Men In Dance—Week 2

Written by Steve Ha

Following a successful first weekend, the opening night of Men in Dance’s second week brought different artists and new works to the stage (for those who may have missed the first run of performances, a couple of pieces do carry over into the second week, including Deborah Wolf’s Frattura; a surge of sheer movement that electrified audiences during its premiere weekend). While the first weekend included a number of riveting dances in the modern-ballet genre, the second series was more eclectic; the first half of the show featured theatrical pieces that favored spoken words instead of musical scores while the second half presented dances in the more traditional sense of combining movement and music.

With theatre dominating the early lineup, after Small Spaces and “15 to 20” (see last weekend’s review by Rosie Gaynor), was a piece paying homage to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, beginning with a blank canvas on which performer Louis Gervais painted a rough, stick figure sketch of Da Vinci’s masterpiece; the effect was simple and remarkably comical, as was the rest of the one-man show. Gervais then indulged in an ode to Vitruvius in poetic fashion, while cleverly citing some lyrics from songs by Lady Gaga. His accompanying movements were geometric and angled into prescribed planes through which he employed capricious gestures that seemed to touch an imaginary boundary he had drawn around himself—as a literal embodiment of the Vitruvian Man.

Comedy was also a key in the evening’s next piece entitled “Men’s Breakfast,” (stet.) which had performers Christian Swenson, Scott Davis, and Aaron Swartzman engaging in the daunting task of structured improvisation. What began as a mundane conversation over breakfast amongst a trio of men became a conversation that utilized both words and movement. Furthermore, the conversation was decelerated to draw attention to the thought process; what normally happens in an instant was on full display in different patterns. One dancer arrived at his conclusion through frenetic isolations, expressing the random and serendipitous nature of ideas, while another went around in circles like so many people do when trying to resolve an inner conflict. However, it wasn’t just about how they moved individually but also how they sustained the conversation by sharing one another’s weight in a lift or showing the equivalent of verbal exchanges in actions and reactions. The piece is guaranteed to never be the same in each performance but judging by the audience’s laughter, entertainment is most certainly a guarantee.

Among the more dance-heavy pieces was the premiere of the stunningly brilliant Argot, a modern work choreographed by Geoffrey Johnson for six male dancers. The music was at first an unnerving ambient track with a solo drum, that increased in rhythm and drive as one by one each dancer came to life. Dressed in a variety of costumes that shared shades of blue and teal, they seamlessly dispersed transitioning seamlessly from small groupings into unison sections. Some phrases of movement were initiated by a hand, others a hip or even a glance, and careened into virtuosic leaps and elements that connected with the floor. The various groups wove in and out of one another, with breathtaking intricacy and without pretentious order—for this was a tapestry woven not in straight lines but arced pathways and unexpected curves…and yet the structure of the dance was neither weaker for it nor was the integrity of the overall picture compromised. Argot proved that the quickest path between two points might be a straight line but it is perhaps doomed to be the least interesting.

Also new this weekend was Markeith Wiley’s Four Gone, which is sure to appeal to contemporary audiences as a fusion of hip-hop inspired movements and modern technique. Body waves, popping/locking, and earthbound maneuvers like freezes were almost unrecognizable in the modern context as they signaled the transfer of energy from one body to another. The dance was at times mathematical, with a fluidity that belied its inception as a product of two diametric dance forms. Acrobatic and unpolluted by narrative, Four Gone was a limitless adventure in pure movement.

The final piece to see its inaugural performance was Gérard Théorêt’s CRASH, the most balletic piece in the program, which as the title suggests dealt with a vehicular accident. As the sounds of a collision were heard, a square spotlight fell on one man (Elijah Labay) whose movements were both panicked and violent, but in that horror he had a moment of lucidity—the proverbial “life flashing before your eyes” that comes before death. He envisioned his former self, danced by Patrick Kilbane who was the picture of majesty and elegance. His solo was lithe and agile, and was followed by Labay’s return to the stage, as if to observe his own memories in an out-of-body experience. The phantom Labay shadowed Kilbane, following his movements or mirroring them, but the duet shared no emotional connection as the specter maintained elusiveness from the present. At one point Kilbane alighted into an arabesque on relevé, holding his balance for what seemed like an eternity as Labay receded into darkness. What should have been a Herculean task was instead a suspended moment in time, which faded away as candidly as a memory often does. Clearly touched by the beauty and tragedy, the audience’s applause showed copious appreciation.

Only one more opportunity remains to catch Men in Dance this weekend (a 2:00pm matinee performance on 10/17). Additional information about the festival is available at their website, www.menindance.org. Tickets can be purchased at the door (by cash or check only) and credit card purchases may be made online via Brown Paper Ticket at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/122120

Photo: Argot by Geoffrey Johnson. Photo by Colleen Dishy.