Men in Dance/ Against the Grain
2018 Festival: Second Program
Broadway Performance Hall
Seattle Central Community College
October 5, 2018
Reviewed by: Sharon Cumberland
Once again the bi-annual Men in Dance Festival brought a wonderful group of established and emerging choreographers to create works for men only—though the works I saw in Program 2 were created by highly experienced, prize-winning dance-makers who have their own companies, teach in colleges and universities, and create new dances for companies around the world. It seems that with every passing year the Dance Festival becomes more polished and consistent in its quality of new creations. I wish I could have seen both programs in this year’s festival, but was lucky enough to see the program that focused on solo dances and small groups. I am impressed by the excellence achieved by all eight of the choreographers whose works were performed, and the brilliance of the dancers, whose variety of styles, body types, and movement made for a fascinating show. My dance buddy for the evening, who had had never seen modern dance choreography before, was suitably astonished. This is my fourth Men in Dance Festival so I wasn’t surprised—simply delighted. Here’s a rundown of the program, and the edgy, weird, original, surprising, and intriguing works presented.
“Trio SML” by Gérard Théoret
After this dance I turned to my buddy and said “If all the dances are this good, we’re in for a great evening!” It was the perfect opener—upbeat, funny, and perfectly executed by Kince De Vera, Geoffrey Johnson, and Chris McCallister. They were the three bears of dancers—large, medium, and small—moving through witty choreography in flawless unison. The dance exploited their differences with lifts and twists that showcased each dancer’s strengths while transforming oddballs into harmony. Théoret, one of the founding members of Men in Dance, could teach our divided nation something about the glories of diversity.
“Bodhicitta” by Alvin Rangel
This was the first—and most impressive—of the three solo dances of the evening. Rangel performed his own creation in which a man enacts what appears to be the history of his tribe in movements at once passionate and epic. I didn’t read the program note about “a warrior striving to achieve spiritual transcendence,” but the dance, for me, surpassed the stated intention, taking on a universal quality that moved beyond the individual. Rangel’s primal movement and gestures told a very clear and compelling story.
“2 Skim with Azrael” by Sam Picart
Elijah Kirk and choreographer Sam Picart performed this duo about organization men going berserk. They took turns expressing a fabulous vocabulary of gestures. I have never seen locking like the movement in this dance—the animation of every individual joint and limb in ways that seemed impossible. I was truly agog. The narrative flowed through the bodies of each dancer like a liquid language, expressing grief, longing, journeying, fleeing, finding, rescuing. I have no idea what the title means—but if I had to give it a title I’d call it something like “Human Extremes”—in feeling, and in movement. This one was my dance buddy’s favorite—she is a person of color who knows street dancing, and was very impressed with what a fertile mind could do with familiar patterns.
“I Am You, Fully and Truly” by Alex Ketley
The first half of the program ended with a quartet of dancers moving in what seemed like pantomime rather than dance, to a soundscape of wind or the steady hum of a machine. The ambiguity of sound enhanced the ambiguity of introspective movement, almost as though the men were engaged in interpretive dance—the freedom of spontaneous movement to express feelings. This opening stage resolved into a kind of ecstatic dance, like saints having visions of God. The invention of movement—double pliés, horizontal lifts, balances, a beautiful gesture of couples facing each other with arms extended over each other’s shoulders—gave a sense deep complexity beneath a surface of spontaneity. This work was commissioned—a very special opportunity and vote of confidence for any choreographer—and well deserved, as this dance demonstrates.
“Limeless” by Autumn Eckman
The second half of the program opened with the first of two dances choreographed by women—Men in Dance has always encouraged women choreographers to make dances for guys. This was the second solo of the evening, in which a very brawny fellow in shorts and suspenders is being tempted, led, or confined by a series of colored tapes spread out on the floor. It was powerfully performed by Benjamin Wardell in a series of movements that veered between casual strolling to gravity-defying balances, weaving a tale about life, opportunity, interest, and disinterest. Eckman achieved a work that is somewhat weird and somewhat charming, that strikes a successful balance between intensity and nonchalance.
“only he might know?” by Joseph “Jo” Blake
The third solo of the evening was a very personal, very moving commentary on the dilemma of men who are trapped in the macho universe of physical performance. Sean O’Bryan danced Blake’s passionate movements in what appeared to be a gym from which he could not escape. In my notes I wrote “the torment of sports”—because the culture of masculine performance—not only in the gym but on the playing fields of the worl—is so pervasive that it’s easy to forget the price men have to pay for it. This dance was difficult to watch because it was so personal, and so painful.
“Umbilic” by Jared Doster
So it was a relief to see choreographer Jared Doster and dancer Wesley Cordova roll a big, circular ball of metal onto the stage—a cage? a giant hula hoop welded to other giant hula hoops?—and proceed to do a dramatic array of movements inside and outside of it. This dance had the WOW! factor of Pilobolus (with whom Doster toured for five years) and the braininess of a big metal metaphor of entrapment, escape, independence, and interdependence. I could have watched these guys all day—heck, I wanted to climb onto the stage and roll around in the big thing myself. It was deceptively fun/simple looking—but devilishly difficult to rock, roll, swing, and twirl. I loved it.
“Noise at the Door (2018) excerpt” by Deborah Wolf
The program ended with the largest ensemble of the evening—seven men who moved together in groups, squares, lines, and even a gaggle of eye-rolling, synonym-spouting protesters against an inane and unseen narrator who can’t spit out a complete sentence. I loved the use Deborah Wolf made of language as a motivation for movement, and the use of dance to challenge meaninglessness. It was also a great pleasure to see so many men dancing together—an answer to the conventional world of dance that has accustomed us to expecting to see women dancing together and men standing ready to partner and lift. Modern dance has been better at giving men a voice, but dances such as this one really show the audience what men in dance looks like.
I left the Broadway Performance Hall with a strong reminder that if you want more men to become dancers, you need to change choreography. It’s the obvious point of the Men in Dance Festival, but one that needs to stated clearly. Both ballet and modern dance have been strongly woman-centric since their inceptions—not that women have always benefitted, as the current scandal at the New York City Ballet demonstrates. Equalizing the ownership of dance can only benefit everyone. and the Men in Dance Festival is in the forefront of innovation and re-imagination in the world of dance. What a wonderful and important addition to the dance world!