It’s the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it. — Andy Warhol
Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company presents “Parallax” next weekend at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, opening its 2017-18 season with three distinctive works: “Unstruck” by minimalist choreographer Kate Weare, “Pantheon” by maximalist dance-artist Raja Feather Kelly, and RW artistic director Daniel Charon’s “Exilic Dances.”
The three choreographers on the program are not only strikingly different from one another, but each has diverged from her or his signature practice in small or significant ways.
Brooklyn-based choreographer Kelly connected with RW when he won the 2017 Princess Grace Foundation USA award, a respected fellowship that pairs a developing choreographer with a professional dance company to encourage mutual artistic advancement. He is one of only three choreographers in the nation to win the award this year, and will also be collaborating with composer Sam Crawford on an original score.
“I describe my work as dance-theater combined with visual art,” Kelly said. “I am choreographing an experience, not just a dance, not just a body, but an experience.”
He incorporates wigs and props and even paints the dancers bodies. The theatrical experience begins long before the house lights go down with Kelly calculating “how people enter the theater, how they sit down, how they learned about the show and what they already know about my work.” If people know anything about Kelly’s work, it’s that his point of view is filtered through the lens of Pop Art icon Andy Warhol.
“Warhol shaped the culture I grew up with. He died in 1987 and I was born in 1987,” Kelly said. “I realize Warhol didn’t change art. He changed the way art was seen. In my choreography, I’m not interested in inventing new movement; I try to frame the movement so people will see it differently. Hopefully, it wakes people up to see the movement in new ways and question their beliefs about it and where they got them.”
The title of the dance he has choreographed for RW, “Pantheon,” is a reference to Kelly’s thematic inspiration “The Rite of Spring.” His treatment of the well-known plot, where a community chooses one person to sacrifice for the benefit of all, is viewed through a Warhol lens. And though all of Kelly’s other works include Warhol’s name in the title, “Pantheon” is the first to only be guided by Warhol’s spirit and his famous “15 minutes of fame” quote and belief that many of us have “learned feelings” that come from movies and television.
“We charge our artists, celebrities and public figures with enormous responsibility to stand in for our desires and dreams. It takes a heavy toll on them and in that way our ‘chosen ones’ sacrifice themselves for our ‘greater good,’ ” Kelly said.
Also featured on the program is Weare, whose company celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2015 in a retrospective of her signature duets and trios. The 2015 premiere of “Unstruck” revealed a new direction and deeper emotional quality in her choreography, a challenge RW will also bring to the stage. One of the two men’s roles in “Unstruck” was created on former Kate Weare Company dancer T.J. Spauer (2011-15), RW company member from 2006 to 2010.
Rounding out the program is Charon’s “Exilic.” Charon said he modeled the work on stage-show/Broadway musicals using klezmer music some may recognize the style of Klezmer from such musicals as “Fiddler on the Roof.” Contemporary dance performances don’t often include show tunes, but Charon has a background in musical theater and “Exilic” contains the very timely theme of immigration.
Broadway musicals from “West Side Story” to “Hamilton” have conveyed serious social and political themes that have influenced attitudes across the globe. Social scientists have suggested that music intensifies the themes and the movement material.
“I needed to choreograph something that would balance the program, challenge myself and appeal to our Salt Lake audience that I’ve noticed is very drawn to musical theater,” Charon said. “I’m not using the movement vocabulary of musical theater, but I am engaging the traditional words and music in the score.”
RW’s season ends in the spring with a full-length evening work by Charon. He says he is toying with the idea of making it a “sci-fi dance about modern-day technology.” It will be performed in the Eccles Theater Black Box, so the physical set could be in the round or myriad other possibilities.
RW Executive Director Jena Woodbury said the company’s schedule is chock full this season with tours in the U.S. and abroad (ririewoodbury.com/touring/community-engagement-and-education). The new Family Series offers a one-hour, $10 ticket price version on Saturdays during the official run of each show. And the outreach program is being extended to include multicultural senior citizen centers with the help of former RW dancer Juan Carlos Claudio’s organization MINDING MOTION For Graceful Aging and Grey Matters; both focus on aging adults and those with brain disease such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
“We want to fulfill our promise to the community that ‘dance is for everyone,’ ” Woodbury said. “It’s not just a phrase, it’s a commitment.”
Parallax by Ririe Woodbury Dance Company
When • Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 28 - 30, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 30, Family Series Matinee “Moving Parts” (1-hour show), 1 p.m.
Where • Jeanné Wagner Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. Broadway, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $35, $15 for students and seniors; family matinee, $10 or 5 packs for $45; artsaltlake.org or www.ririewoodbury.com
To learn more about Grey Matters or Minding Motion, go to www.juancarlosclaudio.com/dance-for-parkinson-disease