Men in Dance: Against the Grain, now in it’s 23rd year of operation, showcases multiple angles of what it means to not only be a man in dance, but a man in the modern world. This year’s adjudicated choreographers showcase was no exception in its array of diverse choreographers and dancers. Impressive ranges on the emotional and physical spectrum made for an exciting night of brave new dance work.
Noelle Price’s Remember Me Young 17 opens with sounds of children on a playground, setting the mood as dancers engage in playground activities. Two dancers play rock, paper, scissors; two wrestle, run, play tag; one sits alone with his back to the audience – the inevitable introvert. The tableau intermixes as tag evolves into leap frog, rock, paper, scissors into a secret handshake. Moments of intended unison emerge, but details of the phrase are lost in messy timing, a missed opportunity for satisfying synchronicity. The piece takes an abrupt turn in tone, as the lights get lower and facial expressions become ominous. Playful wrestling turns into actual fighting. The piece culminates with one dancer walking forward while the others struggle to hold him back. He attempts to make progress against the murky waters of his peers. It would be interesting to see this piece further developed, as it has potential to be a poignant work on the oft overlooked dark side of childhood.
Complexity abounds in Abby Zimmerman’s better, not perfect. Three dancers clad in desert tones perform solos with the complementary coherence of a trio. A motif of interlocked elbows interrupts smooth swipes of limbs that coat the space with a slender mystery and warmth. They support each other – one quickly arrives underneath another about to lose balance in a penché. An air of respect and sensitivity in their transitions between interaction and separation makes their individual journeys stronger. Juxtaposed with sounds of modern technology is a recorded poem – the famous “If” by Rudyard Kipling. Line after line defines what it is to be a man, but the movement is so enamoring on its own that the poem’s necessity is questionable. At first the poem is interrupted by static – sometimes it cuts out all together. Later, the track moves into full recitation, but again, seems unnecessary and over-defines the dancers’ inquisitive solo moments. Upon the final line, “…you’ll be a man, my son,” they let out a cohesive sigh, their shoulders depressing right before blackout.
Throughout the show, there seems to be a theme of intimacy among men. As far as what kind, it varies, but many works feature hugging. It’s a very clear expression of intimacy, but it leaves a yearning for some abstraction. Levi Ryan’s work, YMO, is the clearest example of this, where one dancer attempts to give the other affection throughout the entire piece, only to be rejected dramatically with tiresome monotony. TRADE by Aaron McGloin has the opposite effect, as every move is a surprise. The piece’s technically strong movers execute flawless partnering and airborne tricks that are well received. It is hard to pinpoint the dancers’ relationships among the adrenaline-heavy phrase work, but TRADE boosts the show with incredible precision and dynamism.
Excerpts of Koibito, by Cameron McKinney, closes the show with a laudable balance of characterization and abstract movement as medium. McKinney and his dancers, hailing from New York City, wear casual office attire. Ezra Goh opens the piece with a hyper-punctuated gestural solo, flooring the audience with his sound-by-sound illustration of mouth-generated noises. Peppered with contemplative pauses, the gasps, lip pops, and exhales of relief show up in Goh’s arms and thorax without literal interpretation. We’re introduced to his character (so to speak) immediately, and it’s impossible not to be completely invested in what happens to him next as solo transitions to trio. The three dancers’ interactions are tense, but with a realistic, cordial demeanor. The work thickens with a perfectly synchronized floor phrase, matching angle for angle, suspension for suspension, with rigorous agility and finesse.
Men in Dance: Against the Grain 2017 Adjudicated Choreographers Showcase was performed at Velocity Dance Center October 6-7, 2017. Find more information about the performance here.