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100 Years of Modern Dance
RDT in Whitefish, Montana
March is still winter in Montana, and it was a cold, frosty night as we drove to Whitefish from our home in Kalispell. The theater was a two story black box, so the audience surrounded the performers on three sides. The few colored lights were over the spectators' heads, and there were mostly-white footlights on the floor, casting tall shadows on the back wall as the dancers moved around the space.
Artistic Director Linda C. Smith acted as presenter and narrator for the evening from a podium at rear stage left. The first dance was Duets to Brazilian - Indian Music -- three duets to recorded percussion and singing, plus a finish with four dancers. Chien-Ying Wang is a light, graceful lady with a long-torsoed body. She danced with middleweight-sized Thayer Jonutz. Big, blond Chara Huckins danced with big, blond Joshua Larson. Angela Banchero-Kelleher and Lynne Listing have contrasting, but equally graceful styles. Lynne is bigger, and a sense of play comes through her movements. Angela is small, and moves with sharp dilineation, and an energy that often outshines the lights onstage. They did a lot of tight leaps, rotations, and turns in unison and offset timing. Nicholas Cendese joined Chien-Ying, Thayer, and Josh in the final section.
The audience LOVED a quartet-piece set in a supposed church where the dancers broke decorum with a series of uncontrollable fits of character-driven movements -- Chien-Ying was in the lead-off spot, and got everyone laughing first. Angela, Josh, and Nicholas followed with their own turns at-bat.
Angie Banchero-Kelleher performed a tour-de-force solo from Zvi Gotheiner's extended Chairs anthology -- there seemed to be lots of energetic arms and many swinging legs on just one body! As a matter of fact, she was in all but two dances during the evening -- staggering me with her stamina and precision.
Speaking of chairs, the furniture came out again in a group for Yvonne Rainer's Chair/Pillow dance from 1969 -- it was all tension and release, performed in a round-robin manner to one of the greatest records ever made: River Deep/Mountain High, as sung by Tina Turner, in the famous Gold Star Studios with Darlene Love, The Blossoms, Hal Blaine, and Jack Nietzche. It was the mercurial Phil Spector's masterpiece, during which he gave Ike Turner $10,000 to stay the hell away from his recording session, according to rumors.

Angela Banchero-Kelleher in motion
(Drawn from RDT publicity circa 1998)
One more piece by Yvonne Rainer literally brought tears to my eyes -- Trio A (from The Mind is a Muscle) started as a lecture-dem with Linda and the company, continued with 'silent' choreography -- the dancers' bodies making all the music -- and finished accompanied by another one of the best records I have ever heard in my life -- The Chambers Brothers version of In The Midnight Hour. The funky, thundering, rolling drums in the song were counterpoints to the gentler rhythms of the dance. The sensual soulful delivery of Lester Chambers and his siblings balanced out the cool intellectual demeanor of the dancers, but it all came together with flair. (Lester's daughter Alexis C. Martinez lived here a year ago. I am sorry she couldn't have been around to experience THIS!)
After the intermission, the sad knowing wit of Dorothy Parker was the soundtrack for an athletic duet between Chien-Ying and Thayer about the trainwreck of love, as Lynne and Joshua spoke their lines facing away from the audience, sitting on a bench behind them. Josh stood up at the end for a timely catch as Chien-Ying's character fell from Thayer's broad shoulders.
I have always seen a culinary flair in the way Linda Smith presents a dance concert, and true to form, she served up the best thing last -- an intense percussion-driven epic ensemble called Sky Light by Laura Dean. It started as a series of spinning solos, then mutated into a group dance with more spins and combinations.

Lynne Listing at the Utah Arts Festival in 1999
The dancers continued until their viewers were nearly out of breath from just watching -- but then the group strode purposefully forward with varied looks of determination, humor, and wicked joy upon their faces because the level of intensity was about to take a quantum leap -- for real. Each dancer dove down and flew up in accelerating turns and twists as the clattering drums of the soundtrack continued to pound through a lingering climax that shook the souls of everybody in attendance.
The applause afterward was heartfelt and happy -- this kind of Dance/Theater was unfamiliar to most of the audience, but they were astounded, entertained, and transformed by their experience.
I had a word or two with Linda afterward, and got to shake Angie's hand, as she was coming out from the loading area, dragging storage rolls for their rubber floor -- doing more work, in other words. They had completed a three-week tour, and would start their ten-plus hour drive to Salt Lake City at six the next morning.

Linda C. Smith with Stephen Brown in a concert entitled "2" (1999)
Linda especially invited me to see her "perform," since she had retired from "dancing." The show was a rich series of images featuring Marsha Pabalis, Melinda Evans, Mr. Brown, and Linda -- with all her charisma intact.
Some personal reminisces about RDT:
When I first went to the University of Utah in the late 1960's, Linda was married to one of my professors in the Art Department, and helped feed us young students at picnics and social events. She was also known as a balletic modern dancer whose solos punctuated the highly-visual sensual intensity of RDT with her own charismatic physical fireworks.
I bought a portable video camera, and took RDT's Dance/Video Workshop in 1973, then spent another five years as a theater tech in the very interesting world of Modern Dance. Linda had been very supportive of me, and I was glad to see her sustained power in Backstage Jitters when I returned from Europe a few years later.
I saw RDT again in 1998, and I realized it had been 25 years since my workshop. Linda and I renewed our acquaintenceship with laughter at the passage of time, and I still stand in awe of her and her company who can dance with all the subtlety, wit, and skill which made RDT's reputation 40 years ago.
One more tribute to RDT's Dancers: My transition from the Art Department to the Dance Building at the University of Utah was made easy because of the generosity of the accomplished dancers who accepted me at face value and were moved at my love for their art -- Tim Wiengard and Manzell Centers, who are unfortunately gone; Greg Lizenberry and Bill Evans, who nodded as I hauled my equipment back and forth, and wondered aloud where I got all that stuff; Lynn Wimmer, and Karen Steele, who put my nervous post-adolescent self at ease simply by being fellow co-workers in the hustle, bustle, and sweat between dressing rooms, showers, and stages -- rather than the goddesses I thought they were -- which amused them, since I didn't let that worshipful attitude defeat my good sense.
I never met her, but Joanie Moon's technique classes helped turn the dancers in my OWN theater group into some of the best on two continents -- especially Matt Child, Patsy Droubay, and Katie Appenzellar/Berger. (AKA Katie Duck)
I was pleased to see my social peers join the company: Ron Ruby, Kim Strunk, and Tina Misaka.
My talented friend Lisa Katz also did tech for them, and I can't leave out mentioning lighting wizards Kay Burrell, "Frog," and the Dance Building's ever-patient Bruce Fugit, all of whom helped turn me into a technician.
I have met and shook hands with current members Lynne Listing and Angie Banchero-Kelleher after they danced particularly fine performances -- such centered and relaxed people are a joy to speak with, and I'm happy that they work in an environment that brings out the best in them. Besides dancing they do all sorts of other things in the company too, but that's the Theater! I can't say I know Thayer Jonutz, but I wish him good fortune with road-racing -- I've done that sport myself. May his feet, knees, ankles, and back survive the many punishments of Marathon running. Josh Larson made me laugh real hard when he mixed acting with dancing during Stephen Brown's "Scampdance" in 1999.