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The Sweet Treats of Men in Dance

Written by Irene E. Beausoleil

Doppelganger by Bill Wade.
Photo by Colleen Dishy
The concluding weekend of the 2012 Men in Dance Festival was performed at Broadway Performance Hall on October 20, and opened with a real audience winner. Anthony Peters greeted audiences with a pre-show tap jam just prior to the producers’ opening remarks. Peters showed a surprising rhythmic nuance and did it with ease and a sassy ending that proved to be an excellent ice breaker.

The performance officially began with a premier work, Manner Tanz, by Seattle choreographer Wade Madsen. A cast of men reluctantly clothed themselves in suits by using quirky gestures that evolved into highly complex phrases. These phrases exhibited the individuality of each performer’s personality with playful humor. There was a sense of anticipation in the audience as the dancers began to expand past their stiff ensembles and returned to joyful, expressive boyhood.

A palette-cleansing cameo was performed by Christopher Montoya, aka Doris Vidanya, in The Rehearsal. Vidanya appeared in full rehearsal gear to give a candid preview of what was to be a charming rendition of Raymonda Act III performed after intermission. The “capezio hand-me down” costume was endearing, but there is something to be said for the coy and playful qualities that her tutu later added to a lavish and exuberant demonstration of character.

Two solos in particular took the audience to another level of emotional engagement. Choreographer Paula Peters set Alone in My Room on capable and expressive dancer Fausto Riviera, who extracted another performer from an empty, white shirt. Peters narrated the story of a lost relationship by using classic jazz vocabulary like foot slides and torso isolations. Riviera bared the soles of his feet to the audience and slumped to the floor just as singer Nina Simon crooned “My Man’s Gone Now”. Equally enticing was choreographer Olivier Weaver’s, More, set to Ravel’s classical score, “Bolero.” After unceremoniously tossing his wardrobe on stage, unhappy dancer Andrew Bartee attempted to expand his perspective with long, sweeping lines that were expansive and articulated his struggle to accept himself. By introducing a pink shirt to the mix, Weaver presented Bartee with an enticing new option. With the hopeful expectations of the grass being greener on the pink side of the closet, Bartee sublimely used balletic lines and modern vocabulary to discover and accept himself.

Alpha, by Californian choreographer Joshua D. Romero, was an excellent show of craft. Romero’s use of highly specific and segmented movement was grounded and smooth as glass. The dancer’s ritualistic solos showed great power that was quietly deafening. Especially beautiful were quartets were repeated as duets because they allowed the audience to view the same daring use of gravity from different perspectives, sweeping away the audience’s expectations of traditional partnering.

Highly reminiscent of the type of work by Pilobolus, choreographer Bill Wade’s Doppelgängerdefied gravity with two identically graceful performers whose skill could only have come from exceptional strength and concentration. However, the nuance of the relationship between the performers was occasionally lost to clumsy transitions and repetition.

Jason Ohlberg presented an effervescent tribute to young love in The Bella Pictures, performed by dancers Sam Picart and Sean Rosado. Ohlberg has a gift for making difficult things look effortless; when Rosado launched himself into the reassuring arms of Picart, it felt precious, tender, and secure. A nostalgic daydream of young love, The Bella Pictures was gently exquisite.

Markieth Wiley and Chris McCallister in Transient of Life.
Photo by Colleen Dishy
Choreographer Geoffrey Johnson juxtaposed compelling suspensions and a convincing use of cannons in Transient of Life. The potential demonstrated by the dancers, especially Jesse Buckingham and Markeith Wiley, was indeed matched by the creative attack presented in Johnson’s use of space.

Watching Crash of Daysby choreographer Deb Wolf with an all-male cast was a special treat. Before characterized by the sinewy rebound of the female performers, the piece was fluidly transformed into a world of steel. Movements that depicted crumpled and molten metal were abundant throughout the piece and reflected by the steel sculptures of set designer Michelle de la Vega suspended just feet from the stage. The strength of the male performers allowed for more exploration of overhead lifts and tosses, and the aerobic pace of the choreography was even more defining than in the previous iteration. 

Although dance may be dominated by male choreographers and directors, Men in Dance is a fantastic reminder that male dancers are multi-faceted and shouldn’t be relegated to the role of the absent director. Seeing such talented men fulfill their performance potential is a treasured treat.