Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company continues to celebrate its 50th anniversary by bringing back an old friend and a timeless message.
The company will perform its new family show, “Flabbergast,” at the newly renovated Capitol Theater for more than 8,000 schoolchildren. Evening performances of “Flabbergast” will include a second piece showcasing the RW dancers.
Both works are choreographed by Tandy Beal, who began combining acrobatics and dance movement before Cirque de Soleil was dazzling audiences around the world. Beal and her composer husband Jon Scoville, have a long history with Shirley Ririe and Joan Woodbury, making the couple a natural choice to help celebrate the company’s longevity.
The RW dancers have had to do a little adjusting to the new style of movement, which includes circus tricks and insider terminology.
“It’s interesting how circus performers communicate,” RW artistic director Daniel Charon said. “Safety is such a huge concern that we’ve had to learn to create a ‘ditch word’ and designate who calls it.”
In one daring trick, dancer Mary Lynn Graves gets flung in a circle with Bradley Beakes holding her legs and Bashaun Williams holding her arms, turning her into a human jump rope. Graves said she considers herself “the prop” while the men do all the work.
“You have to be both very strong and very flexible at the same time,” she said.
The costuming is equally circus-based. One section has the dancers in big diapers, while another is called “the outrageous cowboy” section. The dancers clown around as babies, but as they perform the “table slide” it is obvious that they are using a new-found skill while adding character to the part.
“I feel this has added to my skill set that will inform my dance vocabulary in other pieces,” the newest RW dancer, Yebel Gallegos, said.
Beal said she wanted to create a show that had the universal message of “wonder” and said, “We can get through some of the harder moments in life if we can achieve a sense of wonder.” Scoville created the soundtrack for his wife’s vision, as he has many times in their shared career.
As exciting as it is to have a new family program, RW decided dance enthusiasts might feel a little cheated by a performance that only shows the sillier side of highly trained dancers. So Beal pulled out one of her older works that is appropriate for children but serious enough for adults.
“I wanted to set the tone by using a lush, symphonic piece of music,” she said. “The score is ‘La création du monde’ (1923) by Darius Milhaud, who insisted his piece was the first jazz ever used in serious concert music, even pre-dating Gershwin.”
The dance has been described by some as “creation in reverse.” Beal added that it honors “the natural world over the obsession we all seem to have with technology that tends to distance us from one another.”
RW finishes up its 50th-anniversary celebration in April with three new works: a collaboration between choreographer Doug Varone and University of Utah professor Ellen Bromberg, a premiere by Sweden-based Ririe-Woodbury alumnus Miguel Azcue and a world premiere by Charon.
When • Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., with a matinee at 2 p.m. Saturday
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $35, recommended for ages 4 and older; arttix.org
More photos online
O See a gallery of “Flabbergast” photos at www.sltrib.com/entertainment.