For "Hot Guests in Salt Lake City," Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company's spring concert, Shirley Ririe and Joan Woodbury promise three dances, each with a different modern twist, from up-to-the-minute choreographers. Performances will be in the Capitol Theatre on Friday and Saturday, April 19 and 20, at 8 p.m.
Programmed works are Phyllis Lamhut's "Mirage Blanc," "To Have and to Hold" by Shapiro and Smith, and "Physalia" by Alison Chase and Moses Pendleton. The last piece, long a staple of Ririe-Woodbury's repertoire, abounds in graceful, sometimes absurd underwater images, with gymnastics typical of Chase and Pendleton, founders of Pilobolus.Also on hand for an amazing one-man display will be body percussionist Keith Terry, who "pops his cheek, whomps his chest, skips and slides, sings and babbles and coughs, building his music out of the surprisingly varied register of sounds and clever rhythmic variations," said Village Voice.
For Ririe-Woodbury, Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith have set "To Have and to Hold," a work they created under the Paul Taylor Fellowship from the Yard on Martha's Vineyard in 1989. One reviewer described it as "a dance for six superb dancers and three sleekly polished wooden benches, with never a dull moment, as the dancers . . . move in split-second timing in intricately woven sequences."
Said Joan Woodbury, "The dancers love performing this work because it's fun to dance, with beautiful movement and great physicality, fast-paced and precarious. Shapiro and Smith are noted for their humor, but this is not a funny dance. It's about loss, itsmessage is very poignant, and while there is a lot of irony, there is no comedy."
"During the year we were on a Fulbright residency in Finland, we lost four or five friends to AIDS," said Shapiro. "This and the threat of war threw cold water in our faces. We realized you can't always help your friends, you can comfort but not hold on. Our dance is about people slip-sliding through, with change as a constant."
Smith was trained in theater, Shapiro in martial arts and gymnastics. He was a dance teacher in a Los Angeles junior high, she studied tap and ballet. He was rooted in Laban technique, she trained in Humphrey and Limon movement. She worked with the Louis Falco and Jennifer Muller companies, he in commercial films. Their paths ran together when they began dancing and teaching with the Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis companies (1978-85). "From them we learned about weightedness and space and pure movement," said Shapiro, a tall, agile dancer with a sensitive face.
When the husband-wife duo left Louis, they accepted a Fulbright lectureship grant for Finland; and unlikely though it seems, they feel that their tour helped them clarify their own dance principles and style.
"In Helsinki we were at the Theater Academy of Finland," said Smith, a tiny, intense sprite of a woman. "Finnish modern dance is slow and dramatic, almost no movement, and they dance about rapes and murders, while our training had been so upbeat. The isolation there gave us perspective on our own culture, it cleared our heads."
Since they formed their own small company, critics have noted their "kinetic wit and virtuosity," "exuberant and surprisingly poignant dancing." "They bring to serious subjects just the right mixture of slapstick, humor, droll wit, psychological insight and dramatic tension," said Dance Magazine.
"Choreographing together is like amateur boxing," said Smith. "There's lots of padding and lots of rules, but it's still a fight!"
"We talk a lot, and we take turns being editor," said Shapiro. "It's very slow and time consuming, we have to understand each other, agree on every movement together. Sometimes we reduce two or three hours of choreography to a 15-minute dance, winnowing to find the kernel."
For their dance "Family," they drew on experience - her grandmother's old overstuffed chair, a family reunion. "It's like a circus satire," he said. "Danny's family is like a circus," Smith laughed. "George and Betty's House" is cartoonlike, "a nerd's-eye view of a domestic existence," said Anna Kisselgoff.
"We are leaving that sort of piece for more dramatic things, abstract expressionism, emotional dances with logic at work. As we choreograph, the dance starts to talk back," said Shapiro.
"We often begin with the concept of a social structure," said Smith. "We are always thinking of structures we can explore, dance around and through - the home, marriage, divorce, the church, death - structures you can fight, submit to, love or hate.
"Society needs structures, they are imagery imposed upon you that you must live up to," Shapiro agreed. "But if you want the whole range, you must accept the anarchy that you will not always have secure social structures."
The two have so far choreographed about 20 pieces, some for duo and some for their small company, all of whom were in residence at Snowbird last summer. Though they are committed to the stimulus and contacts of New York, "Snowbird is a very important place," said Smith. "There are very few places that will help you to retreat and work so intensively."
Phyllis Lamhut was also in residence with Ririe-Woodbury last summer at Snowbird. She has had her own company since 1970, and has choreographed 100 pieces in a range that's surprising to those who first knew her as a dance comedienne.
She was the first leading female dancer of the Alwin Nikolais Company (1948-1969). From Nik she learned technique, improvisation, choreography, percussion, pedagogy and stagecraft, and his influence stays with her still, though her own genius has moved far afield from comedy.
Lamhut also studied with Merce Cunningham, and danced with the Murray Louis Dance Company. She now teaches choreography at New York University, along with classes in technique and improvisation for the Limon Dance Center.
Lamhut's piece for Ririe-Woodbury is "Mirage Blanc" (1979). The music is eight contemporary waltzes, and the dance expresses subtle humor and slightly repressed relationships, she said. " `Mirage Blanc' is a challenge, for it's extremely detailed; it's structured, but the dancers must contribute their own sensibilities and creativity. We use no sets, only costumes and movement expression."
Lamhut's own company varies according to what she needs for her choreographies. "This year we have eight dancers, last year 22, and next year I may need 20 of the dancers that I call off and on," she said.
Lamhut avers that her company has no characteristic "style." "Each work has its own style, we have many directions and images," she said. "Though I was known as a comedienne for many years, the flip side is tragedy, you know. Even in tragedy I retain a certain drollness, but my work says something not flippant, something weighted."
Critics find Lamhut's work thought-provoking. "Don't expect the ordinary (from her) choreography," said one. "You learn to expect the original, the provocative, the penetrating and above all the focused, an idea that germinates and develops through the imagination and intellect of its choreographer."
Ernestine Stodelle comments on Lamhut's rich sensibility, "disturbing, but with the thrust of piercing insight (and finally) a blinding sense of truth. . . . She fastens her attention on the here and now, as it happens around her, (giving) forthright opinions on society."
A favorite forum is St. Mark's Church in New York, where the Lamhut Company celebrated its 20th anniversary, an event Lamhut was anticipating last summer. "I like small stages, close communication," she said. "I'm so glad we've made it through. We haven't made money, but we have demonstrated substance."
Tickets for "Hot Guests," at $13, $15 and $25, are now on sale at the Capitol Theatre box office, where tickets for Friday evening's backstage party at $20 may also be purchased.
- Karin Frank Ramos will dance her last performances with Ririe-Woodbury on this program. She will leave the company in June, after six years. Her first stop will be in the Island of Samoa for a three months' residency, implementing dance curriculum in three model school sites. She also has some choreographic assignments coming up around Utah.
After studies with Fawn Pickett in her native Santa Barbara, she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in modern dance at the University of Utah, where she was a member of the Performing Danscompany.
She's toured extensively as an artist in education teacher and choreographer, independently and with Ririe-Woodbury, throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Europe and the South Pacific.
Ramos is married to Carlos Ramos, who just earned a doctorate from the U. in recreation and leisure, and she expects they may return to his native Puerto Rico, where she'd like to study the folkloric tradition and dance ethnology of the region, which is rich in Spanish and African influences.