Attending Repertory Dance Theater’s “Land” felt like visiting an old house, the home of someone who’d lived in Utah a long time. She loved the idea of the West as much as she loved the landscape itself, and had surrounded herself with objects, books and memories that recorded a history of her sentiments. A landscape by one of the early Mormon painters who studied in France might be a prized possession, sharing acclaim with animal skulls and Pendleton blankets. Each of the dances in “Land” was a memento that would fit in such a collection.
In Zvi Gothiener’s “Erosion,” one sees the aesthetics of the early ’90s, as much as the Utah slot canyons that are projected behind the dancers. There is no sense of the environmentalist urgency spoken of in press and program notes. That’s not all bad; it’s not uninteresting to look at these two kinds of time—cultural and geologic—on display together.
The most engaging work in “Land” has the least to do with the West. Ze’eva Cohen’s “Rainwood” reminded me of one of my favorite things—Merce Cunningham’s “Beach Birds for Camera.” Where Cunningham revels in total formalism, Cohen flirts with abstraction, but intermittently returns to a more representational vocabulary. In these moments, “Rainwood” recalls the flocking choruses of German expressionism and the playground spectacle of early Pilobolus. This work offered the best of case within “Land” for the company as tight-knit group. Here, they felt in sync, though “Rainwood” offered much less actual unison than other pieces on the bill.
RDT’s propensity to repeat favorite works more often than other companies is a mixed blessing. For example, one piece I’ve seen them do at least four or five times in the early ‘00s is Laura Dean’s minimalist masterpiece “Skylight.” I enjoyed watching each successive cast perform this work. It’s one of the most rhythmically complex dances I’ve ever seen. New parts of it’s contrapuntal structure reveal themselves through different performers each time. I saw it mounted by students at the American Dance Festival in 2008, and found myself pining for Chara Huckins’ luminous performances I’d seen a few years before here in SLC.
Sadly, Shapiro and Smith’s interminable “Turf,” which closed “Land,” is no “Skylight.” The metaphoric value of “Turf” within this evening—commenting on land and water disputes in the West—is at best a stretch, and in no way justifies the work’s excessive length. Its one saving grace is how well it shows off Ursula Perry. Her spare, seductive solo is as welcome as an oasis in the desert.