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RDT opens season with modern-dance tribute

Published September 30, 2013 11:02 am

Dance • José Limón's masterwork, "Missa Brevis," is featured in the season opener.
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Repertory Dance Theatre opens its 48th season with a tribute to modern-dance pioneers José Limón, Doris Humphrey, Ted Shawn, Bill Evans and Ze'eva Cohen. The performance, titled "Legacy," places RDT on the historic timeline between 1931 and 1985 when dancers first rebelliously took off their shoes and let down their hair.

Featured on the program is Limón's masterwork "Missa Brevis," choreographed to Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály's choral mass "Missa Brevis in Tempore Belli" (Short Mass in Time of War). When Limón visited postwar Poland in 1958, he was inspired to create his "prayer for peace" after witnessing the devastation of the country and the resilience of the people.

"The piece requires a cast of 22 dancers," RDT's artistic director Linda Smith said. "So we are collaborating with the BYU and Utah Valley University dance departments to augment the cast and then will present the work on concerts at BYU."

Every modern dancer is familiar with the legendary choreographer, but the "Limón technique" is extremely specific and detailed, so RDT brought acclaimed Limón dancer Nina Watt to Salt Lake for five weeks last summer to stage and rehearse the piece.

"The way José uses groups of people, forms them and dissolves them is a metaphor for humanity," Watt said. "José's works are crafted incredibly well. The Limón technique has to inform the movement. Dancers must understand the use of the breath as impetus for the movement. Dancers must understand the pull of gravity and its impact on movement."

Watt described "Missa Brevis" as a spiritual work and said she sensed that Utah dancers in general were quick to internalize the religious aspect of the work.

" 'Missa Brevis' clearly has a spiritual dimension to it," Watt said. "José used to say, 'I try to be an atheist, but it is very hard.' "

The program comes at a time of big change for the dance company.

Transitioning this season from dancer to artistic staff is Nicholas Cendese, who joined RDT in 2002 and will fill the newly created position of assistant artistic director. Cendese said he and Smith have a "synergy that makes working together really wonderful."

Cendese will take some of the stresses off Smith's job at home and by traveling with the company when it goes on tour, and assisting with rehearsals, music and video.

"All the things I'm doing in my new position I was doing while I was also dancing — facilitating the music and video, and other jobs," he said. "So when I made the decision to stop performing, Linda made it possible for me to continue to stay with this company that I love so much."

Cendese said his goal for the company as RDT approaches its 50th anniversary in two years is to "make it sustainable for the next 50." But he admits that might take some introspection on the company's part.

"Our greatest blessing and our biggest curse is that we are an historical rep company," Cendese said. "We've proven that we can do history in a way that no other company can. But I would like to stop defining performances as 'historical' or 'contemporary' and program so the history draws a lineage to something that is happening now in the contemporary world, and then also goes beyond and looks to the future."

RDT's treasure trove of historical work uniquely positions the company to curate with this vision in mind. But Cendese said "it is going to require us to pay a little more attention to contemporary work."

It will also take a major shift in perspective from the top, a good long look at RDT's mission and what that means for its future. —

RDT's 'Legacy'

When • Thursday to Saturday, Oct. 3-5, 7:30 p.m.

Where • Jeanné Wagner Theatre inside the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center

Tickets • $30 in advance, $15 seniors/students ($5 more on performance night) at 801-355-ARTS or http://www.artTix.org

Free symposium

Missa Brevis: Nexus of Faith, Art and War

When • Wednesday, Oct. 2, 7 p.m.

Where • Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA), 20 S. West Temple, 801-328-4201 (adjacent to Abravanel Hall)

Tickets • Free; http://rdtutah.org/Upcoming_symposium.html

Note • Attendees will receive a $10 discount (on full-price tickets only) to "Legacy."