MEN, MEN, MEN: Dancing For a Causeby Joey Lico
I can’t speak for all dancer-lovers, but I suspect many of us have compiled a sort of “Dancer Dream Team” throughout our years sitting in the audience—at least I have. This cross-genre roster of dancers is typically exactly that: a dream. Something that works so perfectly in our mind but is hardly translatable into real life.
Unless, of course, you’re Denise Hurlin Roberts and Christopher Davis, the producers of Dancers Responding to AIDS (DRA), a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the nation’s leading industry-based, AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization. No organization in New York seems to be able bring the BEST of all dancers, in all genres, onto one stage, with careful regard to the blend of established and emerging artists quite as well as DRA.
In Dance From The Heart: Men, on January 11-12, DRA actualized a small portion of my “Dream Team,” by inviting American Ballet Theatre principal Marcelo Gomes and Feliciano Dance Company’s Angel Feliciano to perform in the same program in the Cedar Lake Theater. Other choreographers and companies included over the course of four shows were: Broadway’s Adam Barruch, Ballet Hispanico, Darrell Grand Moultrie, The DASH Ensemble, Gregg Russell, Jamar Roberts, Janis Brenner & Dancers, Jason Parsons, Jennifer Muller | The Works, Joshua Bergasse, Julian Barnett, Luis Salgado, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Parsons Dance, Ray Mercer, Shea Sullivan, and Stephen Petronio Company. (I’ll focus here on the superlative, leaving out both the mediocre and the obvious triumphs from Merce, Parsons Dance and Jamar Roberts.)
To the ambient sounds of New York City’s 6 train, FDC’s Jason Santana tries to sell tired strap-hangers Peanut M&M’s (I can only guess that this is where the piece’s title, Workin’ for Peanuts, stems). Like one of those droopy-eared puppies on a Valentine’s Day card, Santana works a calculating plea for money and attention—and while no one buys any candy, this Company certainly knows how to sell. The choreography is a meticulous blend of sharp isolations and smooth manipulations of imagery. Feliciano’s dancers fast-forward, slow down and play in real time as though he’s holding a remote control with the ability to confuse time. It’s been called “hip-hop dance” in other arenas, but Feliciano’s background in theater combined with his cherry-picked modern influence create a genre of its own. In its proper concert setting, amidst classical, contemporary, and modern dance, FDC illuminates the stage with thrill and imagination.
In a less exhilarating but equally enchanting piece, dancer Ephraim Sykes performs Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Lone with grace and grittiness. The juxtaposition of the writhing, gnarly, and sometimes slimy movement with the beautiful specimen (of both body and technique) performing it presents a story of shifts in emotion and the singular feeling that comes within that.
Ballet Hispanico’s excerpt from Besame demonstrates one of the tactics people use to ensure that they remain in the comfort of constant affection—flirtation. Rodney Hamilton and Waldemar Quinones Villanueva playfully perform a pas de deux articulating queer machismo and feminized masculinity, and the sequences are filled with a type of sexy forte that could only exist in an exclusively male partnering.
Even more magnetic than the male duo was the singularly seductive Marcelo Gomes. Dancing Small Steps, a contemporary work by Adam Hougland, Gomes authenticates his virtuosity with ravishing lines and deliciously subtle hand gestures. Every time I see him perform I’m reminded of my first visit to Cinderella’s Castle in Disney World (I was seven)—I cried because I didn’t think something so magnificent would ever be so close to me and I couldn’t possibly grasp its depth despite walking in between its walls (I was a sensitive child). Similarly, I am overwhelmed by Gomes the artist. His conviction of character is remarkable in every role—he is as much an actor as he is a dancer.
Acting as most people recognize it (with speaking parts) found an unlikely place in The DASH Ensemble’s Paper Crane Gang, choreographed by Gregory Dolbashian. While the trio of dancers reminded me of kittens in an alley, a speaking interlude pleasantly disrupted the poised and granular movement. Great skill and seriousness can fare well when interrupted by a touch of silliness.
Another soloist slipping hokey-ness onto a cultural platform was Julian Barnett. Cutting and splicing choreography against a red background to the sultry pulse of Portishead, Barnett’s Wooden Heart was two parts high art and one part Chippendales-cheesy. He was quite the hunky tease as he poked fun at the movement, making it the guilty pleasure of the night.
Ray Mercer’s Boys Boys Boys was also a wink to the evening’s through line of attractive men showing off skill and sex appeal. As eleven (young) male dancers flexed lean muscles in a fusillade of jumps, leaps, and turns, the audience was clearly smitten with the overload of prowess. Perhaps the most audacious nod to the audience as voyeur was the flipping and stripping of clothes revealing skimpy shorts highlighting the dancer’s “assets.” In a playful and tasteful manner, Mercer helped to accomplish the curatorial goal: to celebrate beautiful men with world-class talent.
In this, DRA reminded us of something that has seemed sacrificed over the last few years: dance as homage to the perfect form—an aesthetic both provocative and pleasurable.
Joey Lico is the publisher of online culture magazine, Pro Diligo, and a freelance writer and dancer living in New York.