which literally bridged the other two works on the program together, is filled with small gestural movements that repeat ritualistically until they no longer can be contained, pushing each dancer to find his or her own way of expressing the tradition. Although this performance of "Bridge" was similar in structure to its premiere in 2005 and the restaging in 2008, it has been reworked to fit the dancers currently in the company.
Similarly, the first work on the program, Alicia Sanchez's "If My Right Hand Would Say What My Left Hand Thought" (2005) has been whittled down from its original rangy, at times gimmicky components into a powerful and absorbing whole. The device of onstage microphones is now efficiently used to set up the narrative, and the particularly well-cast solos emerge organically from the group. A solo for Bashaun Williams is performed standing in one place with his shirtless back to the audience under a single spotlight. In previous performances, the audience perspective was one of curiosity, but as Williams isolates the muscles in his back and shoulders, he brings a masculine, sensual quality to the solo.
The evolution of these two pieces raises the question of how and what Boye-Christensen and RW plan to do with Boye-Christensen's large repertory of work after she leaves. It is good news that dance is not static, and can evolve over time and with the dancers who perform it. Boye-Christensen is an example of a choreographer who edits her pieces for length to find the most interesting nugget of truth. Sophisticated dance audiences should begin to view new work as stage one in its development.
Case in point is the premiere of Johannes Wieland's "one hundred thousand." This is a distinctive work with interesting effects and highlighted the dancers' dramatic range. It is too long and the ending suffers from an indulgent sense of time, but Wieland accomplishes his goal of making us think about societies' pressure to conform. Images of fashion models emerge from the pelvis-pushed-forward walks and mannequin wigs. "One hundred thousand" begins with the uncomfortable and repetitive thrash-and-roll style of choreography but as it turns out, the disorder is a necessary set up for the order, connections and reconnections that follow.
The lighting throughout this performance was an integral part of the success of each piece. Lighting designer Nicholas Cavallaro is a local treasure and Cliff Wallgren put his signature on Wieland's piece.
Dancer Mary Lyn Graves came into her own in this performance, informing the work with her fabulous technique and personal style. Dancer Jo Blake is retiring after 10 years with the company. Blake's contribution to RW is incalculable and he was particularly fluid and relaxed on opening night. Fortunately Blake is not leaving Salt Lake or the dance community and audiences should watch for him in dance projects around the city.
Ririe Woodbury's 'One'
A compelling evening of choreography with peak performances by the RW dancers.
When • reviewed Thursday, April 25; continues Friday and Saturday, April 26-27, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $30; 801-355-ARTS
Running time • Ninety minutes with one 10-minute intermission