Skip to main content
Department Of Dance

Contemporary Dance Theatre Performs with Famed Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company in National Celebration

BYU’s Contemporary Dance Theatre Performed Alwin Nikolais’ “Tensile Involvement” in the 60th Anniversary Celebration of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company

BYU Contemporary Dance Theatre in Alwin Nikolais’ “Tensile Involvement"
Photo by Stuart Ruckman (@stuartruckman), Courtesy of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company

In fall 2023, BYU’s Contemporary Dance Theatre (CDT) was invited to participate in a historic performance celebrating the 60th anniversary season of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. CDT was the only university dance program performing at the event, alongside professional Ririe-Woodbury company dancers. CDT performed Alwin Nikolais’ signature “Tensile Involvement,” a groundbreaking work that is well known throughout the modern dance world.

Alberto (Tito) del Saz taught and rehearsed “Tensile Involvement” with CDT in August 2023. Del Saz is a former Alwin Nikolais dancer and current artistic director of The Nikolais/Louis Foundation. The foundation preserves the choreography of Alwin Nikolais and partners directly with the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.

This was not Del Saz’s first time setting “Tensile Involvement” on BYU dancers. His first experience with BYU was in 1999 when Caroline Prohosky was director over CDT. Del Saz came again to set the piece in 2017 when Nathan Balser was the CDT director (Balser now directs the Young Ambassadors). This year, the opportunity came when CDT directors Keely Song Glenn and Kate Monson invited Del Saz to attend a performance CDT seniors were dancing in New York City.

With the goal of building a program on Nikolais’ works for the 60th anniversary season, the idea of inviting CDT to perform came to Tito as he spoke with Song. Del Saz said, “Once all was finalized and confirmed, a beautiful final performance was born.”

BYU Contemporary Dance Theatre in Alwin Nikolais’ “Tensile Involvement”
Photo by Stuart Ruckman (@stuartruckman), Courtesy of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company

“Tensile Involvement” was originally choreographed in 1955 and utilizes long bands that stretch from ceiling to floor. The dancers use these bands as their “dance partners” and as an extension of their own body; they complete the entire performance holding onto them. When “Tensile Involvement” premiered, it intrigued audiences with its use of bands and the lack of focus on human expression.

CDT dancer and dance major Baylee Van Patten described the process of working with the bands. She said, “Tito emphasized that the bands play just as important of a role as we, the dancers, do. The bands are our partners! Just like us, the bands experience motion, shape, space and time, which are all concepts that Alwin Nikolais focused on in his choreography.”

“Tensile Involvement” has played an integral role in shaping modern and contemporary dance history. Van Patten said, “Learning this piece from an original Alwin Nikolais company member allowed the dancers to carry on the legacy of Alwin Nikolais. As we performed this dance, we educated our audience about modern dance history. We showed others where contemporary dance has stemmed from. I feel honored to be a part of this legacy.”

Song described “Tensile Involvement” as a piece that “creates pure delight and surprise. She recalled that during a matinee performance with an audience full of children and teenagers experiencing the work for the first time, “audible gasps and squeals of joy [could] be heard throughout the dance.” She said, “It is a work that utilizes the full stage as dancers pull straps and elastics into the space making it become alive, full of vibrations and reflective light. It reminds each of us that magic is possible.”

In addition to their performance of “Tensile Involvement”, four CDT students were guest dancers in “Liturgies,” which they performed with Ririe-Woodbury dancers at the anniversary celebrations. Joanne Woodbury, a founder of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, attended one of the shows before she passed away two months later. The performance celebrated her work with the company and the company’s contributions to the dance world throughout the past 60 years.

BYU Contemporary Dance Theatre in Alwin Nikolais’ “Tensile Involvement”
Photo by Stuart Ruckman (@stuartruckman), Courtesy of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company

Van Patten said, “It was exciting to perform in a professional setting. It was an honor that BYU was invited to perform in two pieces of the concert.”

Song also emphasizes what an honor it was for the students to work with the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. She said, “I have so much gratitude to the Ririe-Woodbury Company and Tito Del Saz for the incredible honor and generosity they provided throughout the entire process.”