Linda Smith, Repertory Dance Theatre’s artistic director, calls dance a “silent language.” Since 1966, RDT has performed the works of more than 150 different choreographers, allowing the dancers to dabble in many dance languages.
“Individual expression has always been a distinctive feature of modern dance,” Smith said. “Choreographers like to distinguish their work by creating unique movement vocabularies with which to base their dances.”
Presented Oct. 4-6 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, the company's “Embark” performance ambled RDT dancers into the framework of several talented choreographers sharing modern artistic vision with Utah audiences.
As the curtain lifted, five elegant female figures clad in flowing Japanese garb dotted the stage. Their lilting movements glided smoothly through space as they performed the first of nine fluid pieces designed by 1950s choreographer Michio Ito, a boundary crossing father of dance modernism.
Ito’s creations held a ballet-like air of balance and elegance, but were still tinged with modern flair. The actions were controlled and deep, casting a pulsing, furling, arching aura over the audience. However, the movements were also strong and decided without being abrupt.
The dances carried a near religious tone that were imbued with peace but also quiet power. The molten beauty of the dance held the audience in awe.
Following Ito’s flowing creations, RDT dancers plunged into a piece inspired by modern technology. University of Utah theater professor Jacque Bell collaborated with Barton Poulson, an associate professor of psychology at the U., to create the idea of “Hello, World.”
This dynamic conglomeration of movements was “programmed” to combine digital imagery with creative movement. Dancers were assigned several different movement sections from still pictures and then worked to form those individual poses into a cohesive dance statement.
This piece was thrumming and free. The performers wound their way across the stage in dizzying swirls and abrupt thrusts and falls to the electronic sounds of pluses and beeps. “Hello, World” was a much more technical and angular routine making it a perfect juxtaposition to Ito’s sinuous dances.
Perhaps the most unique performance of the evening was RDT's presentation of “How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run.”
This distinctive wedge of dance was anything but ordinary. Created in 1965 by Merce Cunningham, this playful and athletic dance includes a narrated sound-score written and arranged by John Cage. The text includes a series of stories and anecdotes read by two storytellers who sometimes speak over the top of each other while the dancers rollick across the stage in a seemingly unrelated way.
“The effect,” Cunningham once said, “was a bit like watching a playground full of children with these two crones in the corner talking about things that were completely irrelevant.”
That is exactly what the piece felt like. And yet it left everyone smiling.
Finally, the climax of the evening was RDT’s presentation of “Eight Seconds of Fame.”
This was an entirely community-inspired piece. In June, RDT invited people at the Utah Arts Festival to donate eight seconds of creative movement in any form to a video movement bank. These movements were then evaluated and stitched together in RDT’s own spirited way.
“RDT believes this innovative approach to audience engagement is a good way to remove a lot for the misperceived mystery that is often associated with modern dance,” Smith said. “It will give audiences a greater sense of ownership in the creative process.”
After a short video collage of the donated movements, RDT dancers took the stage and let loose to the pulsing sounds of Dixieland melodies. Winding the contributed dance morsels into the performance, the amusing, bulbous movements were reminiscent of a Mardi Gras street fair. With swollen poses that bled into swinging transitions this piece was pure enjoyment.
RDT managed to present a divergent evening of beauty and fun that left audiences anxious for more.