Repertory Dance Theatre has run through several rosters of dancers during the past 25 years. But the style and spirit is the same, the technique as good as at any time one can recall, and the company looked fresh minted in weekend programs of real substance and worth.
No experimenting here; all three works had a proven track record, choreographed by modern dance giants, and the company approximated their styles satisfyingly."What is Cunningham?" is a question we Utahns ask, and our answers are something like the blind men, trying to decide what an elephant looks like by feeling only certain parts of its body. It's doubtful that the essential Cunningham is to be found in his "Septet" from 1953, made before he took up the chance methods that have become integral to his mature style.
Yet "Septet" is a beautiful dance, superbly constructed and tailored to the spare, willowy piano melodies of Satie, skillfully played by Marjorie Janove and Ricklen Nobis. The piece has a pristine clarity, a shimmer, almost as if seen through limpid water, yet there's a certain art nouveau sophistication as well.
Movements were slight and usually slow, balances frequent and demanding, bordering on the gymnastic. Bodies assumed fluid, plastic poses and held them at length. Individuals and duos worked alone, then hooked up with others, disengaging and re-engaging.
Jose Limon's "There is a Time," (1956) a piece for full company, recalled that choreographer's talent for clean, lucid lines and sharply-honed movement that really does seem to spring from the breath and heart. His clear ancestor is Doris Humphrey.
The short episodes of this dance capture the spirit of Ecclesiates in moving action. The feeling is Hebraic, even timeless, the sweeping action is classic, simple and heartfelt, nothing overdone or overly dramatic; and Norman dello Joio's colorful commissioned score is a luxury.
Kim Strunk had some special moments as the woman who must keep silence and as a wild-haired instigator of war, and Angela Banchero was her soothing counterpart, sowing peace. Tina Misaka and Anthony Roberts made a touching love duo in "a time to embrace."
"Skylight" appears to contain the essential Laura Dean, and she's more entertaining and compelling than you might deduce from the esoteric things that are written about her.
Bold, colored shafts of light, sometimes smoke-laden, formed the striking background for a dance for six in yellow, a minimalist's mounting jam session that inspired wild cheering and clapping. First one dancer ran on to initiate an exciting action, then passed the energy with a synapse as distinct as the lighting of a match to the next dancer, who ran on to repeat the action with slight variations.
You saw swaying Oriental arm movements, dancers forming a hub and shooting out and back to it, and virtuoso spinning sequences in which dancers had no chance to spot, conquering their dizziness as best they could. The perpetual, repetitious movement both lulled and stimulated the senses, though too fast for true hypnotism.
There was lots of springing and leaping, and always symmetrical stage patterns, every dancer active, each assigned his time and place. Accompaniment of drums at varied pitches and rhythms, also devised by Dean, was a wonderful catalyst for the action.