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  Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company:
  ENSEMBLES
 
by Karen Anne Webb
     
 

The Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company finished up an already strong season by serving up two meaty premieres on its Ensembles program, which opened Thursday at the Rose.

“Lines to Read Between” is the company’s first acquisition from Australian choreographer John Utans. This commissioned work to a commissioned score is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Utans calls the piece a “metaphor of travels and journeys, of changing perspectives,” and “Lines” bears out this vision.

Providing a definite journey-related backdrop are a number of televisions of varying sizes, all playing footage of road trips. They do a little more than suggest literal journeys, though. Like the chairs in Zvi Gotheiner’s work of the same name, they are used to bound the space within which the dancers perform.

Utans has a wonderful sense of composition. Especially strong are his sense of asymmetrical opposition — difficult to convey with a half dozen dancers — and his use of ever-changing dynamic. In the former case, he groups his dancers in visually pleasing ways, moving seamlessly from a quartet bounded by two soloists to multiple duets to trios and back. In the latter, he tinkers with the energy onstage: a fluid duet downstage left gives rise to a brisk solo exit stage right.

The dancers weave in and out of the TV-bounded space so they switch from observer to performer and back. Utans’ double work, while contemporary, demonstrates his strong balletic background. Not only are his partnering moves innovative: something about the movement gives the impression that the two dancers are really one being. As in popping, a wave generated at one pole of the body ripples and flows till it arrives at the pole opposite: the body that is executing the steps just happens to have a few extra appendages.

The score meshes well with the movement. At times, it seems to be teasing the listener’s ear. The mainly-instrumental work is interrupted periodically by a few phrases that are sung. Something about the quality of the vocalized text sounds like the words are being played back to front at the same time the melody itself follows Western musical conventions and seems to be flowing front to back. An interesting effect, and a fitting accompaniment to this very cool piece.

Very cool would also describe “Bridge,” the new offering by Co-Artistic Director Charlotte Boye-Christensen. Because the piece was scored by John Adams, I’m tempted to say Boye-Christensen should have called the piece, “Bridge of Alleged Dances” (or, for the music-o-phile rather than the dance-o-phile, “Alleged Bridge of Dances”), but “Bridge” definitely fits the thematic elements of the piece.

This is one of Boye-Christensen’s strongest works for the company to date. Her use of the stage is complex and wonderful, as is the way she fits movement to music: steps that are quiet during Adams’ milder minimalistic passages swell to grand crescendos as the music begins to pulse with more increasing tension.

Subtle patterns arise within the movement. The piece begins with the company men seated on one side of the stage and the company women on the other. As the work progresses, there are moments when their interchange will remind logicians of the classic puzzle in which two herds of sheep meet on a narrow mountain road and must find a way to pass each other.

This image of co-mingling sheep gives rise to a second image, perhaps more appropriate to Boye-Christensen’s subject matter of gender role examination and reversal. The presence of one male on the “female” side of the stage (and vice versa) followed by the complete switch of men to the women’s side of the stage (and vice versa) suggests the yin-yang symbol. Each pole contains within itself the germ of its opposite, by which it is eventually subsumed. “Bridge” is a fully realized work that takes the audience on an insightful journey complete with clever movement, deft partnering, and loving craftsmanship

Joining these two premiers on this bill is a reprise of Doug Nielsen’s “Short Stem Roses” (replacing a previously-announced new work by Mexican choreographer Alicia Sanchez). Punctuated with moments of daffy humor, Nielsen’s work is at its best when he allows the dancers’ movements to smooth out and communicate the tender feelings with which the presentation of the title flower is best associated.

Ensembles continues through this evening in the Jeanné Wagner Theatre of the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. Curtain is at 7:30pm. Tickets are available at the door or via ArtTix at 355-ARTS or www.artttix.org

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