Longtime patrons of Against the Grain/Men in Dance have been asking for the festival to become an annual event, as opposed to a biennial one. The recent Adjudicated Choreographers’ Showcase, produced by MID and held October 16 and 17 at Velocity Dance Center’s Founders Theater, took a step in that direction.
After receiving submissions to the festival from nearly 40 choreographers, panelists selected five pieces for presentation in the showcase. Panelists—artists from the Seattle dance community including Mark Haim, Jason Ohlberg, Lodi McClellan, among others—led a feedback-giving process in the second act of the show, and will also determine at least one artist from the showcase to be produced in the 2016 festival. At the time of this article’s publication, the festival has not announced the selected artist. Past Men in Dance festivals have been known to present artists with a diverse set of aesthetics, and this year’s adjudicated showcase was no exception with a range of choreographers from bases in Seattle to Walla Walla to New York.
The highlight of the evening was an incisive trio, The Twins & Misfit, by New York-based Gierre Godley/Project 44. Twins began with two dancers nonchalantly responding to the rhythmic soul music of Gill Scott-Heron, playing a game of “what you can do, I can do better.” Dressed in bermuda shorts, t-shirts, and loose unbuttoned shirts, Godley and dancer Justin Robert Thomas Smith looked like they had literally rolled out of bed and started effortlessly conversing in a gritty, groovy movement language filled with grounded footwork and multi-rhythmic partnering sequences. Soon after, dancer Aaron McGloin, dressed in a preppy shirt and tie, tried to break up the pair. Ignored, he proceeded to dance a virtuosic solo of leaps and footwork with just as much pizzazz and wit as the duet, all complemented by his mile-long legs.
Ending the show on a high note was Laura Rodriguez’s 01000111 01110010 01101001 01100100, a make-believe world of video games and action figures. Each dancer started walking in grids, as though controlled by an invisible player, and tried to “beat” the other characters. Rodriguez has a knack for playing with group dynamics—the five dancers often intertwined in systematic human domino group sequences. Every so often, snippets of duets and trios emerged. Despite the electronic video game music and the acrobatic machinery of the group work, the dancers still formed genuine relationships and found a stunning humanity in their interactions. What started as a competition between the characters became a search for escape from their virtual world. Dancer Scotty Flores, in particular, stood out with his fervent, virtuosic performance.
The theme of playful rivalry also permeated Jamie Karlovich’s dynamic opening romp Murmuration, set to “Unsquare Dance” by Dave Brubeck. Featuring five dancers dressed in black blazers, pants, and loosely tucked white shirts, Karlovich provided a counterpart to Brubeck’s measured but breezy jazz tunes. Murmuration brought to mind the competitive boyishness of teenagers in school, with a charming athleticism to match.
Dylan Ward’s Hard Hearts provided a contrasting solemnity to what was, overall, a spirited evening. Atmospheric droning sounds played as dancers Elby Brosch, Alexander Pham, Owen David, and Ward moved through a series of duets. Ward’s choreography shifted between rhythmically fluid turns, footwork, and such gestures as a motif where the dancers banged fists against hearts. Press materials described the work as investigating “the uneven power dynamic between gay and straight male friends,” and the relationships that emerged reflected a study in intimacy (or lack thereof): Brosch and David’s duets were tactile and tender, whereas Ward and Pham’s expressed an intemperate and aggressive quality. Hard Hearts provided space for contemplating relationships and their oftentimes uneasy undercurrents, fueled by unequal societal dynamics.
Peter de Grasse and Raffaele Exiana’s Dance is not a Code also started out contemplatively, with de Grasse dancing a slithery phrase, filled with influences from popping and locking, set to a recording of his own voice. He described an encounter with Exiana in which they discussed how the physical and emotional connection within dance is often lost in the “artifice of choreography for the stage.” Next came a solo by Exiana where he blended a series of balletic steps with balletic hand gestures that told a storyall set to a recording of Exiana speaking in Italian. A translation of his text in the program detailed how Exiana discovered that the simple joy of movement is inherent within social dance forms, but is often lost when dance is produced for performance. Despite the talk of genuine forms, Exiana’s solo felt academic and slightly artificial, a combination of “show what you can do” steps. Although the partnering work between the two that followed their solos was refreshing, the sound score—a rock track from Mogwai—was overbearing. It distracted rather than complemented as the two men, incorporating influences from social dance forms, gracefully navigated intricate footwork and quick weight shifts.
As with previous Men in Dance productions, the showcase delivered dynamic works that each offered a unique sense of athleticism, with distinct aesthetics that kept the audience on their toes. Since the artists have the opportunity to receive feedback from panelists and audience members, it will be worth seeing how they continue to develop their choreographic voices leading up to the 2016 festival. More information on Against the Grain/Men in Dance can be found on the festival website.