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Great things are done when men and mountains meet.

To celebrate thhe 100th anniversary of Utah's statehood, RDT commissioned a four-part suite that echoes the region's vast and rugged landscape with its own choreographic diversity.

Perhaps there is no more daunting assignment for a choreographer than to "dance a place." Hence, it is greatly to their credit that three of the four dancemakers who created Repertory Dance Theatre's "Centennial Landscape Suite" succeeded admirably in suggesting Utah's infinite physical variety, from towering, rock-capped mountains to vast desert expanses. More significantly, the dances got under the state's skin, tapping into a quintessential spirit, an all-pervasive, brooding presence that has both witnessed and been shaped by millennia of history.

Executive and artistic director Linda C. Smith spread the creation of her centennial project over three seasons, presenting the first three pieces consecutively in 1993, 1994, and 1996. The fourth piece climaxed the recapitulation of the whole suite at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City in November of 1996, Utah's centennial year. (Incidentally, 1996 also marked the thirtieth year of RDT's existence.) Along the way, a host of dancers, designers, musicians, and writers caught the vision and helped the suite to exciting fruition.

Strangely enough, it was Israeli-born choreographer Zvi Gotheiner who perhaps best comprehended his assignment: to react to the intimations of the Colorado-Utah plateau--a vast warren of red canyons and rugged landscapes, carved out by ages of water, wind, and blazing sun.

Gotheiner's Erosion (1993), danced to Scott Killian's compelling electronic score, created a red-rock world of fantasy and irresistible imagery where the dancers seemed to be denizens of forgotten eras, people of a petroglyph period, creatures sometimes less (or more) than human, always shaped by their recurring rituals. Sometimes one or more dancers broke from the horde to pull taut bungee cords across the stage, cords that invariably snapped, plunging the dancers into oblivion as civilizations came and went and ritual took over. The sense of indigenous people, of prehistory, was ever-present in this powerful work. Here, as in all the dances, Nicholas Cavallaro's sensitive lighting added a dimension not expressible in words.

From Margaret Jenkins, assisted by Ellie Klopp, came Liquid Interior (1994)--a piece well named, for it delved beneath the brittle crust of the Great Basin to explore the teeming nether life in a place of intense surface quiet.

Jenkins appeared to work from the elemental concept that all matter is in motion, no matter how silently, to create a little world that flowed in silence, always with a piquant touch of the surreal. Composer Phillip Bimstein, a Utahn who evokes his home state in his music, created a score with clicking, trickling noises that supported Jenkins's theme of a blazing white, parched land where creatures of the desert--small animals, insects, flying creatures--live out their ephemeral lives. The movement was spare and concise, quick and even spasmodic, sometimes propelled by a desert wind, or quickened by the zapping of an electrical storm, often lit in strobelike patterns.

Ford Evans celebrated Utah's rivers, lakes, and wetlands in Watermark (1996), ably abetted by composer Ricklen Nobis, whose music for soprano and baritone, percussion, and synthesizer suggested the evanescence and capriciousness of water in a desert land. The dancers formed graceful towers of bodies, suggesting winter's ice, which dissolved into waves ebbing and flowing across the floor, or rising up and surging as springs and freshets. The movement was always interesting, always true, and showed Evans's lyric gift, although costumes of workaday jackets and pants did not ideally complement the lyricism of the dance.

For Summit, commissioned "in celebration of Utah's mountains and forests," David Parsons showed the least immersion in his subject of the four choreographers. It seemed that this final piece, climaxing the three nature-oriented works that went before, should have embodied reaching, striving, and some sort of apotheosis that went beyond what the others had suggested. Instead, Parsons settled for a celebration in dance, a joyous and attractive piece to be sure, underpinned by Tony Powell's live, folksy score. The dance had fascinating intricacies of movement in couples, lines, and circles, and an engaging charm, but it was an eclectic work that might just as well have been called by any name and placed on any program.

RDT's dancers combined technical facility, dedication of spirit, and unflagging energy in a tour de force performance lasting an hour and a half without intermission, so as not to break the spell of the works' surprising unity and continuity. In a performance without a weak dancer, one might still single out Tina Misaka, whose eleven years with RDT have equipped her to express every assignment with power and nuance. Lisa DuPaul is a fine-tuned dancer, both physically and spiritually, and a wonderfully disciplined exuberance illuminates Jim Moreno's performing. Kim Strunk, who moved along last spring after twelve years with RDT, returned for this concert to highlight the salient qualities of the company style--technical strength, flexibility, versatility, and ensemble sensitivity.

Between dances, projections of photographs by Stephen Trimble, accompanied by the music of Paul Winter, displayed the beauty of Utah, from vast panoramas of sagebrush plains and green rocky mountains to the close-up, magical symmetry of cracked, dried mud or dewdrops on a desert flower.

Dorothy Stowe, longtime arts critic for Salt Lake City's Deseret News, frequently reviews dance and opera events throughout the West.
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Title Annotation:Repertory Dance Theatre's 'Centennial Landscape Suite'
Author:Stowe, Dorothy
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1997
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