Charlotte Boye-Christensen's Turf. Photo: Fred Hayes
The Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company has opened its 2012/2013 season on a bittersweet note with Four. This show marks the official countdown to the exit of artistic director Charlotte Boye-Christensen. This scheduled departure gives the company and Salt Lake City an opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the tremendous creativity and personal commitment Boye-Christensen has brought to local dance over the last decade, while she is still with us in her capacity as director. Still, it’s hard not to hear a ticking clock set the cadence for the various pieces that comprise this show. The challenge this production offers, then, is that of maintaining a cool attitude regarding the passage of time.
It seems wise of the company to refuse to ignore the obvious, but rather draw the rhythms and emotions of real events in the lives of its dancers, directors and audience—indeed the entire local dance community—directly into its art. In this, Ririe-Woodbury calls to mind, Pina, the recent and highly poignant film by Wim Wenders on the choreographer, Pina Bausch. As much a meditation on aging as anything else, the film captures and presents, in longue durée mode, the relationship developed and nurtured over decades between one choreographer and the members of her company. Here, dance is not simply what appears onstage for a few minutes or hours. Rather, dance is an entire life lived in a state of consciousness regarding human feeling and the human form, both alone and in combination with other bodies. From this perspective, the stage functions not as a pedestal or frame so much as a cropping device that selects and edits, highlighting moments of unique interest within a consistently practiced vocation, which may last an entire lifetime.
This approach may shed some light on recent developments in Boye-Christensen’s work. Previous dances of hers have overtly experimented with various apparatuses and technologies, seeking either to expand the expressive potential of the body, or to restrict or problematize the body’s natural capacities, in provocative and telling ways. At first glance, Boye-Christen’s most recent work eschews such equipment and returns dance to a state of more conventional purity. This would certainly seem the case in The Finish Line, which premiered on Thursday night. The piece features just two dancers, Brad Beakes and Tara McArthur, whose movements consist principally of circling the stage at a brisk trot. The action, which eludes narrative, is certainly lively and engaging. Nevertherless, it is nothing most viewers would consider spectacular. But this lack of high drama seems precisely the point. Finish Line, despite first appearances, offers no mere return to tradition or naïve organicism. Having thoroughly mastered the apparatus of image-making and editing, Boye-Christiansen now views bodily movement no longer simply though but veritably from within the cinematic mechanism.
In this, Boye-Christensen’s choreographic gaze and sensibility approaches that of the early pioneers of scientific motion studies, Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey, whose stop-action photography of galloping horses and flying birds not only paved the way for moving pictures, but also first directed critical attention toward a hidden and potentially liberatory realm of human experience, which the philosopher Walter Benjamin named the ‘optical unconscious’. Boye-Christensen’s calling, in pieces such as The Finish Line, seems no longer to make dance more interesting but, simply and stunningly, to discover and enjoy how dance, and indeed all movement, already is interesting. At this stage in her career, Boye Christensen seems thoroughly to have established a sensibility, a fundamental orientation toward the world, which is both fully confident and uniquely her own. Her current luxury—one which is not only fully earned but also graciously shared—is simply to behold and enjoy the experience of human action, which is to say, a life of change.
The rest of the show, whose merits were many, deserves sustained attention. In addition to Finish Line, Four included a restaging of Brook Notary’s Grid (2011), John Utan’s Lines to Read Between (2005), Ann Carlson’s 50 Years (1996), and Charlotte Boye-Christensen’s Turf (2009). However, I believe the entire production makes most sense and offers the greatest rewards when viewed in terms of Finish Line, which, for me, served as the key to the whole of the evening.
The Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company will continue its season with a production of Three. The show will run from Dec. 13 through 15, and will be held in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.