"Momentum 2013," the sixth iteration of a performance series created by two former Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company members, opens next week, continuing the company's 50th-anniversary celebration.
The performance brings together 14 alumni choreographers from around the nation and dancers from around the state in a variety of styles and content. This year, "Momentum" replaces RW's annual December showcase of former artistic director Charlotte Boye-Christensen, who departed the company last spring.
So is "Momentum" an alumni party? Or a serious dance concert? Current RW artistic director Daniel Charon says it's a little bit, or more accurately a lot, of both.
"The event is playful, fun and even somewhat chaotic," Charon said. "But the actual work ranges from a quirky celebratory tone to very serious subject matter."
For example, Keith Johnson's premiere, "The Green Is the Unraveling," is dedicated to the memory of four former Ririe-Woodbury dancers who died of AIDS: Paul Callihan, Robert Martinez, Lynn Walter Topovski and Dennis Wright. The cast includes past and present RW and Repertory Dance Theatre dancers John Allen, Juan Carlos Claudio, Efren Corado Garcia and Bashaun Williams all at various points in their professional careers.
On the flip side is an upbeat, smartly constructed jazz duet by Andy Vaca. The full-circle back story of this piece reunites current RW dancer Tara Roszeen McArthur with her professor from Cal State Long Beach, who McArthur said "will always have a place in my heart." Vaca was the first professor to champion McArthur's talents and cast her in this duet and several pieces. The Salt Lake City revival of Vaca's "Big Ol' Love" with McArthur and current RW dancer Brad Beakes seems to be creating a buzz among dance insiders.
Jill Voorhees Edwards, founder and curator of "Momentum," said the response by past RW dancers to create work for this concert was so strong that she and fellow founder and curator Juan Carlos Claudio had to first narrow down the applicants and then split the number in half for two alternating performances.
"The response was astounding," she said. "Not only do we have working choreographers so dedicated to their roots here at RW that they are willing to basically donate their time and professionalism to this performance, but we also have dancers from the U., BYU, UVU and local professionals giving their time at the most stressful time of year during college finals and holiday family time."
RW company manager Jena Woodbury explained that four of the works on the program were created specifically for and will be performed by RW's current company. Woodbury said Boye-Christensen chose choreographers John Allen, Patrick Damon Rago, Stephanie Nugent and Jillian Harris last year as part of a long-range project that is still in process.
"RW was the first experience for most of these now highly respected choreographers and educators," Woodbury said. "Several of them are heads of departments at respected universities and in-demand choreographers."
Charon added that even the best-known companies Â such as the iconic Doug Varone and Dancers, where he danced for most of his professional career didn't teach dancers how to teach dance or provide other platforms once they left the company.
"The RW dancers take workshops on how to teach dance and adapt to so many different types of choreography by many different choreographers," Charon said. "You can see it in the trajectory of the dancers' professional careers."
Charon said the intention behind "Momentum 2013" is inclusive and joyful. "And in that way [it] is very much in keeping with the spirit of the season."
Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company presents choreography by 14 alumni.
Thursday and Saturday night choreographers: Juan Carlos Claudio, Jill Voorhees Edwards, Jillian Harris, Keith Johnson, Stevan Novakovich, Stephanie Nugent and Doris Trujillo
Friday night and Saturday matinee choreographers: John Allen, Chia-Chi Chiang, Juan Carlos Claudio, Aaron Draper, Damon Rago, Emmy Thomson, Andy Vaca and Prentice Whitlow
When • Dec. 12-14, 7:30 p.m., 3 p.m. Saturday matinee
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $35, http://www.arttix.org or 801-355-ARTS