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Raw Passion Energizes SLC's Independent Modern Dance Scene

by Karen Anne Webb  

The independent dance scene is alive and well and in residence at the Marriott Center for Dance.

At least, this is the impression conveyed by the inaugural concert of RawMoves, which presents "Caught in the Act" through Saturday, July 2. The five-work repertory bill (the company kindly allowed me to catch its dress tech Wednesday night so I could get this review filed by opening night) represents the work of artistic co-directors Nicholas Cendese and Natosha Washington with contributions by their cadre of ten dancers.

And it is wonderful work: whether it’s being edgy and tense or light-hearted and fun, it has an engaging sense of invention and vitality. Most people who read my reviews know I freely own that the post-modernist genre is not normally my cup of tea, and the work of Cendese and Washington is definitely in the post-modernist/deconstructionist mode. What makes this show work so well is that it always seems to be about something, even if that something is just a sense of directed tension in getting a dancer from point A to point B. The element that is missing from a lot of post-modernist work—the very passion that makes art art—leaps off the stage and pulls you in. The dancers of RawMoves dance with a great deal of conviction.

The company bills its work as exploring themes that include sensuality and violence. It does include elements of both, but in no way is this inclusion remotely exploitative or gratuitous. A more accurate description of the emotional tenor of their work might be that it constitutes an exploration of life as a young adult at the turn of the new millennium. Unless you lack a pulse, there is material here you will relate to.

Cendese and Washington demonstrate a grasp of the crafting of dance (included a finely-developed sense of how to use a stage fully and intelligently) that is unusually mature for a company presenting its first concert. “Dance Number Nine: the red and black suite,” for example, is an ensemble work for eight that includes everything from solo work to duets to multiple duets and trios occurring simultaneously. The work is full of luscious movement cleanly articulated (Jill Patterson’s opening solo was simply spellbinding). Where many of the dancers are sharing the spotlight, the choreographers avoid the pitfalls of both frenetic, unfocused movement and movement that is so repetitious it lulls you to sleep. Where two couples are working with essentially the same movement phrases, basic elements like time get tweaked: suddenly one couple will be shift into slow motion, completing in a fluid eight counts the phrase the other couple did in a percussive two. When the entire ensemble is up and moving, there is still a sense of construction and flow about the way the movement pulses around the stage.

Both this work and the male quartet “Control Freak” include pure movement sections as well as sections that communicate ideas about life (and the performers’ reaction to it). Somehow, both varieties of movement work in happy unison with the music. Believe me when I say that, if you have breath in your body, you will find yourself moving to the primal rhythms of that music and emulating the movements of the dancers: the choreography has that sense of arising so naturally from the music it evokes sympathetic resonance.

Interestingly, “The One to Classical Music,” which is performed to one of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, was also developed using contemporary percussive music. The seams don’t show. It’s difficult to see a piece of modern dance based on a simple vocabulary performed to Bach and not compare it to Paul Taylor’s “Esplanade,” but this one stacks up very favorably. It’s light and sweet and will make you laugh less for humor than for the sheer sense of joy it evokes.

Cendese and Washington, featured in the other works on the bill, take center stage for “A Thousand Wounds.” This piece seems like a further development of a short phrase from “Dance Number Nine” that might have been about spousal abuse. Back before the earth cooled, folk singer Bob Dylan wrote a set of lyrics that included the images of “ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken” and “ten thousand whispering and nobody listening.” This poignant duet about a relationship coming apart at the seams harks back strongly to these images and suggests that themes of alienation and the inability to communicate are not restricted to one generation.

Rounding out the evening was “Table for Four,” two sections of a longer work in progress. The one prop-oriented piece on the bill, it plays with the redefining of space by a material object. It does have a “work in progress” feel to it in that, when it ends, it feels like it shouldn’t, but there is enough substance to it that you really want to know what comes next. (According to the program notes, you’ll get your chance in a few months at RawMoves’ next concert.)

"Caught in the Act" continues through July 2 in the Studio Theater (aka Room 240) in the Marriott Center for Dance on the University of Utah campus. Curtain is at 7:30pm; tickets are $10 at the door. The concert is approximately 70 minutes long and runs without an intermission. Some content (including song lyrics and a few hand gestures) might be too intense for younger audiences, but the song lyrics go by very quickly and, again, the “mature” material integrates intelligently into the context of the two pieces involved.

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