Review: Ririe-Woodbury fires up the engine for a powerful but uneven program of modern dance

First Published      Last Updated Apr 14 2015 05:50 pm

Modern dance is like an internal combustion engine. It moves in cycles, and requires work to power up for the next revolution. Fully attending to both of Ririe-Woodbury's premieres at this spring performance, running through Saturday, April 11, felt like a lot of work — one was worth the effort, while the other lacked the requisite spark.

It's anyone's guess why guest choreographer Netta Yerushalmy titled her commissioned piece for R-W "Norwegia," but the name is as unsettling and awkwardly logical as the work itself and is therefore cleverly fitting. Yerushalmy's notion of choreography as the accumulation of unrelated movement and ideas borrows heavily from post-modernism — but ultimately it adds up to surrealism.

Yerushalmy creates a grippingly precise vocabulary where everyday movements are transformed into strange creatures. When dancer Mary Lynn Graves (dressed in an outrageous fairy costume) is carried onstage — lifted high overhead by Bashaun Williams and Bradley Beakes — onstage dancer Alexandra Bradshaw looks on, weary and aloof. Viewers search for their own connections between these abstract scenarios. The original Surrealists aimed to resolve the conflict between dream and reality, but Yerushalmy simply offers it up.

In the second half of the program, Ririe-Woodbury artistic director Daniel Charon's homage to experimental music — "53 Rooms," a collaboration among R-W, the Salt Lake Electric Ensemble and the University of Utah student dancers — was less successful.

I admire SLEE's commitment to minimalist composer Terry Riley's "In C" and appreciate having experienced it at a live performance. But I don't see what Charon's choreography had to offer the groundbreaking composition. Charon apparently is intrigued by musical form and has investigated the music of John Cage (Merce Cunningham's life-partner and pioneer in indeterminate music). But other choreographers, such as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, use minimalist music in a more expansive and spatial way. Charon's movement was confined and limited by the very parameters that should have opened it to possibilities. The most captivating section materialized when the university dancers and company members crowded the stage engaged in high-energy improvisations.

The belabored "53 Rooms" was a sharp contrast to the ease of Charon's "Storm" restaged by R-W last year.

The Ririe-Woodbury dancers impressively mastered both pieces of the evening, fulfilling every detail in "Norwegia" and sustaining focus and stamina throughout "53 Rooms."



Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company’s “Spring Season”

A stimulating but uneven evening of modern dance for the intellectually curious, featuring the world premieres of “53 Rooms” by artistic director Daniel Charon and “Norwegia” by guest choreographer Netta Yerushalmy.

When » Through Saturday, April 11, 7:30 p.m.

Where » Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets » $35; artix.org

Running time » 90 minutes with a 15-minute intermission