Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ririe-Woodbury rocks the Rose Wagner.

Last weekend was the season opener for Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.  And while I almost always enjoy contemporary dance performances, Polychromatic was extra great.

Let's start by talking about the new dancers.  Ririe-Woodbury replaced an amazing 50 percent of the company.  And the new dancers are brilliant. They offered everything I want from contemporary dancers: They're skilled, they're charming, and they're hot.  Oh, I know I'm not supposed to talk about the hotness of the dancers but as someone who shells out plenty of money for tickets to dance performances, it's a nice bonus to get talent AND good looks.  It was surprising to see how cohesive the company looks when half the dancers are new.

But I should probably talk about the program.  The opening work, 80's Night (2007) by choreographer Larry Keigwin was pure joy. This is total crowd-pleasing contemporary dance with it's 80s soundtrack and giant dose of Tchaikovsky (yes, you can effectively combine Tchaikovsky with Salt-N-Pepa's Push It).  And let's give a big shout out to costume designer Cynthia Turner for her sexy, sparkly creations.

Next was a new work by Ririe-Woodury's artistic director Charlotte Boye-Christensen, Push.  I expected the initial moments with their intense, on-the-floor physicality that is the hallmark of Boye-Christensen's work. It always get me excited and pushes the dancers to excellence.  What I didn't expect was the emotion (was that love I saw?) in the closing duet danced brilliantly by Jo Blake and Elizabeth Kelley-Wilberg.  Charlotte delivered some unexpected romance and I liked it.

The second half opened with John Jasperse's Spurts of Activity Before the Emptiness of Late Afternoon,(2010).  It's work like this that makes me a big dance fan.  The slouchy, metered choreography with it's precise, organized attitude reminded me of Marina Abromovic's performance art.  And as long as we're on the fine art references, is Damien Hirst responsible for that title?  I also have to mention the brilliance of Boye-Christensen's programming.  I loved how the stage started the program completely dressed, and then got more and more naked as the evening progressed, until at this performance we saw the raw stage, without it's curtains or backdrops.

The show ended with GRID (2009).  Once again, a big shout out to Boye-Christensen for some perfect programming. This is such a brilliant work for Ririe-Woodbury to perform.  Is it just me, or does this seem reminiscent of the rubber-band tension of Alwin Nikolais's work Tensile Involvement, a favorite of Ririe-Woodbury audiences?  Then again, I could also suggest a reference to the art of Olufer Eliasson.  The powder released as the elastic bands were snapped reminded me of many of Eliasson's misty water works. Whatever the reference, the performance made me happy.

Polychromatic was a fantastic opening to the fall performing-arts season.  The bad part: Ririe-Woodbury just set the bar high, not only for other performing arts organizations but also for themselves.  I'm expecting big things from the company at their December performance.

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