“We are sooo Kevin Bacon.”
Elby Brosch, Shane Donohue, and Jordan MacIntosh-Hougham speak in unison, “Us being Kevin Bacon inspires you.”
MacIntosh-Hougham, with ample use of air quotes, later pieces it together for the audience: in the hit movie Footloose, protagonist Kevin Bacon wants to “dance” but it’s “illegal” in “this small town.” The metaphor being, MacIntosh-Hougham then directly spells out, is that Kevin Bacon is gay.
The audience whoops. Their analysis of this iconic piece of pop culture is not only clever and entirely plausible, but it also couches Drama Tops in a foundational celebration of queerness. From the onset, Drama Tops draws focus to gender and queerness in dance in a distinctly whimsical way: playing off an archtypal punchline set-up, the top of the program reads, in big bold letters, “a trans man, a gay man, and a non-binary person walk into a barre.”
In one scene Donohue executes a long series of burpees, a common workout routine in masculine-centered athletic spaces, like football teams. But in this case, Donohue plays with the gendered expectations of the typical burpee, by slowly, with each repetition, making the movement more and more fiercely feminine. The plank to push-up motion becomes a pelvic thrust and head toss. The jump up to two legs becomes a shimmy. The burpee series is a particularly great metaphor for challenging gendered expectations, as the burpees steadily tires Donohue out, perhaps indicating a weariness that comes from navigating masculine expectations as a gay man.
Drama Tops also exhibits a profound expertise of dance comedy, adding a playful tone to its introspective content. The piece starts with a self-identified “Puppy Chorus” of three dancers dressed like dogs. The puppies remain straight-faced throughout their feature, intentionally placing their hands, dangled from the wrist, out in front of them like paws, donning a familiar dog-like expression that mixes a blank stare with “I know I’m adorable” eyes.
Beyond puppies, Drama Tops often acts silly while maintaining a straight-face, giving the piece a comical feel with a slightly ironic twist. Brosch, Donohue, and MacIntosh-Hougham frequently make use of shoulder shimmies, jazz hands, and snapping, all while keeping completely stoic. For a majority of the piece, the trio intersperse fist pumps to the background “yeahs” of the iconic hype song “Get Ready For This” by 2 Unlimited, more commonly known as the Space Jam Theme. Even though the song is an automatic crowd pleaser, and fist-pumping an absurd movement, the performers never break; they remain hilariously deadpan throughout.
Drama Tops also plays with the comedy of repetition. The Puppy Chorus holds a patch of rolled up astroturf, but one puppy keeps letting go, allowing the fake grass to unfurl to the floor, then scrambling it to roll it back up…over and over again. In another scene, Brosch, Donohue, and MacIntosh-Hougham pretend to drive a car. For upwards of a minute, Brosch mimics beeping a car horn, each time losing a little bit more steam, and ultimately ends by lazily flailing his hand about.
As Drama Tops wowed the audience with queer takes on famous movies and whimsical comedy, AVID, the other group of the night, showcased vulnerability. Both pieces were a part of Washington Ensemble Theatre’s reSET, where dancers have the opportunity to make and perform pieces on the elaborate theatrical sets of the theatre’s main productions. In this case, dancers used the set of the recently closed Dance Nation, a play by Clare Barron. For a play exploring the cutthroat world of competitive dance, set designer Tristan Roberson modeled its set after a typical preteen dance studio, complete with cubbies lining the walls, a ballet barre, and long mirror lining the back of the stage.
A distinct prop from Dance Nation provided the performers of AVID with a particularly creative exploration of vulnerability: a toilet. Scott Davis, a creator and performer with AVID, takes off his pants and sits on the toilet. In such an intimate position, Davis offers the first spoken words of the night, providing a short monologue on how he keeps too many things, including a letter that he never responded too. Davis shares an intimate moment in two wildly different ways, one by pretending to go to the bathroom in front of dozens of people, even wiping his behind, and two, by sharing a reflection on his habits and regrets.
More than just the toilet scene though, AVID foundationally centered vulnerability. AVID is first and foremost an improvisation ensemble and for me at least, nothing seems quite as vulnerable as performing improvisationally. In a stand-out scene, Davis, Rachael Lincoln, and Tamin Totzke sat on edge of the stage, close together so that they were almost touching. They all struck casual poses, either leaning on their elbows, or looking towards each other. At the same time, all three of them began talking, but saying three totally separate things. It was a jumbled mess, and yet each conveyed a similar sense of introspection and sensitivity. They seemed to be illustrating their connection, being both physically close together and emotionally intimate, as well as portraying a sense of vulnerability through sitting on the side of the stage to almost level with the audience.
In all, reSET showcased a range of artists, talents, and experiences, and importantly, offered Seattle dancers a place to play, adventure, and perform.
reSET featuring Drama Tops and AVID ran February 13-15, 2020 at 12th Avenue Arts.