"TOWER," Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Wednesday, additional performances today and Saturday, 355-2787

When Alwin Nikolai created "Tower" in 1965 as the third act of his "Vaudeville of the Elements," he envisioned the work as an abstract reference to the Tower of Babel.

Through the years and especially after Sept. 11, 2001, it has been interpreted in other ways.

Those various interpretations may be derived from the choreographed chaos of the dancers shouting at each other and sometimes the audience while building a tower consisting of metal grids. Or it may be the crashing climax of the sometimes frantic but always kinetic work.

Regardless, the way the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company performed the work for an audience of high school students and senior citizens on Wednesday, it was nothing short of genius.

Nikolai, who died in 1993, was beginning to experiment with the dancers using spoken words during his later works. And "Tower" is an epic work where the dancers' safety is, literally, hinged on timing and balance.

The work is the last piece of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company's 2008-09 season opener, named fittingly, "Tower."

All the works that are featured in the production are by Nikolais and set by the Nikolais/Louis Foundation artistic director Alberto del Saz.

The opening work, "Crucible," is a colorful movement work based on illusion. The use of light body parts and humor bring this visually stunning work to the stage.

"Liturgies" is an epic seven-movement work that examines rituals and perceptions in humanistic and animalistic frames. The demanding physical challenge, as well as quick- change costumes and sets can hinder the work if not executed well.

Still, regardless of the little technical glitch Wednesday, the company kept it in line.

Nikolais' trademark work, "Tensile Involvement," although choreographed in 1955, is as fresh as it ever was. The dazzling and energetic array of bodies, elastic bungies and colorbursting light designs literally lightened the mood and paved the way for the sensory assault of "Tower."

Somewhere Nikolais is smiling on the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.


E-mail: scott@desnews.com