Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mid-century Modernism. It's not just for architects.

I know, mid-century modernism is all about architecture and design. But some times the same ideas spread to music and even dance. Repertory Dance Theatre’s (RDT) recent show The Messengers offered an interesting dose of mid-century modernism, mixed in with more contemporary works.

RDT is moving up in the world. This show is one of the best I’ve seen in several years. Maybe it was the stellar choreography. Maybe it was the better dancers. Whatever it was, it was a big leap in the right direction.

Let’s start with the overture performed by PARTCH, an ensemble that specializes in the music and instruments of composer Harry Partch. Partch’s work is an innovative mash-up that’s part John Cage and part hermit-like instrument builder that lives deep in the woods. The music is radical and the custom-built instruments are just plain cool. The overture was the first movement from Partch’s Castor and Pollux. From the glass bottle bells to the hand-built marimba-like instruments, this was a percussionist’s dream.

And the group returned later to accompany the dancers, a rarity to have live music with modern dance. The piece was Castor and Pollux, choreographed by Elizabeth Waters in 1958. And beyond the brilliant music, there was plenty of dancing to like. Take couple #1: Ashley Segura and Aaron Wood. I don’t want to like Aaron Wood but he’s making it hard not to. He’s proving to be a good addition to RDT. Combined with the newest dancer in the company, Chris Peddecord, the more experienced male dancers in the company have a lot to worry about.

I also have to mention Ariadne (1985), a solo by choreographer Ze’eva Cohen and danced by Chara Huckins-Malaret. I normally don’t like solos because it’s hard to appreciate the choreography. But this dance was so stylized, so precise that the choreographer’s presence was strong—it felt almost like she was sitting in the wings.

The best performance of the evening was Mythical Hunters (1965) choreographed by Greg Tetley. I’ve heard a lot about Mr. Tetley but this is the first of his works I’ve seen. The dance was challenging but thanks to the addition of several dancers from Ballet West, the company rose to the occasion. The work was created in 1965 for the Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv. I liked the earthiness of modern dance combined with the long, lean lines of ballet.

Thanks to this intriguing performance, I’m more excited than I’ve been in a while to see what RDT does next.

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