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Musically Inclined

Despite the fact that dance and music are often regarded as inextricably linked, it remains astonishing to experience the work of a choreographer who channels the score particularly well—or a group of dancers who embody it especially organically. Repertory Dance Theatre’s 58th season closer, “Gamut,” happened to have both.

Performance

Repertory Dance Theatre’s “Gamut:” Ihsan Rustem’s “Hallelujah Junction,” Lar Lubovitch’s “Marimba,” and Yusha-Marie Sorzano’s “Solfège”

Place

Jeanne Wagner Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Salt Lake City, UT, April 11, 2024

Words

Sophie Bress

Repertory Dance Theatre in Ihsan Rustem’s “Hallelujah Junction.” Photograph by Sharon Kain

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“Gamut,” which ran at Salt Lake City’s Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center from April 11 - 13, featured a world premiere by Yusha-Marie Sorzano and two restagings: Ihsan Rustem’s 2021 “Hallelujah Junction” and Lar Lubovitch’s 1976 “Marimba.” Throughout the evening, music was the guiding force, creating a current on which the choreography, dancers, and audience could ride.

“Hallelujah Junction,” which was Repertory Dance Theatre’s first commission upon returning to in-person performances following the Covid lockdowns, opened the program. Set to John Adams’s composition of the same name, the work is a time capsule of that precarious, not-quite-post-pandemic era.

Opening with a series of solos, the work begins as distinctly playful, acrobatic, and almost childlike—the latter of these qualities enhanced by the primary-colored socks covering each dancer’s feet. At first, each company member was dancing in their own bubble, calling to mind—of course—the social distancing that became part and parcel of our daily interactions during the pandemic. At that time—and also during the opening of “Hallelujah Junction”—I wondered if and when contact would be possible.

When the choreography finally included partnering, it felt like a revelation. Particularly moving was the tender, fluid solo for Johnathan Kim and Jacob Lewis. As the music shifted to a gentler, melodious section, the lighting rendered the two dancers in silhouette. These choices captured, contrastingly, both the joy of togetherness as well as the sadness and mourning of realizing how much time we had lost.

Repertory Dance Theatre in Lar Lubovitch’s “Marimba.” Photograph by Sharon Kain

This sense of nostalgia gave way due to another musical shift, this time to a slightly atonal and uncomfortably loud section of the score. The playful movement from the piece’s opening returned, this time rendered frantic and overcaffeinated by the music. These moments felt like a held breath, full of fervor for the community we’d so longed for—and sense of false urgency leading us to gulp it all up while we could.

“Hallelujah Junction” was followed by Lubovitch’s meditative “Marimba,” set to a score by Steve Reich. “Marimba” is almost baffling in its simplicity; the whole work is an intoxicating use of unison and canon. The music, which features vocals, organ, and a variety of mallet instruments, perfectly pairs with the movement, almost as though the dancers themselves are making the tune, like the strings on a guitar.

The piece opens with a slow motion run, with dancers breaking off to perform other variations of slow motion movement, usually in pairs. Everything flows organically. The only hint that the audience isn’t just peeking in on the company’s improvisation exercise is the precision of the unison.

Throughout “Marimba,” several motifs emerge, whether they return again and again or simply capture the audience’s attention for one, extended moment). Among them: an undulating line of dancers, a joyous social dance, and a jerky, almost sneeze-like motion requiring each dancer to hold their elbows and noses. The whole effect is vaguely psychedelic and spiritual, something between a deep meditation and a highly organized ritual—captivatingly simple and elegantly composed.

Repertory Dance Theatre in Yusha-Marie Sorzano’s “Solfège.” Photograph by Sharon Kain

The evening ended with the world premiere of Sorzano’s “Solfége,” set to Tan Dun’s “Symphonic Poem of 3 Notes.” The work is divided into three sections, explained by the choreographer in a pre-performance interview video to represent the beginning, middle, and end of the creation of a world. This approach is similar to Dun’s own philosophy about his music. In the program notes, the composer is quoted as comparing the three solfege pitches, La, Si, and Do, as representing the beginning, middle, and end of all things.

The beginning section of “Solfège” had the feel of a witches coven conjuring up something from nothing. The stage was dimly lit, with projections of spindly trees lining the wings. The movement felt simultaneously sinister and enchanting, with dancers taking on the cadences of ghoulish beings like vampires and spiders. The section ended with a distinctly arachnidian solo for company dancer Lindsey Faber, in which her body morphed into that of the creature, twisting and scuttling about.

The middle section was ushered in by a musical shift to a deeply rhythmic, intense section that included the words “la, si, and do” spoken with fervor. The dancer’s movement became much more human, as if they too had changed. When the music adjusted again, taking on a hopeful, almost fantastic quality, the choreography also became almost transcendent, as if the dancers were touching a higher plane from their place onstage.

As the work comes to a close, the audience gets a glimpse of the proverbial ending, which bears many similarities to the beginning. The movement becomes spiderlike once again, and Solfège concludes with the majority of the cast slinking into the darkness, leaving Kim alone center stage. He performs a short solo, culminating in a slow off-kilter spin. The blackout returns the piece—and the evening as a whole—to where it began.

Sophie Bress


Sophie Bress is an arts and culture journalist and dance critic. She regularly contributes to Dance Magazine and Fjord Review, and has also written for The New York Times, NPR, Observer, Pointe, and more. 

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