For more than two decades, Repertory Dance Theatre has employed the power of dance to defend and protect Utah’s landscape, but never with the ferocity of “Dancing The Bears Ears,” a tribute to Utah’s new and endangered national monument that is part of its season-opening “Sanctuary” program running through Saturday.
Repeated rhythmic patterns summoned reverence for the contested Bears Ears National Monument that inspired the choreography, and the lush movement ebbed and flowed. Guest choreographer Zvi Gotheiner’s elaborately layered structure made “Bears Ears” a stand-alone work appreciated within or outside the political context.
Dancers peeled away from the group in duets, dividing the stage yet maintaining a connection with the group’s rhythm; moving out of the range of the stage lights and then captured by projections of red desert sands, silhouetted buttes and stratified rock cliffs.
The first duet by dancers Ursula Perry and Efrén Corado Garcia was deliciously sensual and raw. I can imagine the piece structured in a more traditional dance form where Perry and Garcia sustain throughout as a lead couple, but the more egalitarian approach prevailed with duet after duet emerging from the eight-member ensemble. The dance is 50 minutes long, and a natural ending occurred about 10 minutes earlier when the dancers returned to the group, yet I would have not have wanted to miss the forceful ending duet by Dan Higgins and Tyler Orcutt.
A short film preceded the dance documenting RDT’s visit to Bears Ears National Monument in May, guided by Jonah Yellowman, Mary Benally and Ida Yellowman, who attended the performance opening night. I’m not always enthusiastic about supportive explanatory materials, but the film gave meaningful context to the dance.
The lighting and projections were subtle yet powerful, but the women were costumed in shapeless skirts that added nothing and if anything referenced pioneers.
The middle piece on the program was a beautiful but somewhat dated work by Eric Handman. “Ghost Ship” (2007) seemed edited for length and slipped onto the program to round it out, which is unnecessary. However, it is impressive that this dance retains its essence, which can only be achieved through rehearsal with any work‘s original choreographer and versatile dancers.
The last piece was a dance with broad audience appeal by guest choreographer Andy Noble. “Tower” added 27 dance students from Utah Valley University to the RDT eight-member cast for an uplifting group work. RDT is historically connected to Virginia Tanner’s Children’s Dance Theater/Tanner Dance that has a tradition of giving younger students stage experience. The UVU students are quite accomplished and hold their place alongside the seasoned company members. “Tower” had the appeal of commercial dance, and RDT dancers Justin Bass and Lauren Curley crushed it with spectacular turns and leaps.
From topical relevance to energetic entertainment, RDT’s ”Sanctuary” delivered on its promise of a something-for-everyone performance.
Repertory Dance Theatre’s “Sanctuary”
The program includes three works:
• “Dancing The Bears Ears,” a tribute by Zvi Gotheiner to Utah’s newly designated Bears Ears National Monument, explores through movement the extraordinary landscape and celebrates its legacy. Music by Scott Killian.
• “Tower,” by Andy Noble, honors the ground where the Twin Towers once stood and features 33 dancers, Utah Valley University students among them.
• “Ghost Ship,” by Eric Handman, is performed under a torrent of 120 pounds of falling rice, an exploration of how we are connected to our sense of place.
When • Through Saturday, Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $30 ($20 subscribers, $15 students/seniors); 801-355-ARTS or artsaltlake.org
Information • rdtutah.org/shows/sanctuary