"KALEIDOSCOPE," Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Feb. 3-4, Capitol Theatre.
SALT LAKE CITY — The pioneering efforts of modern dance legend Alwin Nikolais are all around us. With recent visits from the likes of Blue Man Group and Cirque de la Symphonie, Salt Lake City has witnessed the divergent paths that this avant-garde dance style has traveled since its birth 60 years ago.
Over the weekend, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company paid tribute to the father of the multimedia modern dance movement with its dazzling family show "Kaleidoscope."
The style, which emphasizes the spectacle of dance and the capabilities of the human form instead of relishing in its humanity, uses slides, electronic music and sound, costuming, lighting and acrobatics to create a heightened sensory experience for its audience.
The evening began with "Temple," a work featuring nine dancers grouped into threes with multicolored unitards and flesh-colored masks that lent to a sense of anonymity and synchronicity. The synthesized rhythms and slowly spinning stools utilized by the dancers contributed to the precise movement that was sometimes conspicuous and other times as subtle as a fluttering fingertip. "Temple" created a living, breathing aesthetic.
Next on the bill was the "Kaleidoscope Suite," featuring excerpts from Nikolais' more extensive work. The first section featured the dancers with a disc attached to their foot, proving its usefulness both as tap shoe and toe shoe. Serving as a percussion instrument one minute and personal platform the next, the disc was used by each dancer in both ways, depending on whether the foot was pointed or flexed.
The second section of "Kaleidoscope," titled "Clothes," felt playful and comical with a central drape from which dancers appeared and disappeared, often changing outfits before re-emerging. The costumes were made to resemble a parade of bizarre toys donning tall hats and long, hoop-skirted robes.
"Noumenon Mobilus," perhaps the most unique work of the evening, blurred the line between costume and prop, with three male dancers enshrouded in stretchy, silver bags, producing three perfectly unified, moving rectangles. The silver fabric's reflective quality made visually stunning use of the changing overhead lights.
"Tensile Involvement," one of the more widely performed of Nikolais' 100-plus works, followed. With a multitude of large elastic bands draped from above, dancers clung to several at a time as they wove a gigantic cat's cradle, creating a stunning canvas. Anyone who has attended a Cirque du Soleil performance will draw parallels between it and this pioneering piece.
Perhaps the most anticipated event of the evening, the Salt Lake City premiere of Nikolais' "Gallery" served as a fitting finale. Eight short movements glowing against blacklights explored a haunted carnival theme. Equally silly and chilling, they embodied carnival elements the way our subconscious gathers bits and pieces to feed a maddening dream.
Ririe-Woodbury is the only professional dance company licensed to perform a full evening of Nikolais since his death more than 15 years ago. That speaks volumes about the company's relationship with this dance niche and with those who are entrusted with the choreographer's work.
However, Ririe-Woodbury achieved an even greater measure of success than insider accolades and industry nods: a disarmed, delighted and mystified audience who — coming away better educated on this master and his art — hardly suspected it. They just had a good time.