(MONTCLAIR, NJ) -- Peak Performances continues a season of convention-defying performances with choreographer and performance artist Ann Carlson and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company’s Elizabeth, the dance (March 28-31). This evening-length work is both an homage to the artist’s lifelong association with the company—as a teenager, Carlson studied with Ririe-Woodbury co-founder Joan Woodbury—and to the “visionaries and teachers” of modern and contemporary dance history whose work has come to live in her body and choreography.
With movement both formal and physically awkward, deliciously surprising and joyfully restrained, Carlson and the Ririe-Woodbury company members—Yebel Gallegos, Megan McCarthy, Brian Nelson, Breaanne Saxton, Bashaun Williams, and Melissa Younker—have created an astonishing tribute to modern dance and to the joy of being human.
The creative team includes Ann Carlson (Concept, Direction, and Choreography), Torry Bend (Set Design), Matthew McMurray (Soundscape), Ann Carlson, Daniel Charon, Mary Lyn Graves, and Melissa Younker (Costume Design), Cliff Wallgren (Lighting Design), and William Peterson (Adaptation).
Inspired in part by a section of her own White series (1992-1996), Carlson developed Elizabeth, the dance as a concert dance that traces history and desire through the body of the dancer. The work—on which Woodbury (now 92) closely consulted—also emerged from a desire to acknowledge the inspiration Carlson (now 62) had gained from her formative years under Woodbury’s mentorship. The idea then expanded to reference other choreographers whose work has become an indelible part of Carlson, as well as to reflect the artists who’ve influenced each participating Ririe-Woodbury company member. Choreographic quotations in Elizabeth, the dance includeHexentanz by Mary Wigman; The Revolutionary by Isadora Duncan; There Is a Time by José Limón; Trio A by Yvonne Rainer; Spanish Dance by Trisha Brown; Bear Dance, Ute Tribe, suggested and demonstrated by Forrest Cuch; and Water Study by Doris Humphrey. As questions about the boundaries of physical quotation emerged from this pursuit, so too did questions of how choreography emerges from and mirrors cultural contexts shaped from race and ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation—and how that might inform notions of homage. The title itself illuminates the complex nature of influence, referencing Elizabeth Streb, one of Carlson’s inspirations, as well as a teacher of the same name who once noted a homoerotic quality in Carlson’s work—before Carlson herself even realized it was present, and well before she came out—and told her “not to make a dance like that again.”
Carlson says, “One of the great things about a repertory company is it’s like walking into a museum—there’s a permanent collection in each dancer. They have a history of the form in their bodies, particularly within Ririe-Woodbury, because they do a lot of recreations, working on a modern dance to contemporary dance timeline. So here I’ll say to the dancers, ‘I want you to improvise with all of the works you know.’ At any given time they can perform 10 or 20 pieces—remembering, in real time, on the stage. Simultaneously, these moments of improvisation in this piece bring a present-ness that happens to fly in the face of repertory standard.”
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While this dance looks back at a range of specifically choreographic movements, Carlson is also known for her incorporation—and emulation of—quotidian gesture in dance. An early work of hers, “Sloss, Kerr, Rosenberg & Moore,” featured four real lawyers onstage; another featured fly fishermen; another featured basketball players. Carlson observed in them in their everyday lives, and brought gestures pulled from these moments onto the stage. The process of creating Elizabeth saw her turning a similarly observational lens on herself, other dancers, and the profession in which they’re immersed.
Performance Schedule and Ticketing
Performances of Elizabeth, the dance, will take place Thursday, March 28 and Friday, March 29 at 7:30 pm, Saturday, March 30 at 8:00pm, and Sunday, March 31 at 3:00pm at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University (1 Normal Ave, Montclair, NJ). Immediately following the performance on Saturday, March 30, the audience is invited to join the company of Elizabeth, the dance, to share reflections and responses.
Tickets are priced at $30, and can be purchased at www.peakperfs.org or 973.655.5112. Tickets are always free for Montclair State students.
About the artists
Ann Carlson (Choreographer/Concept/Director) borrows from the disciplines of dance, performance, theater, and visual and conceptual art in her work and often dismantles conventional boundaries between artist and subject. Carlson’s work takes the form of solo performance, site-specific projects, ensemble dance and theatrical works, and performance/video. She also often works within a series format, creating socially engaged performance structures over a period of years that adapt and
tour to multiple sites. Carlson is the recipient of more than 30 commissions and numerous awards for her artistic work. Her awards include a 2016 Creative
Capital Award, a 2015 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award in Contemporary Dance, five Multi-Art Production Fund Grants, a USA Artist Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and a Fellowship from
the Foundation for Contemporary Art. She was an artist fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies Fellowship/Harvard University and at Stanford University’s Humanities Center. Carlson has received three awards from the National Choreographic Initiative, a Doris Duke Award for New Work, the first Cal/Arts Alpert Award in Choreography, and a prestigious three-year choreographic fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Carlson’s project Elizabeth, the dance is a collaboration with the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. Carlson’s Doggie Hamlet, a performance with a herding dog, a flock of sheep,
and four human performers, began touring the US in 2017. The Symphonic Body,
a performance/orchestral work made entirely of gestures, was performed by
100 people from across UCLA’s campus at Royce Hall in November 2015.
Torry Bend (Set Designer) is a set designer, puppet artist, and associate professor
at Duke University. Bend’s set design includes Animal Dance, The Children’s Theatre Company; Are They Edible, La Mama, Incubator Arts Project, and Dixon Place,
New York; Circle Course, Katmandu; Pygmalion, Southwest Shakespeare Co.; Stephen Wadsworth’s Agamemnon, Getty Villa; and References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, Empty Space Theatre Seattle. In Portland, OR, she did Omnium Gatherum, The Bald Soprano/The Lesson, and Brilliant Traces, for which she received a Drammy, and A Tuna Christmas with Oregon Repertory Theatre. She created and directed the toy theater piece The Paper Hat Game, 3-Legged Dog Art and Technology Center, New York, Manbites Dog Theater, Durham, NC, the Great Small Works Toy Theater Festival, Brooklyn, NY, the Den Theatre, Chicago, IL, and Open Eye Figure Theatre, Minneapolis, MN; Nesting, Great Small Works International Toy Theater Festival, NY, The Port City Puppetry Festival, NC, Douglas Paasch Puppet Festival ’13, Seattle, and Open Eye Figure Theatre, Minneapolis, MN. The Elephant premiered at Disney Music Hall’s International Toy Theater Festival 2008 and was performed with Jumbo Shrimp Circus, Los Angeles. She created and directed Loser in 2007, Prague, New York, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. Love’s Infrastructure, a collaboration with the band Bombadil, premiered with Duke Performances in 2014. Bend has received funding from the Jerome Foundation, Henson Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, the Durham Arts Council, and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.
Matthew McMurray (Soundscape) is a multidisciplinary artist and musician based out of both Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. A native Utahn, he works as a creative producer and tech consultant across a variety of multimedia projects in corporate and art-world settings with clients ranging from Apple to Kanye West. With musical projects extending as wide as his kaleidoscopic influences, he performs music as a solo artist, band leader, and collaborator on a local and national level—most recently with Karl Jørgensen of Utah-based experimental electronic label Hel Audio.
Daniel Charon (Artistic Director), artistic director of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company since 2013, has been active as a choreographer, teacher, and performer for more than 25 years. While based in New York City, Charon maintained a project-based company and danced primarily with Doug Varone and Dancers (1999–2010) and the Limón Dance Company (1997–1999). He is a BFA graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts and an MFA graduate of the California Institute of the Arts in Choreography and Integrated Media. As Ririe-Woodbury’s artistic director, Charon has created numerous original works for the stage and gallery installations and
has designed video for his and other choreographers’ works. As an independent choreographer he has presented multiple full-evening concerts in New York City, been produced by various theaters, and been commissioned to choreograph new works for many companies, universities, and festivals around the country. Charon choreographed The Pearl Fishers, Aida, and Moby-Dick at the Utah Opera. Charon regularly teaches master classes and workshops nationally and internationally and has taught at the Metropolitan Opera, the Bates Dance Festival, Salt Dance Fest, North Carolina School of the Arts Summer Comprehensive, Varone Summer Dance Workshops, and Limón Summer Workshops. He has been a guest artist and adjunct professor at numerous universities. Charon has staged the works of José Limón, Jirí Kylián, and Doug Varone at schools and companies around the world.
Jena C. Woodbury (Executive Director), a native of Salt Lake City, Utah, began dancing at the age of three and continued her dance training in Utah, California, New York, and France. At the age of 19, Woodbury enrolled as a Dance major at
the University of Utah and at the same time founded her own dance company, which toured throughout Utah for two years. She completed her BA at the University in Communications. In 1986 Woodbury became the marketing and education director for the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and during that time developed an educational outreach program that continues to be one of the Company’s most important contributions to schools in Utah. Upon moving to Portland in 1993, Woodbury became the associate general manager for Imago Theatre, whose innovative works have delighted audiences around the world for more than 20 years. During that time, she was also an admissions panelist for the School of Arts and Academics in Vancouver, WA. In 1998 Woodbury was hired by Do Jump Movement Theater in Portland to be the touring director for their new endeavor to tour their performances. From 2000 to 2003, she was booking/tour manager for the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and company manager for Marcel Marceau’s
North American and Asian tours. Since 2004 she has been the associate managing director/touring director of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and assumed the position as managing director in 2011. Along with a fantastic staff, directors, dancers, and board members, Woodbury looks forward to ushering Ririe-Woodbury into the future.
Yebel Gallegos (dancer) is a dance artist from El Paso, TX. He played an important role in the founding of Cressida Danza Contemporánea in Yucatán, Mexico. While in Cressida Danza, he served as company teacher, rehearsal director, and a dancer for five years. In the US, he has performed with Dance Theatre X, Sharir + Bustamante Danceworks, and Nickerson-Rossi Dance. He earned a BFA in Dance from the University of Texas
at Austin and graduated from the prestigious Delfos Dance Company’s school, the Mazatlán Professional School of Dance in Mazatlán, Mexico. Gallegos has performed pieces from artists such as Doug Varone (US), Twyla Tharp (US), Roberto Olivan (Spain), Michael Foley (US), Raja Feather Kelly (US), Claudia LaVista (Mexico), Lourdes Luna (Mexico), Paula Gonzalez (Chile), and Charles Anderson (US). He has traveled as a performer to Asia, Europe, and Latin America and has taught dance throughout Asia, Mexico, Chile, and the United States. Gallegos joined the Company in 2013.
Megan McCarthy (dancer) received her formative training at the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre and is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts BFA Program in Dance. She has worked with a variety of choreographers, including Julie Bour, Stephanie Nugent, Daniel Charon, Paul Destrooper, and Patrick Kilbane. McCarthy has been a guest artist with the Des Moines Metro Opera, Portland Opera, Portland Festival Ballet, Pasadena Dance Theatre, szalt, Nugent Dance, Nickerson-Rossi Dance, and in numerous independent projects. Recently, she danced with Rebecca Lemme’s Acts of Matter and Rosanna Gamson//World Wide in Los Angeles and toured to Jacob’s Pillow with The Union Project Dance Company. Additionally, she has had her choreography produced in Portland, OR. McCarthy joined the Company in 2017.
Brian Nelson (dancer), originally from Tridell, UT, joined Ririe-Woodbury for their 55th
season. He initially attended Southern Utah University as a Musical Theater major, where he was first exposed to the world of concert dance. He eventually transferred to the University of Utah, where he graduated in 2016 with a BFA in Ballet
(Most Outstanding Senior) and a minor in Modern Dance. He has been lucky enough to dance with BodyVox, Now-ID, Municipal Ballet Company, and Salt 2. As a theatrical artist, he has had the pleasure of working with companies such as Tuacahn, Pioneer Theatre Company, Utah Shakespeare, and Utah Festival Opera.
Breeanne Saxton (dancer), a proud Salt Lake City native, received her BFA in Modern Dance from the University of Utah in 2015. While there she worked with artists such as Scott Wells, Yannis Adoniou, Eric Handman, Shaun Boyle, and Molly Heller. Since graduating she has performed for Utah Opera, LajaMartin, Nichele Van Portfleet, Graham Brown, Sackerson, and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company as a guest dancer and the Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance. She has worked as an educator in K–12 environments with Tanner Dance as well as professional communities through her education platform Open Contemporary Technique (O.C.T.). Her choreography has been presented throughout Salt Lake City and premiered in Berlin, Germany, in December 2018. Saxton joined Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company in 2018 and revels in each opportunity to explore various sides of her artistry with the Company.
Bashaun Williams (dancer) started dancing at the age of 16 in Texas with Ballet Lubbock under Yvonne Racz Key, artistic director. He was captain of his varsity basketball team and a member of Ballet Lubbock’s preprofessional company. Williams attended the University of Utah on both academic and artistic merit scholarships, in the Department of Ballet. He joined Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company in 2011 and has had the pleasure of working with renowned choreographers such as Eddy Toussaint, Stevan Novakovich, Edward Truitt, Val Caniparoli, Rick Tija, Johannes Wieland, Bill T. Jones, Charlotte Boye-Christensen, Doug Varone, and Daniel Charon, among others. Williams is grateful for the opportunity to dance and grow in the community of Salt Lake City.
Melissa Younker (dancer), a native of Southern California, is a movement artist based in
Salt Lake City, UT. Since joining Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company in 2014, she has had the privilege to embody an array of works by artistic director Daniel Charon along with choreographers Adam Barrach, Ann Carlson, Tzveta Kassabova, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze, Alwin Nikolais, Kate Weare, and Netta Yerushalmy, among others. Younker holds a BFA from California State University, Long Beach and has been dedicated to dance for more than 25 years. She has toured throughout the United States, France, Mongolia, and South Korea as a performer and educator.
About Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company
Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company is Utah’s most established institution for contemporary dance. The Company actively embraces and commissions the work of contemporary choreographers, tours worldwide, and develops dynamic education and community outreach programming. Through performance and educational undertakings, the Company pursues its mission to make dance a viable part of everyone’s life—whether it be as creators, performers, dance educators, critics, or as participating audience members. Over the 55 years of its history, Ririe-Woodbury has toured nationally and internationally, always advocating the philosophy that “dance is for everybody.” Under the direction of executive director Jena Woodbury, artistic director Daniel Charon, and education director Ai Fujii Nelson, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company is committed to building upon the vision of its founders as it continues to evolve as an important voice for innovation in contemporary dance and dance education.
About Peak Performances
Peak Performances is a program of the Office of Arts + Cultural Programming at Montclair State University and has been honored by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts with an Arts Citation of Excellence and Designation of Major Impact. Programs in this season are made possible in part by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.