Olympic Arts Festival

February 12, 2002

Repertory Dance Theater’s
Chara Huckins in Martha Graham’s Diversion of Angels.

Scott Peterson, courtesy Repertory Dance Theatre

By Jessica Romine Peterson

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts
Park City, Utah
February 12-13, 2002

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater brought its trademark combination of athleticism, style, and penetrating performance quality to the 2002 Cultural Olympiad. Artistic Director Judith Jamison’s Here . . . Now, a new work which debuted in New York but was specially commissioned for the Olympic Arts Festival, was inspired by the life of late Olympian Florence Griffith Joyner. The complicated rhythms and fancy-free music of Wynton Marsalis suited the ballet’s thoughtful examination of Joyner’s speed, strength, style, and even the physical pain she endured as an athlete.

A cast of six dancers sported colorful track outfits and shoes. The men and women took turns dancing in their own packs or “teams,” as if to demonstrate the ritualistic nature of sports and training. Olivia Bowman and Benoit-Swan Pouffer portrayed a dramatic struggle between physical endurance and pain, perhaps recreating moments Joyner experienced with her husband, who was also her coach. Pouffer gently encouraged Bowman through the moments of anguish that would hit her sporadically as they danced. Their duo came to a surprising finish when Pouffer brought Bowman out of a spectacular lift face down, holding her inches from the floor just as the stage went black.

The program featured a moving performance of Ailey’s enduring solo Cry, originally choreographed for Jamison in 1971, when she danced with the company. Dwana Adiaha Smallwood, Bahiyah Sayyed-Gaines, and Asha Thomas offered distinctive virtuosity. Their articulate, moving performance echoed the dramatic voices and lyrics of Alice Coltrane, Laura Nyro, and The Voices of East Harlem.

Perhaps no other Ailey work fit the Olympiad better than Revelations. There was fire in the dancers’ eyes and a contagious spirit of jubilation and resolve. Jeffrey Gerodias brought phenomenal strength and precision, searing confidence and stage presence to “I Wanna Be Ready.” The invigorating performance brought the audience to its feet.

Back to top

Limón Dance Company

Browning Center for the Performing Arts?Weber State University
Ogden, Utah

February 13-14, 2002

The Limón Dance Company presented recent works by Billy Siegenfeld and Donald McKayle, and a restaging of Limón’s 1967 Psalm with a newly composed score by Jon Magnussen. Siegenfeld and McKayle made their work as part of a three-part, three-year project known as “Limón and Jazz,” which invites contemporary choreographers to explore the relationship between jazz music and modern dance.

Siegenfeld’s If Winter featured musical selections performed by Patricia Barber, the Billy Taylor Trio, and the Miles Davis Sextet. A cast of seven dancers, dressed in plaid pants, skirts, and sneakers (designed by Katherine McDowell) executed the swing dance-style choreography energetically. It was evident by the expressions on their faces and their light, fleet-footed steps that they were enjoying every minute of this work. And judging by the enthusiastic applause, the audience also felt the energy in the air. Under the bright lights of the stage the dancers looked like carefree children playing together on a sunny day.

Likewise, McKayle’s Cross Roads was a playful narrative set to the music of jazz flute virtuoso and composer James Newton. Dancers Kimiye Corwin and Dante Puleio created a beautiful partnership; their lovestruck relationship provided the focal point of the piece. Approximately midway through the work, Robert Regala took possession of the stage, sending the other dancers dancing and running to and fro about the stage. He seemed determined to tear the lead couple apart. Strong musical rhythms and repetitive gestural movements became channels of communication between the lead couple, Regala, and the rest of the cast.

In Psalm, Magnussen conducted a handful of guest singers and musicians, along with Weber State University Choir and several Utah musicians. Maxwell’s program notes described the inspiration and symbolism behind this climactic narrative work. The central role of “The Just Man,” danced by Regala (to the voice of baritone Andre Solomon-Glover), was inspired by an ancient Jewish tradition about thirty-six Just Men upon whom all of the sorrows of the world rest.

The piece was characterized by a wonderful use of group formations and patterns that filled the breadth of the stage, always leaving something new and interesting for the eye to see. Like building blocks, every aspect of Limón’s choreography logically fit together, naturally building up to the final climax. Magnussen’s score and the live accompaniment further accentuated the powerful impact of this piece.

Back to top

Pilobolus Dance Theatre

Capitol Theatre
Salt Lake City, Utah
February 16?17, 2002

The 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Arts Festival was an ideal setting for the pure athleticism and raw strength of Pilobolus Dance Theatre. The six-member company captured the awe and intrigue of the audience right from the beginning with a hold-your-breath performance of Tsu-Ku-Tsu. Choreographed by Alison Chase (one of four artistic directors) with company members, this work was a stunning example of what comes out of the collaborative choreographic process. Set to random percussive sounds, the piece felt completely spontaneous and unpredictable. The dancers took turns engaging in gravity-defying feats and weight-sharing stunts that had spectators scratching their heads in disbelief.

In the midst of its precarious feats, the company always finds a way of adding comic relief. Walklyndon, choreographed in 1971 by Robby Barnett, Lee Harris, Moses Pendleton, and Jonathan Wolken, is a silent comedy. In yellow unitards and variously colored athletic shorts (designed by Kitty Daly) the dancers took turns walking back and forth across the stage, acting out a new drama each time. Some would hold in their stomachs and walk upright, only to let everything hang out the minute they passed by each other. At one point one dancer became a human teeter-totter for the others to ride. They had the audience in stitches.

Making its debut was The Brass Ring, a commissioned work for the 2002 Olympic Arts Festival. The premiere, choreographed in part by artistic director Michael Tracy and the six company dancers, featured a medley of twentieth-century music, including the Olympic theme song and work by Aaron Copland. The dancers achieved virtual weightlessness in their lifts. The piece maintained a very slow, contemplative pace with sustained movement that made one ever more respectful of the company’s intense level of concentration and phenomenal control.

Back to top

Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company

Capitol Theatre
Salt Lake City, Utah
February 13, 2002

The choreography of Daniel Ezralow and Doug Varone highlighted Ririe-Woodbury’s “American Showmen” performance at the 2002 Olympic Arts Festival. Ezralow debuted his 2001 Prelude de l’Olympiad, a commissioned work for the festival. Set to Debussy’s contemplative piano score L’Isle joyeuse, the piece maintained a dreamy slow-motion quality throughout. Jackson Lowell’s shimmery gold costumes, reminiscent of old-fashioned bathing suits, provided loud contrast to the simple choreography.

Ezralow’s focus on the simplicity and agility of every movement brought out the natural beauty and skill of each dancer. It challenged them to create meaning out of every incidental movement?and they succeeded. Stevan Novakovich, in his first season with the company, performed a solo characterized by lucid, liquid movement and transitions, proving that every part of the body has something to say.

Doug Varone added newly commissioned sections to his 1996 Let’s Dance for the Cultural Olympiad performance. This spunky, energetic piece featured an array of musical selections from giants of the jazz age. Varone’s dancers moved through various scenarios with poise and sophistication. Brandin Steffensen and Liberty Valentine cleverly created an awkward, affection-starved attraction between the sexes in “A Fine Romance.” Likewise, John Allen and Jamie Hall made for a steamy duo in “I Loves You Porgy,” sharing quiet moments of allure and fascination. The audience got a kick out of John Allen’s solo in “Holiday for Strings,” in which he sat center stage in a wooden chair and created an imaginary stage on which only his fingers performed a furious dance, and his eyes followed frantically.

Back to top

Ballet West

Capitol Theatre
Salt Lake City, Utah
February 23, 2002

Ballet West presented “A Gala Celebration of Twentieth-Century Masterworks.” The performance featured works by Hans van Manen and George Balanchine, and the Utah premiere of Jerome Robbins’s Afternoon of a Faun.

Despite some sloppy corps formations, the third movement of Balanchine’s Theme and Variations opened the evening with a fresh burst of energy. The execution was tight, clean, and punctual. The dancers’ dynamic performances were heightened by the Utah Chamber Orchestra’s brisk, exuberant interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s score.

When it came to Balanchine’s Who Cares?, a handful of shining individual performers made all the difference. Kristin Hakala, partnered by Seth Olson, effortlessly balanced charm and intrigue with stunning finesse in “The Man I Love.” Olson returned for an explosive, airy solo in “Liza.” Aside from these single virtuoso moments, the ballet lacked its usual luster and pizzazz, as if the dancers had grown a tad too comfortable with it.

Van Manen’s Polish Pieces and Solo were refreshingly complex and bold. The company was at ease within van Manen’s contemporary style. Christopher Ruud and Leslie Ann Larson danced an intensely dramatic partnership in the second pas de deux of Polish Pieces. Returning to the stage in a role they have so eloquently performed in the past, they made supple, contemplative transitions and paused to hold gorgeous poses and lines, while echoing the drama of Henryk Mikolaj-Górecki’s penetrating musical score.

The Utah premiere of Robbins’s Afternoon of a Faun, danced by Olson and Jessica Harston skillfully captured the intrigue synonymous with Nijinsky’s 1912 performance of L’Après-midi d’un faune (from which Robbins gathered much of the inspiration for his contemporary ballet). The dancers’ long partnership reached a new level of maturity and cohesion. Their complete curiousity with one another spoke of youthful infatuation. Harston and Olson brought an emotional and dramatic heft to their trancelike performance, which captured the very essence of this masterwork.

Back to top

Repertory Dance Theatre

Capitol Theatre
Salt Lake City, Utah
February 21, 2002

Repertory Dance Theatre presented the revolutionary choreography of modern dance pioneers Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Helen Tamiris. The evening opened with Graham’s 1948 Diversion of Angels, set to an expansive orchestral score by Norman Dello Joio. Through three central couples and ensembles the choreographer tenderly addressed the topic of love and emotion.

Diversion of Angels
opened and closed with Rebecca Keene Forde in a striking profile pose on bended knee and Jim Moreno standing behind her holding his hands in a flexed position, creating a halo around her head. As the dominant Couple in White, Forde and Moreno represented tempered mature infatuation. Nathan Balser and Chara Huckins were the flirtatious Couple in Red with a mischievous, passionate attraction. The Couple in Yellow, danced by Angela Banchero-Kelleher and Joshua Larson, reflected a fearless, all-or-nothing partnership moving briskly in and out of difficult lifts and maneuvers. Lynne Listing, Ruping Wang, and Wen-ru Hsieh comprised a gorgeous, sharply synchronized ensemble, sweeping about the stage easily and fluidly.

RDT company members were joined by fourteen students from the University of Utah’s Department of Modern Dance, in Humphrey’s 1936 With My Red Fires. Wang and Balser were young lovers caught in the height of this dramatic work about matriarchal prejudice and power. Tina Misaka gave a powerful performance as the Matriarch, who takes vengeance upon the young lovers. Pianists Vedrana Subotic and Jed Moss mastered Wallingford Riegger’s dramatically harsh, repetitive score. The Chorus, who followed in the wrathful wake of the Matriarch, took charge of the sharp, robotic choreography and timing. Their stone-cold facial expressions and cold, fixed gazes intensified this commanding performance.

Actor Merlin Olsen served as the narrator for Tamiris’s Dance for Walt Whitman. Olsen read excerpts from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. As indicated in the program notes, the history of this work goes back to a trip Tamiris made to Utah in 1961. She created this version of Dances for Walt Whitman on the road to Salt Lake City, where she restaged it in honor of the late Virginia Tanner. The work was performed for the first time by modern dancers at the University of Utah.

RDT was joined by fourteen modern dance students from Brigham Young University. They captured the optimism of Whitman’s words. David Diamond’s boundless score generated the kind of excitement and enthusiasm associated with Aaron Copland’s music. The piece was full of blissful, rapid moments counterbalanced with calm, quiet moments. It was an exhilarating, feel-good work that lifted the senses.

Back to top

Savion Glover and the Ti Dii Dancers

Abravanel Hall
Salt Lake City, Utah
February 22, 2002

“You can rise to your feet if you like,” tap master Savion Glover encouraged his audience. Glover explained that he was going to start the evening off with an “extorted version” of “The Star Spangled Banner.” As his jazz band played a slow, sultry rendition of the anthem, Glover pounded out a dramatic tap improvisation. In the heavy, stomping style that is his trademark, Glover’s legs and feet move freely and independently from the rest of his body?as if some indescribable force takes control of them. At the same time, he’s the master of crisp, sharp sounds and unending rhythms.

Glover was joined by the Ti Dii Dancers, a group of nine energetic young tappers. Like three friends enjoying a relaxed jam session, Marshall Davis Jr., Andrew Nemr, and Glover took turns improvising, then joined up as an ensemble, moving with phenomenal symmetry and exact timing. Glover introduced young Cartier Williams (known as “Big Coop” to his Ti Dii counterparts, Glover said), who performed with poise and confidence far beyond his youth. This promising dancer had already mastered a very fluid, rhythmic style of his own. We will see more of him.

Likewise, drummer Jerry Crawford left a lasting impression with his improvisational performance on a group of plastic buckets. Crawford’s pounding, repetitious beats increased in speed and intensity. He moved his drumsticks from one bucket to the next so rapidly his hands became one big exciting blur.

After removing his jacket and retying his shoes, Glover gave another spectacular solo performance. It was as if he were functioning off of endless reserves of energy, tapping so hard for so long that his sweat flew and his dreadlocks flailed uncontrollably. His feet mimicked every note on the guitar and every pitch of the saxophone. Tempting every rhythm and syncopation, Glover’s body became the music. It seemed as if he were daring the band to keep playing, like they were at the mercy of his tapping?as long as he continued to dance, they continued to jive.

Back to top

AXIS Dance Company

Salt Lake City, UT
March 10, 2002

Two days after the opening of the 2002 Winter Paralympics, AXIS Dance Company offered the final dance performance of the 2002 Cultural Olympiad. Moving beyond the conventional concept of contemporary dance movement, this ten-member company merges movement for dancers with disabilities and able-bodied alike.

The dancers gave a forceful performance of Stephen Petronio’s repetitive, discombobulated Secret Ponies. Much of the dancing was done in place in straight lines across the width of the stage or on the diagonal. A distorted rendition of the distinctly gruff voice of Janis Joplin (original musical score by David Linton) and a short, thought-provoking spoken narrative at the conclusion counterbalanced redundant moments.

Stephanie McGlynn and Uli Schmitz performed with quiet, delicate ease in Of Air. The curtains opened on McGlynn swinging from a rope contraption installed above the stage. Meanwhile, Schmitz’s body spun around on the wheel of his wheelchair, which was turned on its side. In one swift moment he returned to the seat, wheeled himself to the rope swing, grabbed hold with both arms, and thrust the wheelchair off into the wings with his legs. Together the couple experienced flight, swinging back and forth, round and round, like a beautiful hanging sculpture.

Sonya Delwaide’s Suite Sans Suite opened with an amazing duet between Nadia Adame and Jacques Poulin-Denis. The couple luxuriously moved in and out of standing and floor movement so naturally that one almost forgot Adame has limited use of her lower body and Poulin-Denis has a prosthetic right foot. The light mood and ingenious configurations of this piece allowed the dancers to recover with complete finesse from a few unplanned mishaps, like a hat that fell off and a folding chair that got caught on the wheel of an electric wheelchair.

Fantasy in C Major
by Bill T. Jones truly captured the unique and limitless possibilities of this rare company. Inspired by the rapid, intricate musical score of the same name by Franz Schubert, this exciting work was constantly moving and evolving. Four dancers in electric wheelchairs created moments of suspense, coming dangerously close to each other as they skillfully zoomed in and out of formations.