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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 6, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 45
Men in Dance 2015 Choreographer's Showcase was standing room only
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Men in Dance 2015 Choreographer's Showcase was standing room only

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

'MEN IN DANCE -
2015 ADJUDICATED
CHOREOGRAPHER'S SHOWCASE'
VELOCITY DANCE CENTER
October 16 & 17


Men in Dance is the Seattle organization that produces a biannual festival exclusively for male dancers. It not only encourages men and boys to enter this female-heavy field, but it gives both men and women choreographers a chance to meet the challenge of creating works that make sense when guys are the only ones in the spotlight. If you've ever seen 'Men in Dance' - last year was its tenth anniversary - then you'll know why the dance community is delighted that they've instituted an interim event between festivals so that we don't have to wait until next year to see the wonderfully imaginative works this group inspires.

On October 16th I joined a noisy, excited, standing-room-only crowd to see the five dances in contention for inclusion in next year's main festival. This was an adjudicated showcase - three dance professionals were there to judge the work and to decide on a winner, and the audience was invited to write comments on color-coded paper to give to each choreographer. It was a long evening that included six dances, an intermission, and a panel discussion among judges Vanessa DeWolf, Lodi McClellan, and Christian Swenson, as well as questions for each choreographer. Just about everyone stayed to the end - a measure of how intriguing these new dances were. I particularly enjoyed hearing what the judges had to say, and found myself agreeing with most of their comments and learning some new angles of observation. I'll review these in order of my preference - favorites first.

The Twins & Misfit - Choreography by Gierre J. Godley
If I had a vote on the winner of the evening it would be The Twins & Misfit - a witty and penetrating dance performed by choreographer Gierre J. Godly and Justin Robert Thomas Smith - two black guys - and Aaron McGloin, a skinny, geeky white guy. At first we see one 'twin' sprawled on the floor getting poked into motion by the other to the rhythmic hand-claps of Gil Scott-Heron's 'New York is Killing Me.' The two men dance side-by-side in simultaneous patterns and variations that convey the dilemma of the song - misplaced in the big city, needing to get back home to Tennessee, where your people are and where things make sense.

If the dance had stopped there it would have been satisfying, but it got complicated when a skinny Microsoftie/Amazonian white guy in a tie comes out alone to perform a terrific solo that makes it clear, from his constrained and increasingly desperate gestures, that New York is killing him, too. Though he is dancing to the mesmerizing strains of Enzio Bosso we can see that his story is the same - for all his apparent advantages, the man is out of sync, alone, needy. This, too, would have been enough - two different races, moods, forms of expression, but the same dilemma.

Yet Godley takes us further, bringing the twins back onstage in a hilarious mincing dance where they prance around arm in arm with their noses in the air as the white guy tries to get them to see him. He throws himself in their path but they step over him; he waves his arms but they ignore him. He is invisible to the twins, just as the twins, historically, are invisible to 'New York' - all the privileged people with their cultural capital and their blindness. This was a brilliant choice of music that unfolded an ever-deeper sequence of ideas for the viewer. Quite the best work of the evening and worthy to take a place in the 'Men in Dance: Against the Grain Festival' in 2016.

01000111 01110010 01101001 01 100100 - Choreography by Laura Beth Rodriguez
The binary code of this title translates to 'grid' - an honest title for a dance for five automatons who move in a Tron-like network as they are deployed on an array of mechanical tasks. You know you're inside a game or a computer as you watch the wide range of movements possible as combinations of dancers develop on this very restricted lattice of invisible lines. Rodriguez' work is my second choice for the honor of appearing in the 'Men in Dance' festival next year because the level of invention she achieves from what is essentially one idea mimics the irony of the computer, which can display any marvel and perform any task using the simple lingo of zero-one. Rodriguez brings her randomly launched automatons into accumulated rotating gear-like patterns that would look great on the larger stage of the Broadway Performance Hall. Though I felt the opening sequence of robot movement could be edited a bit, I thought it was a fascinating and successful dance.

Hard Hearts - Choreography and Sound Design by Dylan Ward
This dance for four boys in plaid shirts and jeans could be subtitled 'Campfire Fun' - we appear to be with some jolly fellows on an outing that involves lots of rolling around and sex. Though I may have been misled by the costumes (it could have been any group of jolly fellows anywhere) and the title (were any hearts actually hard?) this dance had so many clever moves and expertly organized combinations of dancers that it grew on me more and more, until by the end I loved it and stopped worrying about what it all meant. I think Dylan Ward is a very talented dance-and-sound maker and I'll be looking forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

Dance is not a Code - Choreography by Peter de Grasse in collaboration with Raffaele Exiana
The choreographer and his collaborator danced this meditation on the tension between couples, represented by distinctively different dance styles - one man dancing in Memphis Jookin-type movement and the other in classical ballet. I admired the skill of their dancing and the passionate exploration of the relationship as they strove to alter their styles and find common ground. Nevertheless, I thought the title of the work was disingenuous since dancing is a code - if not it has no meaning, and this dance was packed with meaning. The problem with watching a pair work through a relationship, however, is that while you know their issues are true, and even universal, something needs to make us care as if it were our own relationship. This dance seemed somewhat private, as though we were window-peepers instead of viewers relating to a version of our own relationships. I hope in another revision the viewer will be admitted more into this story.

Murmuration - Choreography by Jamie Karlovich
Hey, man, this was so cool - four cute guys in cool suits showing some very smooth moves to Dave Brubeck's 'Unsquare Dance.' These guys were the opposite of square - they were hot, they were clever, they did an arm dance that was very witty. I didn't know who they were, what they were doing there, or what they were communicating other than that they were very cool. Jamie Karlovich has got a fertile mind for movement and deploys her forces well (though the slow start with tiny gestures was a little slow off the mark for me). I like the title, though I don't know what it means. It may be me, but I am really into meaning. I can look at cute, cool guys doing cool-looking things all day, but in the end I need for it to mean something. This isn't to say Murmuration didn't mean anything - it just didn't communicate very much to me. Karlovich is clearly gifted and her dancers were great to watch. Next time, if I may be so bold, give us some subtext - or at least share it with us.

Look for one of these dances to join the other local, national and internationally known choreographers and dancers at the Broadway Performance Hall for the 'Men in Dance: Against the Grain Festival' in 2016.

www.menindance.org

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