Sometimes the things that try least hard to please end up pleasing best, and such was the case on the Ririe-Woodbury concert of the past weekend.
People, seemingly in the mood for simple pleasures, responded without reserve to the premiere of "Ladies, Ladies, Ladies!" which found choreographer Joan Woodbury at her zany best. Ririe-Woodbury always has had a wide streak of whimsical farce running through it and hasn't put on a good old-fashioned romp in quite awhile. So "Ladies" filled the bill.The dance developed in groups of threes: the women of the company, who elaborated movement-wise on the loud and wondrous antics of the singing Saliva Sisters, with a final comment by the company's men in outrageous drag. Costumes by David C. Paulin in garish colors and freaky styles crowned the dance.
A pulley clothesline came and went across backstage, displaying various artifacts of a woman's craft. With loud, brassy accompaniment by the Lymph Notes and the Westminster College Faculty Quintet, the Saliva Sisters were all over, singing their own "Airhead," a puff song of little meaning but silly fun; also "Oh Daddy Blues," and the "Late Late Show," and finishing off with "The Washington Post March" with words that sent up the names by which women are called. Dancers were hard-pressed to match the verve of these singing females, who exuded sex appeal and wild good humor.
"The Bells" by William Byrd, dolled up in 20th century guise by the University of Utah Percussion Ensemble, let the audience know what to expect in the way of mood-elevating live music and set the stage for the appealing opener, "In Our Own Image" by Jerry Pearson. It's a delightful dance, with stick manipulation that created geometric patterns or human figures, followed by the slow, fluid motion of dancers rolling across the stage on one, two or three big plastic balls - easy to watch, but surely a test of coordination and skill.
The fantasy "Madame X," a world premiere by Shirley Ririe inspired by the John Singer Sargent painting, was a study in black, with evocative costumes by David Heuvel, striking lighting by Nicholas Cavallaro and music by the Percussion Ensemble.
Janice Haws and Karin Ramos seemed to represent the outwardly cool, classic woman of the painting, and her inner self, seething as many Victorian women of literature and drama seethed. However, the contrast between the women's movements and personalities wasn't marked enough to clearly make the point, if this was the point. No ambiguity about Keith Johnson, however, who turned in a fabulous job of dancing, acrobatics and hanging from nets as the faunlike focus of the women's temptation.
Woodbury's "Refusal to Dance," another fantasy, had a writer as the central character. The woman (actress Lynn Van Dam) sometimes controlled her creative impulses and sometimes was controlled by them, as the dancers intrigued, amused and delighted her, or smothered and threatened her, closing in unbidden or disappearing like wisps when she needed them most. Writers, and almost every artist who has wooed his unmanageable muse, will relate to this interesting dance. Music was by Jon Scoville, with incidental guitar solos by Todd Woodbury.
The concluding "Banners of Freedom" a premiere by Ririe, honored the winds of democracy that brought down the the Berlin Wall and have blown across Europe, creating the spontaneous revolution of the past months. It was basically a flag drill, probably meant largely as a salute but a stirring one, as the dancers sped recklessly to percussion accompaniment.