Men In Dance Festival
Week One, Saturday September 27 2014, 2:00 p.m. matinee
by Dean Speer
It began with an idea. One that was creative, forward-thinking, and which has provided a much-needed platform – that of celebrating and giving men in dance the spotlight. Since its inception in 1996, Men In Dance [Against the Grain] has presented 10 bi-annual shows. This in itself is quite an achievement and when you count in the number of male performers [the dancers are always men or boys] and choreographers represented, then its accomplishment is even more monumental.
The edition this time is in two rounds over as many weekends. The first weekend showcased 9 pieces and ranged from a bit of an excerpt from Ted Shawn’s work celebrating the Olympics to the weird and slightly kinky and from light to serious in tone.
“The Cheer Leaders” was an excerpt from Shawn’s “Olympiad: A Suite of Sport Dances" (1936), staged by Hannah C. Wiley to the tune of “On, Wisconsin!” by Jess Meeker. Fun and good-natured, its three men captivated us with it jaunty energy.
It was good to again see Tim Lynch’s “Social Exclusion” which is excerpted from his larger work for his master’s degree project, Boys Who Dance. Lynch tells a story well, keeping his dance focused and not allowing himself to be distracted by the extraneous. It is well-disciplined and this showed clearly in the result.
With jazz-style sharp movement and phrases and just a hint of Fosse, “Just Because” by Rhonda Cinotto and Paula Peters is a short foray into this vernacular for Austin Nguyen, Fausto Rivera, and David Schleiffers.
Mike Esperanza’s BARE Dance Company was new to me and his “Venomous” probably set the most disturbing images of the evening, with its suggestion of a male-male relationship with one being domineering and perhaps a bit threatening with its strong cast of Vincent Arzola, Michael Abbatiello, Jake Bone, Larry Daniels, Clinton Martin, and Paul Vickers..
Lightening the mood and concluding the first half, was Rainbow Fletcher’s “Sportif” which played with the idea of men doing typical burlesque kinds of movements – in high heels, strutting around the stage, shedding layers, and finishing with a vibrating and shaking derriere to the audience. Sylvain Boulet, Benjamin Maestas III, and Keon Price each are thin with long legs, extension – especially Boulet and they vested this small morceaux with élan and expressions that hinted at the sardonic and a worldly insouciance that dared the audience, seeming to say, “This is who we are and it’s all you’re going to get, so there!”
Bill Wade’s “Center of the Earth” piece impressed me as being very sincere and it impressed for its use of cantilevered bodies tumbling over and lifting each other. A strength and control act, fused with dance. As I was watching it, my only wish was to have enjoyed with some kind of classical music accompaniment, as I felt this would have greatly elevated the “high art” factor of this already strong piece. Kudos to is cast of Joshua F. Brown, Dominic Moore-Dunson, and Kevin Parker.
Wade Madsen has become a Seattle modern dance icon and his “Federcio” solo suggested retrospection through minimal gesture and movement.
Sean Rosado in choreography [“Warhol”] by Jonathan Campbell and Austin Diaz of MADboots dance company had the interesting assignment of dancing what seemed a straight-forward solo but then concluding with a black-dressed character coming onto stage, pulling down Rosado’s tights and pulling his T-shirt over head, with Rosado’s hand in where it shouldn’t be – all while holding a rose in the left hand. Very strange ending and probably not necessary.
“Tango Del Hombres” showcased the high technical abilities and facility each of its cast members so readily possess: Sylvain Boulet, Anthony Gamroth, Drew Lewis, Thomas O’Neal, Russell Ridgeway, and David Schlieffers. Gérard Théorêt’s choreography pulled from these amazing talents deep penché arabesques [several of the men being limber enough to put their legs nearly at 180 degree], one who pirouetted and turned in attitude back – while holding his leg, plus several other OMG moments of leaps and fine ensemble work.
Men In Dance is a festival that continues to delight, even if in the overall and natural scheme of things, the level of concept to choreography fluctuates from program to program.
Program II is coming up soon and I can hardly wait.
File comment: Men In Dance: "Sportif" with Benjamin Maestas lll, Keon Price, Sylvain Boulet. Photo © Colleen Dishy
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