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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Kumiko Komine of the Michio Ito Doomonkai, a dance school in Japan, works with RDT.

The rich diversity in the history of modern dance will be showcased during Repertory Dance Theatre's upcoming performance of "Mystique."

RDT artistic director Linda C. Smith said the evening will include classic, older works and a world premiere.

"This is an interesting concert filled with a lot of contrast," Smith said during a break in rehearsals at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. "They are all wonderful pieces, but we see works from 1918 up to 2010."

Smith said she is fascinated by the varied modern dance vocabulary, which is represented in this performance.

"I get asked, 'What's the difference between modern dance and ballet?'," Smith said. "One aspect is all about the languages. In academic dance, which ballet is, you learn certain vocabulary and dance it 'this way.' But modern dancers can make up their own movement language. To me, what's fascinating about this concert is the different languages that people have created to express the human condition, emotions, the world in the movement."

The centerpiece of this evening of dance is a run of works by the late Japanese dance pioneer Michio Ito, whose technique is based on 10 movement positions of the arms that Ito likened to the keys on a piano.

"RDT was introduced to Michio's works in the early 1990s and found them fascinating," Smith said. "We were reintroduced to the idea that we could become more sophisticated in our understanding and expand our repertory of Ito works."

During a discussion with Ito historian Mary-Jean Cowell, Smith realized RDT could expand its information by going to the source — Ito's dance school, the Michio Ito Doomonkai in Japan.

To secure funding to work with the school, RDT sought a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts.

"We were ecstatic to find that not only were we funded, but very generously," she said. "We got the green light that the NEA thought this was important enough to preserve his work."

The grant helped foster an ongoing relationship with the school's senior teachers, Kyoko Ryutani and Kumio Komine.

"Kyoko is the master teacher and gives the final word for all things," said Smith. "She's the last remaining person who worked closely with Ito, who died in 1961. Kumio runs the school."

The two came to Utah to work with RDT in the winter of 2000.

"They didn't speak English, but dance is the universal language," Smith said. "Even though we had an interpreter, we found, gradually, that we didn't need one."

Not only did the dancers learn the movement, aesthetic and style of the Ito works, but they also learned a bit of Japanese culture.

"We saw the kind of respect for experience, age and seniority that was exhibited when the two master teachers worked together," Smith said. "And that was a good lesson for the company members to see, because it doesn't always happen in our culture."

In addition to Ryutani and Komine, Michelle Ito, the granddaughter of Michio Ito, is working hard to make certain that Ito's works are preserved, Smith said. She has chosen RDT to help with that mission.

"RDT has been allowed to be the receptacle in the United States for the technique and repertory of Michio Ito," she said. "It's a wonderful addition to our living library."

Ito loved to choreograph to western music by composers such as Chopin, Scriabin and Delibes, Smith said. "So we decided it would be wonderful to perform the pieces to live music."

Four pianists from the Gina Bachauer Foundation — Ning Lu, Jie Deng, Ksennia Bair and Bachauer Foundation founder and artistic director Paul Pollei — will perform live onstage during the concert.

"Ito used to perform originally in salons in London," Smith said. "These dances have an intimacy. So we wanted to make the stage into an intimate salon, and the live music brings out a wonderful element."

In addition to Ito's work, RDT will revive Jo Stromgren's "Kraak" and Ze'eva Cohen's "Ariadne." It will also present a world premiere called "Songs I Wanna Sing (to You)" by University of Utah modern dance associate professor Satu Hummasti.

"All of these works give a different view of the modern dance vocabulary," Smith said. "And it will be interesting to see them all together."

If you go

What: "Mystique," Repertory Dance Theatre

Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South

When: March 25-27, 8 p.m.

How much: $30

Phone: 801-355-2787, 888-451-2787

Web: www.arttix.org