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RDT's 'Touchstone' Touches Many Different Moods

by Karen Anne Webb  

There’s no other way to start a review of Repertory Dance Theatre's "Touchstone" season concert other than to say that choreographer Zvi Gotheiner has done it again. His new work for Repertory Dance Theatre, “Bricks,” is yet another example of work that combines yummy movement with intellectual and emotional substance.

Like most of his works for the company, this one is an ensemble piece. Like the best passages of religious and philosophical text, it works on so many levels at once that it’s hard to take everything in at one sitting—one could revisit it many times and keep finding new meanings. (This review is based on having seen only the opening night performance on Sept. 29 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.)

From the moment Gotheiner’s set-piece bricks begin to appear (audience members hand them forward from the back of the auditorium), you know you’re about to witness something unique. The bricks, provided by Pacific Coast building products, are like oversized adult Legos: clear plastic constructs that admit light in a way similar to bottle glass and stack in numerous ways.

As in his "Chairs," Gotheiner’s piece is less about having fun with props than the way they can be used to bound space—and the dancers. Chien-Ying Wang, for instance, seems to be a woman confined: her reaction to the bricks (and to the rigidity either she or society has imposed) is acceptance. Nicholas Cendese, on the other hand, will not be hemmed in: he reacts violently and lashes out.

Throughout the piece, the dancers continue to build (and rebuild) the walls that both define them and hem them in. Solos and duets alternate between passionate emotion, torture, tenderness and a plethora of other emotions that describe the human condition. Only at the end, when they succeed in building a door—at this point, the stage lighting brightens and mellows out—do they seem to emerge from their cocoons into full realization of their humanity and potential.

As the choreography itself represents Gotheiner at his most lusciously creative, the score by Scott Killian has some of his best and most beautiful work. Mostly, for me, Killian’s work has served as an excellent, evocative setting for Gotheiner’s work. His score for “Bricks” I would gladly take home and listen to for pleasure.

A second highlight of the program was the return of RDT alum Todd Allen to the RDT stage. His solo, “Lend Me Your Hot Licks,” felt like a Generation Y response to Daniel Nagrin’s “Strange Hero,” also in RDT’s repertory. It was filled with a myriad of ripply isolation maneuvers involving torso and limbs. As cleanly as Allen articulates his isolations, guitarist Stephen Lyman articulates the difficult passages in a piece by Leo Brouwer. Allen’s work as both choreographer and performer is dark, driven and very cool.

The reprises on the bill were mesmerizing in very different ways. “Together … Again” revisits a piece made to pay tribute to Virginia Tanner. It features dancers from Children’s Dance Theatre and RDT as well as guests Allen and Paul Ocampo. It is an exuberant integration of the talents of both groups. Its pairing of adult men and younger dancers from CDT, the clothing of the youngest dancers in warm colors and the older dancers from both groups in cool and its constant vibrant movement demonstrate that pieces that include children in the cast have far more than “cute” value.

Lynne Listing reprised Marina Harris’ beautifully lyrical “Untitled Solo.” Not only is this a good metier and good collection of steps for Listing, but she gives us a profound sense of having been taken on a wonderful journey.

At the other end of the spectrum was Laura Dean’s highly-energized “Skylight,” one of her best. The shapes she uses for her trademark turns are unique; many are done in that circle-within-a-circle pattern you get from a Kitchen Aid mixer rather than coming down a diagonal. The rhythmic score (a slightly syncopated 12/8?) gets into your blood, and the non-turning choreography, which includes some great whole-body shapes, makes full use of the space in engaging, ever-changing ways. The dancers, from their initial run in, seem larger than life, and that image sums up the whole piece.

The show is a great kick-off to the company’s 40th anniversary season.

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