There’s a problem that plagues every repertory company—how do you group various choreographers addressing various creative ideas into one unifying program? Linda C. Smith, artistic director of Repertory Dance Theatre, sidestepped this thorny issue by conjuring a larger umbrella concept.
As a multiyear objective, Smith’s Sense of Place is aimed at increasing audience awareness of both global and local issues including individuality, community, culture and environment. Opening their current season, RDT presents Terrain, a diverse program containing five pieces of wide-ranging choreography that Smith feels relate poignantly to that overarching theme.
“We address both solitude and camaraderie in Terrain,” explains Smith. “We also look at the ’60s, a period of time that was very interesting in terms of the history of modern dance.”
One piece from that period is Yvonne Rainer’s “Trio A.” Derived from a truly post-modern perspective, in that it openly rebuffs accepted ways and forms of creating dance, the work instead favors everyday motion—a modern dance variation on “found art.” Rainer, choreographing back in 1966, looked carefully at pedestrian movement creating a thematic piece that eschews accents, energy bursts, repetition and any sort of climax whatsoever.
“‘Trio A’ was really a definitive piece in that dancers were exploring new ways to create dances while rejecting all the formal and classical approaches to composition,” says Smith. “Yvonne Rainer basically came out with this statement that said no to everything. It was a rejection of the heroic and the rejection of technique and the rejection of the traditional. As a piece of art it’s just about pure movement and the fact that ordinary movement can be very beautiful to watch.”
In direct contrast is John Butler’s “The Initiate,” another piece created during the same tumultuous decade. Instead of snubbing form and tradition, Butler’s piece focuses on the political and social upheavals to address the enormous escalation of violence endemic to the period.
“He uses the cyclical birth, life, death, rebirth analogy that Joseph Campbell brought to our attention ... in his books on myth,” explains Smith. “So, ‘The Initiate’ is more or less a tribal ritual where the individual being initiated has to cross the boundary between innocence and experience.”
When originally created, both pieces played a role in specific social and artistic revolutions. Surely it isn’t hard to find parallels in today’s traumatic social and political context. So for Linda Smith, RDT’s artistic reexamination of this era echoes important lessons we can all learn about our own sense of place.
Paul Taylor: Still modern after
all these years.
Choreographer Paul Taylor’s work has always been seen as fresh, exciting, exuberant, slightly irreverent, often defiant and—most of all—modern. Nothing speaks to American art more than diversity, and nobody speaks to diversity in art more than Paul Taylor.
John Tomlinson, general manager of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, explains it this way: “Europeans are always sort of shocked that he has a sense of freedom in his work to do what he wants rather than what is expected. That has always been, for better or for worse, considered as an American quality. Americans are known for being the people who go and do things that no one expects you to be able to do, or no one thinks you should do.”
Yes, a sort of pioneering spirit is ingrained in all American artists—to just go ahead and do what you want, to not necessarily get hung up on the past or the propriety of what people think is right or wrong. Over the 50 years that he has been creating, Taylor has embraced this ideology more than anyone else in his field. And at 74—right in the middle of a 21-month tour spanning all 50 states and having just completed his 122nd work—Taylor is still chasing that dream to keep everything modern in modern dance.
“A lot of times in our business, choreographers get pegged into little boxes where people will say, ‘I don’t want to see a whole night of a choreographer’s work because all the pieces look the same,’” says Tomlinson. “Paul is very aware of that problem, so he has always gone the extra measure to make sure he celebrates a huge amount of diversity in his work.”
On the program scheduled for Salt Lake City, the 16-member company will perform three pieces that purposefully speak to that colorful palate. “Arden Court” (1981), a joyful baroque piece that celebrates an art form’s elation and ecstasy, is followed by the new piece “Dante Variations,” which is much darker and explores confinement and discomfort. Rounding out the program is a dance that delves into the ideas of tango without actually becoming a tango—“Piazzolla Caldera” (1997).
“Each of these three dances could be an entirely different company and an entirely different choreographer,” says Tomlinson. “They are all so different in what they bring to the stage and what they offer to the audience. Paul Taylor’s personal ambition has always been to celebrate diversity. That’s what Paul loves.”
TERRAIN Repertory Dance Theatre Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center 138 W. 300 South Oct. 7-9 8 p.m. 355-ARTS or www.arttix.org
50 YEARS, 50 STATES Paul Taylor Dance Company Kingsbury Hall Tuesday, Oct. 12 7:30 p.m. 581-7100 or www.kingsburyhall.org