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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 13, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 41
Against the Grain/Men in Dance presents exciting Adjudicated Choreographers Showcase
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Against the Grain/Men in Dance presents exciting Adjudicated Choreographers Showcase

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

INST THE GRAIN/
MEN IN DANCE
2017 ADJUDICATED
CHOREGRAPHERS SHOWCASE
VELOCITY FOUNDERS THEATRE
October 7


For the second time the founders of Against the Grain/Men In Dance have offered young choreographers an opportunity to produce new dances and to hear experienced choreographers and dance professors evaluate their work in front of the audience. The showcase was presented Friday, October 6 at 8pm and Saturday, October 7 at 5pm and 8pm at the Velocity Founders Theatre (1621 12th Avenue). It's a wonderful opportunity for everyone. The choreographers get to show their work, the dancers get to have dances made on their bodies, and the audience gets to hear how professionals critique and encourage new dance makers. (Men in Dance launched their biennial Adjudicated Choreographers Showcase in 2015.)

It's a triple-win situation made possible by the Men in Dance organization and its members, whose raison d'être is to bring more men into the dance world as performers, and to encourage more male and female choreographers to create dances for men. What's more, there's a big prize for the dance that gets the highest evaluation from the adjudicators and the audience: the winning work is guaranteed a place on the program of the high-profile biennial Men in Dance Festival that happens every other year at the Broadway Performance Hall. (The next Men in Dance Festival will be held in 2018. http://www.menindance.org/)

This year's program consisted of five works by two women and three men, and was performed, of course, by an all-male troupe of excellent dancers. In the order of performance, here's what happened at Velocity Founder's Theater - a wonderfully intimate venue where dance lovers can see works 'up close and personal':

'Remember Me Young 17'
Choreographer: Noelle Price (Seattle)

Four young boys - or so they seem from their shorts, tee shirts, and happy tumbling around the stage - play leap frog, rock-paper-scissors, and other games while one boy stands alone, isolated and still. We begin to wonder if this kid is being rejected or bullied as the choreography resolves in to hip-hop and locking dance moves to really satisfying music by Michael Price. At the end, the troubled boy ends up dragging the other four like chains and anchors that weigh him down. In the choreographer's post-dance conversation, Noelle Price mentioned that this was a section of a larger work about child suicide, though I wouldn't have gotten that if she hadn't mentioned it. I thought the central section of the dance could stand alone, without the narrative elements - but I like pure dance, and I think Price has talent in that direction.

'better, not perfect'
Choreographer: Abigail Zimmerman (Seattle)

This dance is performed to Rudyard Kipling's poem 'If' - that sentimental tribute to young manhood that lists qualities of courage, nonchalance, and self control that lead to the famous punch line: 'You'll be a man, my son.' Part of Zimmerman's clever probe into Kipling's weary clichés is the static that interrupts and fragments the poem throughout the dance. Three young men dance alone, unaware of one another, yet they begin to perform the same moves until they are dancing in unison using a vocabulary of arm gestures and pirouettes. Soon one dancer begins to correct and regulate the gestures of the other two - making sure that their movements conform to one another. This dance asks an important question: How much should a young man comply with expectations established by past generations?

Zimmerman offers an ironic answer when she ends the dance with all three dancers arranged in frozen row, like paper cut-outs. This was one of my favorite dances of the evening because the music, text, and choreography were in perfect balance.

'YMO'
Choreographer: Levi Ryan (Seattle)

Two guys in black tights and bare chests (a small guy with a blue neck; a large guy with a red line down his front) enact a dance of pursuit, rejection, anxiety, and struggle over closeness and rejection. More a pantomime than a dance, this performance clearly demonstrated the difficulties of overcoming fear and mistrust in relationships. But I wondered, as the smaller guy stalked the larger guy (who clearly wished to be left alone) if a little more exposition would be in order. The feelings were clear, even lyrical, but the point was lost on me. Bad break-up...I get it...blue neck, red line...I don't get it. For someone like me, who likes pure dance, I actually needed more narrative.

'TRADE'
Choreographer: Aaron McGoin (New York City)

This work, to a combination of sound and broken lines such as 'Love is the beast' and 'All this was a long time ago I remember' explores relationships with a trio of men whose movements in a duo, trio, and final solo show stages and permutations of what the choreographer told us were 'the highs and lows of the hook-up culture.' It contained the single most compelling solo of the evening, I thought, when Aaron McGoin, dancing his own steps, did an angular, edgy, and intricate display of emotional intensity. I normally prefer group dancing to solos because I'm interested in how a choreographer manages patterns and space, but I was won over by McGoin's wonderful dancing.

'Koibito (excerpts)'
Choreographer: Cameron McKinney (New York City)

My dance buddy thought this was the winner of the evening and I'm inclined to agree. The dance begins to beatbox music as three men in ties dance to a hip hop vocabulary - really well done in unison - that develops into the dance that the adjudicators called the handshake dance. Two men meet and do a dance with their hands and fingers going in and out of a handshake with a fan-like movement that returns as a refrain, along with another wave-like gesture of joined hands that flow over the head and chest. 'Koibito' means 'Lovers' in Japanese, with the subtext of a life-long relationship - a dimension that seems to inform this dance about businessmen who are trapped into lifelong conformity in their places of work. McKinney described his work as an excerpt from a longer work about the desire for success in business and the sacrifices that entails. The final solo, of a man who must repeat and repeat a tortuous series of movements, like an automaton, states the case with compelling and fascinating clarity. This is a dance I would like to see again - and I'm willing to bet the adjudicators will agree.

The three adjudicators I saw on October 7 were Bruce McCormick, UW assistant professor, dancer, and choreographer; Sheri Lewis, founder and artistic director of Westlake Dance Center; and Jennifer Salk, UW associate professor and Director of the Department of Dance. Their comments and advice were at once kind, informative, and pointed - offering observations that would help budding dance-makers edit and clarify their work. They were especially complimentary toward the dancers, whose ability to learn new work quickly made the presentations possible.

Part of the fun for the audience was scoring each work on color-coded index cards based upon our perceptions of craft, creativity and overall impressions. We were also asked to offer comments that might help the choreographers know what they did right and how to communicate with the audience better. Some of the cards are read out at the adjudication session - all thoughtful and complimentary, some with interesting critiques. My dance buddy and I really enjoyed sending messages to the dance makers - a rare opportunity to give candid feedback. We were also invited to visit with the dancers, producers and choreographers later - a treat that we enjoyed a great deal. The work of all these talented folks is so heart-felt and committed that you want to give them personal encouragement, and hope to see them all in the future.

In addition, there was an important tribute in the program to Kabby Mitchell III, a dancer, choreographer, and bright light in the Seattle dance scene and in dance companies all over the world, who passed away in May. He was the first African American to dance in the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and a mentor of music and dance to underserved communities. He was a long-time contributor and performer with Men in Dance and performed in just about every company and venue in our region. Seattle can be proud and grateful to have had such a generous and richly gifted ambassador of dance to Washington state and the world beyond.

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