Against the Grain/Men in Dance Festival, Program 1
Broadway Performance Hall, Seattle
8 October 2010[/b]by Dean Speer
Demographic hegemony in dance is an interesting phenomenon. Men predominated early; later, women gained ascendancy, performing male roles en travesti
[with the exception of Russia]; in the last few decades, more and more men have been finding acceptance and even strong competition for dance careers.
Produced every two years, one of the most interesting Seattle area performance series is appropriately titled, Against the Grain, as the general public still tends to think only of females when the word dance is spoken.
I think it’s audacious that Seattle dance fans get not one but two dance programs where only men perform a variety of works made by both experienced and emerging choreographers, male and female alike. I’m also impressed by how far we’ve come since I used to produce and direct a monthly dance series in the same space for three years in the early ‘80s and how we had to call upon every single dance group and solo performer in the region in order to fill the program slots. Now, we have the depth of resources to enjoy a men-only series.
Program One opened delightfully with a trio of teen-aged tap dancers, riffing with a snare drum soloist. Lively and fun, this set the tone for the entire show – that it was going to be good...and it was. Kudos to choreographer Cheryl Johnson and her team of excellent performers: Christopher Cosby, Jesse Katz, and Evan Pengra Sult, with drummer Kenzo Perron.
Next up was Barry Kerollis’ “Cypher,” neatly danced by a trio of PNB colleagues, Josh Spell, Price Suddarth, and Ezra Thomson. This is the second of Kerollis’ work and he’s already gained in compositional strength which was satisfying to see. Each dancer is very strong and they all brought their collective technique and experience to bear in a dance that began with an interesting port de bras motif and built from there.
“Hillside” is a work made by David Lorence Schleiffers that was essentially a “gym” piece – guys jockeying and horsing around, testing each other – that had an element of play to it. Dancers were Kris Brackenbusch, Damian Cade, Elia Mrak, Jared Matson, Fausto Rivera, and Thomas Van Doren. Inventively, one dancer kept scooting across the floor on his back with his knees and seat raised, while the other sometimes reacted or worked around him.
Probably seen as daring when it first premiered in 1982, Wade Madsen's romantic duet between two men is gentle and transcendent, and certainly not an eyebrow-raiser in 2010. Jim Kent and Ben Maestes III brought fine technique and performance savvy to an intimate portrayal.
Eva Stone has good choreographic ideas as with her “Me Over You” – based on the famous “Pas de Quatre” of the Romantic Period in ballet which brought together four of its most celebrated ballerinas for a few performances, including one attended by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She mimicked the opening pose, recorded for history in old lithographs, gave each dancer a solo and then brought them back together for a short tutti conclusion. My fuss is that she could have done more and built the piece better for a stronger whole. Leave out the mugging and cute stuff and just let the dances speak for themselves. We’ll still get the sly humor and jest. There were, nevertheless, strong performances by Fausto Rivera, Joseph Schanbeck, David Lorence Schleiffers, and Thomas Van Doren, to a tape of the recognizable score by Cesare Pugni.
The first solo of the bill was self-choreographed by Jason Ohlberg who gave himself good challenges; not playing it safe, including many aerial jumps, floor work, and showing his extension.
The second...and much-anticipated...was the return to the stage of PNB’s Artistic Director Peter Boal in a piece d’occasion
made especially for him by local modern dance AD of Spectrum Dance Theater, the choreographer Donald Byrd. I don’t think it’s coincidence that Mr. Boal chose as his New York City Ballet farewell, over five years ago, the music of Sergei Prokofiev – his D minor Concerto for Violin and Orchestra ("Opus 19/The Dreamer") -- and now for his solo debut in Seattle, the opening movement of Prokofiev’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in F minor , Opus 80.
Boal is probably the most experienced and adept performer on the program and Byrd tapped into Boal’s strengths, which occasionally also became a weak link, choreographically. My first fuss was his wearing of white tennis shoes, which distracted from and cut off his “line” at the ankle. He would have been better off wearing the gear he typically uses for teaching classes at PNB; more flattering for his line of leg, foot and use of feet.
At first I was concerned that we were being given a gestural dance performed by someone who has higher wattage readily available but fortunately Byrd inserted battement and some good traveling steps. The work contains an overlay of introspection and a degree of foreboding; I was reminded of Boal's fondness for another well-known choreographer with an avian name, Ulysses Dove, and how his work impresses as being very serious, edgy, and maybe a little dangerous.
Other than virtual walk-on parts, this was the first time I had seen Boal perform as a dancer and it was easy to see why he was a beloved principal for so long – elegant, understated and one of those performers given to the assignment, subsuming self and not saying “look at me!” but rather, “look at the art.” Men In Dance was lucky to have snared such a big name. My only other fuss was the inscrutability of the work’s title, “Carveresque,” which didn’t mean a thing to the average dance-goer in the house (read me). Which Carver was Byrd referring to? This was neither implied nor inferred by the dance itself, and I couldn’t guess. A quick, short note would have helped.
The program concluded with the best dance I’ve ever seen Cornish College of the Arts professor of dance, Deborah Wolf, make – her “Frattura.” Some of her other works, I’ve found to be compositionally a bit on the difffuse side with a little of the army/army swoopy, swishy tack, but this time she’s outdone herself. She had a strong motif idea – dancers entering and returning progressively from the center of the upstage opened curtain that clearly built on itself and was easy for the audience to follow.
Dancers for “Frattura” were Ohlberg, Ian Randall, Kelton Roth, Sean Tomerlin, and Markeith Wiley.
A couple of the works are being repeated during Program Two and I look forward to seeing these again along with their new counterparts.
I should note too the evening really began before the curtain went up with some space-specific mini-dances, choreographed by Alia Swersky with the dancers Scott Davis, Ezra Dickenson, Louis Gervais, Mark Haim, Cyrus Khambatta, and Jonas Radvik. Sometimes annoying, sometimes witty and fun, this group brought Men In Dance up close and personal.
Men In Dance also plays 15 - 17 October: http://www.menindance.org/