Ririe-Woodbury: Kinetic Spaces @ UMOCA 08.16

Posted August 28, 2013 in ,
Share this:Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0

Ririe-Woodbury's Kinetic Spaces. Photo Courtesy Utah Museum of Contemporary Art
Every year there are more and more art biennials popping up all over the world. Increasingly “performance,” of one kind or another, is as important at these events as painting, sculpture or video art. The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art’s inaugural Utah Biennial: Mondo Utah, is one such effort, and last Friday it played host to Kinetic Spaces, a dance installation performed by Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.

The crowd felt divided. About half of us were there because it was a Gallery Stroll night, and the other half were there to see work from Ririe-Woodbury’s new artistic director, Daniel Charon. Contrary to my expectations, the dancerly audience seemed to prefer a bird’s eye view from the balcony. The more talkative visual art crowd risked physical intimacy with performers on the ground floor, where there was no fourth wall to tell them where to stand. The dancers––men in black bikers, women in the same plus strapless, black-out-bar bras––performed with a cool detachment that matched their formalist attire. They entered and exited the main gallery in lithe long-legged herds of three and four. At times, all six bodies rendered clean and quirky unison, reminiscent of Merce Cunningham’s Beach Birds. Then, charged male-female duets would emerge without warning. Once I adjusted to the abrupt shift in tone, watching Tara McArthur and Brad Beaks sharing weight made me think of emotional subtlety rendered in other RW rep, such as David Rousseve’s bittersweet chocolate and Doug Nielsen’s Short Stem Roses.

Much of the movement seemed quoted from material I saw in a preview showing of an as-yet-unnamed work at the company studios in July. This dance––Charon’s premiere in this community––will be part of The Start of Something Big, their season-opener the last weekend in September. Though Charon’s not from here, he makes work like he could be. He’s an alum of New York’s Doug Varone and Dancers, most recently lived in Southern California, and is clearly steeped in many of the same influences that have shaped our dance scene professionally and scholastically, most obviously the Humphrey-Limón oeuvre.

New meanings bubbled up viewing this dance in the context of an exhibition reporting on the state of Utah art. It got me thinking about time. The dancing, the costuming and the architecture put me in the ’60s. Here was the (re)birth of minimalism, a quest for clean lines and “neutral” sleek bodies that carry an invisible compass rose six feet above their heads. And yet the only sound in the space, thus the score, came from video work which hailed from a different era entirely. It was garrulous, loud and at first blush might have seemed amateurish––and was mostly from the ’70s and ’80s. Particularly close to the action was a TV playing Mike Cassidy’s 1980 horror spoof Attack of the Brine Shrimp. It begged for attention and lent the dance an apparently unintentional absurdity through the performers’ refusal to acknowledge its irreverent subject matter.

It was a pleasant, if odd melange, and I appreciated the chance to see Charon’s well crafted steps, which were performed admirably by the company. Yebel Gallegos, the company’s newest member, looked particularly at ease as a desert beach bird. As I left the museum, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about how differently dancers and visual artists interact with their collective histories. In Salt Lake City especially, the narratives we value are the stories of institutions that have survived since the ’60s––RW, Repertory Dance Theatre, Ballet West, etc. The work young experimental choreographers were making in Salt Lake when Cassidy, Diane Orr, C. Larry Roberts and Trent Harris were emerging 25 years ago is work I’ve never really had the chance to see. I know it exists, on tape and in the memories of living people, and I wonder how it might have looked inside this exhibition.
Photos:
Ririe-Woodbury's Kinetic Spaces. Photo Courtesy Utah Museum of Contemporary Art Ririe-Woodbury's Kinetic Spaces. Photo Courtesy Utah Museum of Contemporary Art Ririe-Woodbury's Kinetic Spaces. Photo Courtesy Utah Museum of Contemporary Art Ririe-Woodbury's Kinetic Spaces. Photo Courtesy Utah Museum of Contemporary Art Ririe-Woodbury's Kinetic Spaces. Photo Courtesy Utah Museum of Contemporary Art