Born in 1994, the Men In Dance (formerly Against the Grain/Men In Dance) concert is well into its third decade as an annual Seattle showcase. This year, five choreographers presented works for packed houses in Velocity’s Founder’s Theater on October 4 and 5 for a program of adjudicated performances. Local choreographers Shirley Jenkins, Laura Ann Smyth, and Jerry Tassin offered choreographic feedback as part of the show’s first evening performance, while Bill Evans, Marlo Martin, and Noelle Price made up the second night’s panel. While diverse in approach, this year’s works maintained a thematic through-line: examinations of masculinity within the context of toxicity, hegemony, vulnerability, expectation, and self-acceptance. With choreography by Joel Hathaway, Nashon Marden, Elise Meiners Schwicht, Daniel Ojeda, and Beth Terwilleger, the Men In Dance 2019 Adjudicated Choreographer Showcase proved beautifully danced and well selected.
Beth Terwilleger opened the show with This is the Reactibility of the Appetizer, a new work informed by her experience as a mother of two young boys and her navigation of support and expectation. Dancers Corbin Hall, Maeve Haselton, Robert Moore, and Thomas Phelan gave a stark and ferocious performance that abstractly embodied Terwilleger’s vision of individualism, societal expectation, emotion, and personal struggle. They performed simultaneous duets and trios, often with intense vigor and uniqueness; Hall’s robotic, shapey movements appeared both distressed and invigorated, while Haselton’s, spinal articulations took them in and out of the floor. Each of the movers embodied the classical sound score instrument by instrument, body upon body, nearly mimicking orchestral layers. Aesthetically, dancers were unified with identical costumes composed of light pants and a long strip of black tape to cover their chest and nipples in an implied statement on double standards and social archetypes. Terwilleger’s simple costumes, clean lighting, musicality, dark imagery, and articulate performance structure opened the show with a bang.
Elise Meiners Schwicht’s he kept him was similarly dark, but more linearly character-driven, focusing on one dancer (Robert Moore) and his journey through a literal wilderness. Among other forest sounds, bird caws echoed through the theater as Moore fearfully scratched at his own skin and squirmed uncomfortably with alarmed eye contact at the audience. Four darkly-costumed corps dancers assisted Moore throughout – an amoeba of bodies appearing to represent both his personal demons and a bedrock of support – an allegory for the personal journey to self-acceptance and the struggle for and against aid from others. From a musical standpoint, Schwicht’s choices fell flat; the piece transitioned from ambient forest sounds to a series of indie rock songs that seemed out of place and distracting. While the thematic concept could have been abstracted more for added interest, overall he kept him was beautifully danced and conceptually evocative.
Joel Hathaway’s duet, …But My Soul Drew Back, and Daniel Ojeda’s trio, The Unnatural Pattern, both stood out for their technical strength. Hathaway and Chauncey Parsons, of …But My Soul Drew Back, asserted their classical training with glorious extensions and seamless partnering. The dancers appeared to represent two parts of the same soul – one half an affirmative support for the other – creating a deeply expressive throughline. The evolution of the dancers’ relationship seemed overly-condensed, however, and adjudicator Noelle Price’s craving for “more [emotional] realness” echoed true. While equally technical, Ojeda’s The Unnatural Pattern explored toxic masculinity and denial of identity with imagistic references to alpha posturing, use of head covering to suggest suppression of identity, and manipulative partnering. Fast, articulate movement combined with tenderness and strength made for a powerful performance by Evan Stevens, Antonio Carnell, and Ethan Schweitzer-Gaslin.
Nashon Marden took the cake, however, with BOYDMGD, a statement on hegemonic expectations of masculinity and the effects it can have on the human psyche. Marden and his co-performer/collaborator, Dustin Durham, began the work facing one another in a stationary improvisational groove, intermittently interrupting their own flow with a smack to the chest as if in self-punishment. The movement series was slow to evolve yet seamlessly timed, exploring alpha posturing mixed with gestures traditionally deemed effeminate – the drop of a hip, a break at the wrist, etc… the clear impetus for moments of self-injury. The subtlety with which Marden and Durham evolved the duet from a subtle manipulation of space and emotion into a full blown vogue performance and back was astoundingly easeful, melancholy, and thought-provoking. BOYDMGD was a movement anthem for the socially non-confoming, gloriously achieved and honestly danced.
In alignment with a newly modified mission and title (see SeattleDances’ recap of these changes here), witnessing a more diverse group of male identifying and non-binary dancers as part of Men In Dance’s 2019 Adjudicated Choreographer Showcase was a welcome relief, and a far more honest reflection of men in the dance industry. Compounded with Hathaway, Marden, Schwicht, Ojeda, and Terwilleger’s choreographic choices – which worked to their performer’s strengths – Men In Dance 2019 was a well-rounded showcase that celebrated the organization’s mission.