>AMERICAN STORIES by The Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 15 jul 2000
>time: 7:30pm
>venue: bishan mrt station
>rating: ***1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Founded in 1964, the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company is a Utah-based modern dance company from the US that takes its name from its founders/artistic directors, Shirley Ririe and Joan Woodbury. Both women have had more than forty years of experience in the dance field, having recently retired from being tenured professors at the University of Utah modern dance department. Having studied with the likes of Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Mary Wigman, they have also danced in works by many of these and other renowned choreographers. With more than thirty years of existence the company continues to advocate, "Dance is for everybody." It even counts Caren Carino, dance critic and head of dance at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, as one of its former members.

This writer had the pleasure of meeting Ririe and her group of six youthful dancers, who were present on the opening night of Dance Dimension Project's A-THE-BIRD. Having spent the past two weeks teaching and performing in schools all over the island, the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company's Singaporean tour culminated with AMERICAN STORIES, a free performance of eight short pieces as part of the NAC-Shell Community Arts Series. A huge crowd of enthusiastic children, their parents, curious adolescents and even dance practitioners like Odyssey Dance Theatre's Danny Tan, turned up to support this event. Despite having their last names inadvertently switched by a hapless host, both Ririe and Woodbury gladly provided the crowd with background on every dance that was presented.

>>'AMERICAN STORIES was like watching a good old-fashioned film - warm, uplifting and simply entertaining'

As suggested by the title, AMERICAN STORIES was a collection of works that were mostly inspired by cultural features peculiar to America. But to a new generation of Singaporeans accustomed to a whole wave of American dramas and sitcoms, such cultural references were not all that strange or unfamiliar. The evening began with 'Golden Oldies', Woodbury's nostalgic take on the junior prom that she grew up with in the forties. Vibrant and athletic, the dancers jived to a mix of jazzy tunes with aplomb. The jitterbug, tango and waltz were infused with a modern sensibility, seasoned with a touch of comedy. Similarly, a section from Woodbury's 'Seated But Not Settled' was a short dance for three that poked fun at the onscreen pretension of election candidates, while 'The Dummy Waltz' was another social dance-inspired piece that was a comical contrast of bountiful energy from the men with the women's sheer lack of it.

Ririe's own creation, 'Through A Bedroom Window', was a playful yet voyeuristic insight into the private sphere of a lovey-dovey couple. Liberty Valentine and Juan Carlos Claudio displayed the right amount of chemistry in their strong and confident duet, bouncing happily on a mattress and almost sharing a romantic moment towards the end. The company, however, was not limited to works by their co-artistic directors. Jerry Pearson's 'In Our Own Image' was a smooth and fluid work that employed large inflated balls as an essential element. The blue unitard-clad dancers rolled and slithered over a ball or two across the stage, the pace and texture of this piece thus resembling that of a rhythmic gymnastics exercise. In comparison, 'Invocation' by associate artistic director Emmy Thomson (who had to fly back to the US early and was absent) was a dynamic and energetic piece that transformed the dancers into primitive life forms, evoking totemic images as they piled themselves into totem-like structures. Choreographed by Murray Louis, 'Figura' was a dance for four created for the famous Limón Dance Company after the death of its founder José Limón. With elevated leaps and pirouettes in attitude, it was a pleasant combination of classical and modern techniques, tempered with the posturing of its Spanish influences.

The evening drew to a satisfying close with 'Ten Mile', a dance by acclaimed choreographer and composer Laura Dean, which was an excellent showcase for the company's ensemble work. Inspired by the Red Rock Country of southwestern Utah, the dancers in red fashioned their arms into sharp angles and sweeping curves, moving in circular and diagonal patterns as they wove in harmony with the accompanying music. Admittedly, some of the dances appeared out of place in this open-air setting, rendering the effect of exits and entrances non-existent with the entire cast always exposed to the audience. Fortunately, this was only a minor discomfort.

Modern dance may have been originally intended to depict the grim reality of life, but the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company served as a reminder that well crafted dance can also be accessible and for everybody to enjoy. Executed by a cohesive group of technically competent and expressive performers, AMERICAN STORIES was like watching a good old-fashioned film - warm, uplifting and simply entertaining.