Half the seats were empty in the Special Events Center at Boise State University for the preview of the Idaho Dance Theatre's Winter Performance Jan. 24, when Boise artists and choreographers Carl Rowe and Marla Hansen took the stage. It was their chance to explain, they said, the four dance pieces that the company would be performing that evening.
Referring to the evening's first dance, the premiere of "Now We Are Here: Diaries of a Treasured Land," Hansen, wearing a striped shirt, sweatpants and Uggs, blessed the audience: "I hope this piece touches you the way it touches me," she said.
In spite of being based on graceless, clumsy frontier poetry read by Laura Rushing-Raynes, it was indeed a touching performance that gave the audience a taste for the tremendous creativity that would be on display that evening.
"Now We Are Here" enjoyed a brilliant score composed by Eric Sandmeyer and vigorous, precise dancing that, like it or not, captured with clever fidelity the lyrics of the poetry. The execution was flawless: The dancers moved with force and exactitude, and musicians (Barton Moreau on piano, Brian Hodges on cello, Rodney Zuroeveste on saxophone) brought Sandmeyer's sometimes plucky, sometimes brooding (but always fitting and never stale) score to life.
"Lifeline," the next dance, was a preview of the intense creativity belied by "Now We Are Here." A glowing white tightrope was pulled taut across the stage while the dancers climbed, grappled and strutted around it to an electric remix of the Clint Mansell tune "Requiem for a Dream." Better music could have been chosen, since Mansell's "Requiem" carried with it the emotional baggage of the film of the same name, which was a distraction.
But the dance scored points for creativity: The rope was raised into the air and lowered to the floor. Somewhere backstage, someone would swing an end of the line, sending rippling waves across the stage, adding depth and open space for the dancers to occupy.
After a brief pause, the action started again with choreographer Jessica Miller Tomlinson's "Architecture: Splintered and Cracked." This piece was perhaps the evening's most remarkable for the freshness and profundity of its physical statements. The dancers mimed and synthesized the cracking of concrete and twisting of steel, simulating the decay of enormous, static structures as fog billowed from stage right indicating destruction. Accompanied by music from Dmitri Shostakovich and Alfred Schnittke, "Architecture" was an enthralling and invigorating, if bleak, performance.
The last event of the evening, "The Story of Humanity," was the evening's highlight. In a reversal of the traditional method, choreographer Carl Rowe designed the dance in silence, leaving it to composer Robin Zimmerman to fit it with music later. The effect was a spare, abstract score set to a sensitive and humorous dance performed with wooden boxes symbolizing man's use and reliance on tools.
"I didn't really have a glue to hold things together," Rowe said about his choreography.
The absence of music during the process meant there were no bookends for Rowe's dance—no sense of where it should begin or end. That contributed to its ambition. As its title suggests, it tells the story of the human mind from the pure id of hunter-gatherers to efforts at organizing a society to jealousy and beyond. It was an expression of why we are the way we are, which was ultimately moving, funny and penetrating.
Audiences have a chance to see the show for themselves with three additional performances: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, Jan. 26, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27. Tickets cost $10-$37 and are available online at idahodancetheatre.org.