SENSE OF PLACE
By: Hal de Becker
A program of modern dance entitled Sense of Place was presented by Utah’s Repertory Dance Theatre at Ham Hall. It was pleasant and accessible though fairly bland.
The company was founded in 1966 and, with almost half a century of history behind it, I had expected to see more innovative choreography and exploration of contemporary developments in modern dance. The dances were pleasing to the eye but the free-style-look was too familiar. More interesting were the insightful and provocative ‘messages’ in many of the dances.
Choreographically missing was today’s pervasive combination of classical ballet with contemporary dance as employed by choreographers George Balanchine, Paul Taylor and Jerome Robbins among others; and further developed by Twyla Tharp, Maurice Bejart, Alvin Ailey, James Canfield and many more.
All RDT’s dancers were attractive, likeable and secure in their roles but it was the men who provided the most distinctive performances. Outstanding among them was Tyler Orcutt. His exuberant acting, humor and technique were particularly impressive. Eleven UNLV dance students also participated in the production.
The program opened with Molissa Fenley’s Desert Sea for eight dancers set to a dynamic score by Lou Harrison. The groups moved in varied patterns with considerable clarity and were not jumbled or confusing. But the choreography was more compelling when responding to the music’s strongly accented percussive sections than it was to the slower, melodic passages.
Dancing the Green Map was choreographed by Zvi Gotheiner, Sarah Donohue and Nicholas Cendese to music by Scott Killian, Bruno Coulais, Hattie and Afro Celt Soundsystem. It consisted of eleven separate numbers dealing with specific aspects of the quality of daily life and the health and future of the planet.
All were effective, especially the satirical ones such as Pedestrian Friendly in which different movements of walking, from swagger to shuffle, were exaggerated and successfully parodied. Another was Mass Transportation with riders waiting at a bus stop rapping the words, “Get on the Bus.” It ended with the ubiquitous blessing, “Have a Nice Day.”
In Migration Zone a man and woman repeated low lifts and turns that began well but soon became tedious and predictable. Spiritual Site for a trio of ladies was as lyrical and heartfelt as the music. The work’s final piece, Celebration, set to powerful rhythmic drumming, generated some of the concert’s rare moments of excitement.
Rainwood, an experimental work choreographed by Ze’eva Cohen to the recorded real-life sounds of birds, frogs and insects, was interesting – once. But unlike the nature oriented music of Schubert, Mahler and Debussy, listening to tweets, twitters and croaks grew tiresome.
The program’s finale and most outstanding dance was created by Joanie Shapiro and choreographed to an abridged version of Ravel’s Bolero. Her refreshing approach didn’t follow the usual format of dancers mirroring the music’s repeated beat and melody. Instead, she presented a dramatically charged work of human emotions and societal conflicts that was unique and thoughtful.
In dark pants and tee shirts, against the ominous backdrop of a gray brick wall, seven dancers fought against each other -- and the wall. They beat their fists, ran, struggled and dragged themselves across the floor. It was a prison scene but, like George Orwell’s novel “1984,” the prison seemed to be society, constraining, intrusive and dehumanizing.