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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 21, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 43
Against the Grain/Men in Dance Festival a terrific bi-annual showcase
Arts & Entertainment
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Against the Grain/Men in Dance Festival a terrific bi-annual showcase

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

AGAINST THE GRAIN/
MEN IN DANCE 2016 FESTIVAL:
PROGRAM 2 (10/7-10/9)
BROADWAY PERFORMANCE HALL
October 9


This terrific bi-annual showcase of choreography made for male dancers typifies, for me, the fine qualities of the dance community in Seattle: inventive, diverse, and welcoming to up-and-coming choreographers and dancers. I wish I could have seen both programs, which give male and female choreographers a chance to create or remount dances for men. But any part of this two-weekend festival - designed to encourage the under-represented group of men and boys to participate in the dance world - is well worth seeing.

In this lengthy program of nine works, the enthusiastic audience saw a wide variety of ideas worked out using solo dancers, duets, trios, and, in 'Backbone,' a group of five dancers. The Men in Dance commission doesn't limit the number of dancers, but new works by new choreographers tend to be small. Even when only one or two men are dancing, however, the audience can clearly see the ideas and moves in the choreographer's tool kit. Here are the dances for the Second Program in order of performance:

'Hothouse' by Bryon Carr and dancers Kince de Vera and Warren Woo
All choreographers acknowledge the role that dancers play in the creation of their works. After all, the choreographer can only do what the dancers can do. I wonder how many times the dance-maker says 'Can you do this?' and the dancer says 'Sure - but I can also do this!' Bryon Carr's dance is drawn not only on the capabilities of his two fine dancers - one significantly larger than the other, who lifts and carries his partner as a main feature of the dance - but also makes clever use of projections and light. 'Hothouse,' here, refers to the relationship between two people, clearly depicted in the alternation between side-by-side dancing and an array of lifts. What's missing, in a short dance like this, is the surrounding narrative. I'd like to see Mr. Carr create a longer work that tells more of the story.

'Duet - Project 10' by Anne Conner
One of five female choreographers in this year's festival, Conner's fascinating work explores the dimension of speed - in dancing and in life. Using a duo (not a duet since the dancers operate parallel but apart from one another) we see moves so slow that we might be in the butoh world of Sankai Juku. Very slowly, as the dance unfolds, we see the dancers speed up until they are frantic, and frantically making repetitive gestures. This was a perfect depiction of the increasing pressures of modern life.

'the home I grew up in' by Gierre J Godley and dancers Cesar Broderman, Mat Elder, Aaron McGloin, and Aaron R. White
My dance buddy and I were at odds on what this dance was about. She saw children at play as the first of four dancers begins leaping around in a rabbit mask and red underpants (but she's a mother), while I saw a dark secret life that animated the rest of the dancers, who all strip down to red underpants at the end. This dance is very acrobatic and exciting, drawing on the flexibility and strength of the dancers in an array of sophisticated lifts and variations. Godley shows real aptitude for managing dancers on stage - trios, duets, solos, and quartets. Because all the men were equally strong, they could do equal lifts, making the dance even more complex. I didn't get the narrative, but I didn't much care - the dance itself was fascinating.

'Forgotten' by Jason Ohlberg
This dance, performed to the aria from Bach's 'Goldberg Variations,' was a single dancer in classic balletic movement - a lovely break from the soundscapes and contemporary music of the typical modern program. The style was very close to the ground - fifth position pliés, arabesques and balances. The rendition of Bach was especially slow and beautiful, which challenged the dancer, Scotty Flores, to perform with grace and control. While the title suggests a melancholy tone of abandonment, I found it's non-narrative beauty refreshing.

'[in]Hibition' by Daniel Costa
This highly athletic dance for four men was performed to live guitar with percussion. Kudos to Travis Corwin who played what sounded like improvisational sections, and to Costa, who moved his dancers on and off the stage very well.

I didn't get the title, however. Things in brackets usually indicate a double meaning, as in [im]proper (not proper, but yet proper) or [in]significant (not significant, but yet significant). So I don't know how to read [in]Hibition - not inhibited but&hibited? Sorry to be the school marm, but in the absence of such a word as 'hibition' this lively, athletic dance would be more appropriately [en]titled 'Inhibition.'

'CO' by Alex Allan
This solo dance performed by the choreographer was a real show-stopper. On a stage bathed in blue light something that looks like a tail hangs down from the fly. Slowly it becomes a rope, and even more slowly a man descends from the rope. Because he's dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, the rope looks like part of his natural habitat. My dance buddy thought the whole performance appeared to be underwater - slow, sinuous, gravity-defying - while I thought it looked like an alternative form of reality, as if gravity were a fraction of a man's weight, and he needed a rope to stay attached to the earth. Either way, it was wonderful. The rope or pole dances I've seen men perform in the past have been demonstrations of upper body strength set to hard metal or rock music, but this was elegant, meditative, and beautiful - even though it demanded as much strength as circus-style aerial dances. I applaud Mr. Allen for taking this genre to a new place and performing it so gracefully. As for the title, I have no idea what it means. It would help me if titles would be more accessible so as to add meaning to the dance. I think choreographers miss an opportunity to guide the viewer if their titles remain private.

'Providence' by Jamie Karlovich
In this intriguing dance, a figure in a black hoodie, whose face we cannot see - a shadow-man - awakens a slumbering boy and guides him through stages of either a day or a lifetime, until the boy is finally enveloped by the shadow-man and falls asleep again (or dies). The music by Arvo Pärt was just right. If you know his 'Tabula Rasa' you can imagine how it adds to the mysterious, otherworldly quality of the work. This was my favorite piece of the evening - coherent, complex, and narratively meaningful. I remember Karlovich's dance 'Murmuration' from last year's Men in Dance Showcase, which was really cool but, in my opinion, somewhat meaningless. In this dance she has taken leaps forward not only in movement but in ambition. Dance is an art form that can bring meaning and insight to the viewer, but it takes an ambitious choreographer to go beyond the clever to the significant. I think Jaime Karlovich has taken that step, and it's an exciting thing to see.

'Closing the Glass Door (2013)' by Randy James, 10 Hairy Legs
I'm a fool for baroque music, and this dance duet was performed to Halverson's 'Passacaglia for Violin and Viola' on a theme by Handel. As each variation presents itself, two men in black, transparent (sexy, weird) costumes dance either together or apart, showing us variations in human relationships - or at least the variations in the relationship between these two guys. I thought the exploration in steps and movement revealed the changes in the musical theme beautifully, and the dancers - Robert Mark Burke and William Tomaskovic - were great. There was a real tension between the edgy way they looked, their range of movement, and the antiquity of the music, as if the same repulsion/attraction affects humans no matter when they live. This was my other favorite dance of the evening because it was thoughtful, intriguing, and (yes, my favorite word for dance) complex.

'Backbone' by Mike Esperanza and dancers Shane Donohue, Elijah Kirk, Sean Rosado, Alexander Pham, Ethan Schweitser-Gaslin
This dance has a lovely dedication to the choreographer's father, 'a quiet man who showed his love through his fortitude.' I could see that dedication unfold as the five dancers moved together, apart, and around a central figure - at one point manipulating a long white veil in a very moving, dramatic way. My favorite sections of this dance were when all five men were dancing together - a far more difficult task for the choreographer than when some dancers are watching and one or two perform. I applaud Esperanza's ambition and hope more Men in Dance choreographers have the opportunity to use larger dance forces as they develop their choreographic skills.

Stanley Wesley Perryman
It is also important to note that this year's Men in Dance Festival was dedicated to Stanley Wesley Perryman, 'A dear friend and colleague, not to mention a beautiful and dynamic dancer.' The audience was able to confirm the dedication by watching a tribute film that opened the concert and showed Mr. Perryman performing everything from modern dance to ballet to tap. I only wish I could have seen him in person.

For more information about Against the Grain/Men in Dance, visit http://www.menindance.org/

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