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RDT: Moving Heaven and Earth

By Karen Anne Webb
Dance Review:
Repertory Dance Theatre


Rose Wagner

I'm tempted to open this review by saying "A concert without Chara Huckins is like a day without sunshine," but there was so much good stuff on the bill for Repertory Dance Theatre's Moving Heaven and Earth season opener that I'll refrain. (Huckins actually appears in the uber-ensemble piece that opens the program.)

Moving Heaven and Earth, which played at the Rose October 5-7, is the company's first extended foray into the realm of myths and heroes. I appreciated artistic director Linda C. Smith's program note that "contemporary societies have moved further and further from the stories that once anchored our relationships and influenced our actions." Anthropology is not my long suit, but as a student of comparative religion and mythology, I tend to agree. We tend to associate mythology and the handing down of teaching stories with "primitive" societies. We have abjured much of what tribal man might be teaching us: the telling of stories no less than the rites of passage that mark the great events in our lives. Has contemporary man truly gone beyond his need for such things? I don't know. I do know that without something with equal spiritual weight to replace them, he becomes more and more rootless and less and less sure about his place in the universe. I'm anxious to see where this series of performances will lead, if it will help its audiences reevaluate their relationships to the mystical.

The concert is not entirely a literal retelling of myths but it does reflect Smith's note about how the integration and loss of the myths and heroes motif affects our lives. The opening two works, Lucas Hoving's "Icarus" and Jacque Lynn Bell's Ryoanji both draw on Asian themes. The trio "Icarus," an abstract interpretation of the Greek myth, is presented in a manner that blends athletic modern dance with the aesthetic of the Noh plays of Japan. Ryoanji is kind of a dance interpretation of a Zen sand garden.

From the opening sequence of "Icarus," I was expecting there to be some sort of central pas de deux between Icarus and the Sun (in the manner of Glen Tetley's "Sphinx"). It's there, but it is in the movement of the Sun character (Chien-Ying Wang the night I saw it) that the Noh aesthetic comes into play. It makes for a very interesting juxtaposition of styles: Ying's soft, minimalistic movement and gorgeously fluid arms with the angular attack of the work for Icarus (Thayer Jonutz on this occasion).

Bell's wonderfully uplifting work is a paean to family and to the communities that humans build. The huge ensemble includes RDT, Children's Dance Theatre members, two infants, and a host of special guests. Its movement is very quiet, so the interest in the actual construction of the piece is more in the way Bell utilizes her ensemble to fill the stage than in any single movement phrase. And, with its multiple platforms and ever-moving sea of dancers, it really does look like a sand garden.

The program had an enjoyably frenetic central section featuring "Exit from Eden" by Natosha Washington and Stephen Koester's commissioned "Fever Sleep." Washington, who co-directs the Raw Moves dance company with RDT member Nick Cendese, is an extraordinary young talent. "Exit" is the most ambitious of her pieces that I've seen. Designed for three couples, it is sharp and edgy, complex and imaginative, fresh and completely realized. You just don't often find this sophisticated and well-developed a piece this early in a dancer/choreographer's career.

Although "Exit" is an ensemble piece, I feel compelled to add a note about new company member Colleen Bickel. Presence, energy, focus, and an exquisite sense of flow that comes across even with Washington's somewhat angular choreography: I love all the dancers in this piece, but I simply could not take my eyes off her.

Koester's "Fever Sleep" exudes a sense of interrupted reality. I have to admit I was getting into minimalism overload at this point, as this piece, Washington's and Bell's were done to minimalistic scores (and this one and Washington's were made with angst-laden minimalistic scores). But each piece went in a different direction in terms of dance vocabulary and emotional tone—in Koester's case, he seemed to be inviting us into the world of the oddly-angled mind in which humor, hysteria, and chaos all play a part.
If "Fever Sleep" was recognizably Koester, "In the Valley of the Sun and Moon" was identifiably Bill Evans, a body (Jonutz again) moving fluidly through (literally space). Where Washington's expertise makes you want to sit back and say "Wow!" Evans' makes you want to sick back and say "Ooh!" and "Aah!"—it's that pretty and spiritually rejuvenating.

Closing the bill was the other 2005 Sense of Place Commission, Molissa Fenley's "Desert Sea." A piece with its own sense of spatial awareness, "Desert Sea" has an interesting mathematical aesthetic to its construction that it took me seeing it this second time fully to appreciate.



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