Wednesday, October 7, 2009

So you know you can dance.

This review is a little late but it’s been a busy couple of weeks. However, we can now say that the performing arts season is officially in full swing. And for me it startedwith Ririe-Woodbury’s opening show, Equilibrium. And if this show is any indication, we’re in for a great year.

The show opened with It’s Gonna Get Loud, a world premiere by Karole Armitage. I saw a preview of this work at an open rehearsal earlier this summer. I enjoyed the rehearsal but the work was better fully staged and lit. In fact, this whole show was a reminder that lighting really matters. Armitage demanded a lot from the dancers with her rock and raging style. And the dancers delivered with strong, physical performances.

Next on the program, a choreographoff. Four choreographers from Utah Universities were invited to create short, humorous works based on the idea of social change. The audience was invited to vote for their favorites. The winner received $1,000 and a place in Ririe-Woodbury’s repertory.

The four works were a reminder that Utah has a seriously high level of dance talent. Two works in particular stood out. Kay Anderson (Southern Utah University) delivered on the humor requirement with Flavor of the Day, a witty, accurate assessment of the male need to get the girl. Erin Lehua Brown sparkled as the lone female resisting the advances of three men. Brown was a highlight on the entire program. It’s hard to take your eyes off a dancer this good.

For me, the easy winner of the contest was Erik Stern’s (Weber State University) Unlikely Ritual. Stern denied gimmickry in favor of solid choreography, good dance, and style. This is the work I want to see again with its strange mob mentality punctuated with manic outbursts. It felt like a reference to all the mobiness/craziness of the modern world with its Facebook and its Twitter. I’m guessing Flavor of the Day will win based on audience reaction. But Stern’s work should be part of the company’s repertoire.

The first half ended with the world premiere of Charlotte Boye-Christensen’s Turf. I’m sure glad the leadership team at Ririe-Woodbury invited Charlotte to be part of the artistic staff. Because her works are always smart, exciting, and captivating. Not to mention physical. And congratulations to the dancers (particularly newcomer Prentice Whitlow who's off to an awfully good start) for keeping up with the choreography.

My favorite piece on the program was a piece we’ve seen Ririe-Woodbury perform before. But it’s definitely worth a second see. Down By the River was choreographed by Carolyn Carlson, inspired by the American Poet A.R. Ammons. This work is theatrical, demandingly precise, and a pleasure to watch, something you don't often about contemporary dance. Here again, the dancers were brilliant.

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