Dance Against Nature: Interiors Review

Posted February 5, 2009 in
Dance Against Nature: Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company presents Charlotte Boye-Christensen’s Interiors For almost half a century, The Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company has been Salt Lake City’s premier source of modern dance. As part of its 45-Anniversary Season, the company hosted “Interiors”, and evening of dance choreographed entirely by Danish native Charlotte Boye-Christensen, who has been artistic director of Ririe-Woodbury since 2002. The entire performance consisted a set of five pieces, each of which was described to foreground the physicality of the dance, using either furniture and other props, or the actual dimensions of the performance space itself, to create dances which seemed as immediate and this-worldly as any athletic performance. The intent of Boye-Christensen, it would seems is akin to that of many sculptures whose work we called postmodern. Just as these postmodern sculptors, at war with fantasy and escapism, aim to take art off the pedestal, so Boye-Christensen aims to take dance off the stage. Her intent, it seems, is to make modern dance less other-worldly, to make the stage seem more a part of the audience’s lived reality.

The first of the four pieces, “Lost”, was inspired by four Mexican-American writers and artists who, though raised within United States’ borders, were not legally documented citizens. The result was a highly energetic and mobile composition which didn’t directly depict so much as abstractly express the dangers and thrills of struggling for survival in a foreign culture and under hostile conditions. The dance included a variety of swooping and hovering movements reminiscent of the gathering and scattering of birds. Another notable feature of the dance was the use of rock music ( The Doors and Nick Cave) and ensemble work at times evocative of Jerome Robbin’s choreography for West Side Story. What made “Lost” unique, however, was the far great sense of mechanical and gas-powered locomotion. Instead of creeping down the sidewalks and alleys of New York, Boye-Christensen’s gangsters are far more familiar with the open spaces of the Western Desert, and they used the entire stage to prove it.

“The Visit”, rather than dealing with fugitives in an inland empire, deals with the architecture of office space and its relation to the psychological interiority. Here Boye-Christensen drew upon case studies published by the famous neurologist Oliver Sacks, as well as scenes from Milos Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Neither morbid nor morose, this piece, like the writings of Sacks, chose to celebrate the bounty of the psychopathological garden, and the singularity of each individual case. Though the dancers did wear mutton sleeves evocative of the straight jackets which were such a staple of dated genre films, in this case they seemed more decorative the restrictive, as if wearing them were badges indicative of unusual creative powers, or wings freeing the wearer to leap into sudden flights of fancy.

Completing the first half of the performance was “Bridge”, a piece orchestrated around the highly-repetitive music of American composer John Adams. The mechanical quality so often associated with minimalist sculptors like Tony Smith and Carl Andre, or minimalist composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich, was imbued with a feeling of humanity and dignity which turned the robotic into the ritual. The director’s intention here seemed to be to suggest the severe constraints involved in living in close proximity with others, and yet the impossibility of living, or in this case dancing, without the support of some community.

After a brief intermission, the program continued with “Chairs, Basically,” an adaptation of the tango for modern-dance ensemble. Boye-Christensen mentions in the program notes the challenge of preserving the integrity of a form which has, all too frequently, be turned into an embarrassing Broadway facsimile of a popular social dance. This she accomplished by adhering strictly to the most basic elements and affects of tango, the close contact and isometric pressure established and maintained by the dance partners. Also helpful was Boye-Christensen’s excellent selection of recordings. In a market saturated by the recordings of the latest fad style, this piece featured not only pieces by the Carlos Gardel, the prince of tango vocalists, as well as the new widely familiar Astor Piazolla, but also renditions of classic numbers played by famed symphonic conductor and peace activist Daniel Barenboim, a native Argentine.

photo by Fred Hayes

The final piece of the evening was the title number “Interiors”. Combining elements of Berlin decadence and Soft Cell’s “Non-Stop Erotic Cafe”, the choice to reintroduce the music of Nick Cave seemed wholly appropriate. Cave’s music, which doesn’t recall the actual West so much as the image of it which exists in the European imagination, made an appropriate backdrop for dancers in urban-cowboy hats and Calvin Klein underwear. Boye-Christensen’s choreography, constructed out of various seductive gestures and daring inversions, gave us the American West not as the great outdoors but rather as a wholly indoor phenomenon. The Great Plains, here, are given a cultural turn, tilted vertically by 90 degrees until they are pried free of nature to become a movie screen, an empty surface upon which to project Spaghetti and Sauerkraut Westerns. In keeping with this theme, the staging included projections by local artist Trent Call. These videos, through Call’s shrewd juxtaposition of monotonous landscapes and unremarkable cityscapes, foregrounded their status as video, as virtual reality. In a twist on a tradition theme, Boye-Christensen offered the audience neither the American West nor any insance of Nature but rather Culture as the final frontier.

Charlotte Boye-Christensen studied dance at London Contemporary Dance School and the Laban Center in London, where she won the 1992 choreography award. Additionally, she has received and MFA from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Her recent performance of Interiors, which ran from December 11 – December 13, 2008, featured the Ririe-Woodbury Dancers and local dancer Ai Fujii Nelson.