Mandance! HORSEs Bones at the Joyceby April Greene
It can be tempting to harbor resentment toward male choreographers and dancers, historically charged as they are with garnering more fame and money than their equally hard-working and talented female counterparts. So when I first heard that the all-male dance company HORSE would be at the Joyce in April, I wondered if the Rail should cover them, or if it would be preferable to eschew highlighting a group that, it could be argued by noticing their gender makeup, doesn’t really need the press. But I’m glad that my counter-reaction —that interesting art deserves attention regardless of its authors—won out.
Ballet Tech’s Mandance Project ran at the Joyce from March 25 to April 5 and consisted of a series of evenings choreographed by Ballet Tech founder Eliot Feld, and by HORSE, Taiwan’s first all-male company, begun in 2005 by Wu-Kang Chen, a Feld principal dancer, and four of his closest dancer-friends.
From beginning to end, the U.S. premiere of HORSE’s Bones is nearly austere in its surface-value simplicity: a plain white three-sided set with a door holds the five dancers, who each wear a nondescript combination of sportswear and business-casual clothing; the music is a percussive soundscape by French artist Yannick Dauby, described in the program not as a composition but as “music details.” But the dancing itself, equally sparse in its precision and lack of central plot, offers more as the piece progresses than initially catches the eye.
The dancers meet on stage to spend the first vignette engaged in an angular, continually collapsing tangle—they wrestle gymnastically in groups and all together, precisely leaning on and falling against one another, delicately batting legs from headstand positions, sveltely boring through the opening between a pair of outstretched arms or legs. It’s amusing and impressive and also a little snarky, as the nature of the dancers’ relationship is kept mysterious: are these characters just getting to know each other through their push-pull games, or is this the regular roughhousing of good friends? The premise remains playfully aloof and fits the company’s aesthetic—its airy definitions are enchanting, not frustrating.
Subsequent sections are by smooth turns funny (as when one dancer chases another in a circle, grabbing his clothes off—the chased picks them up as they fall, puts them back on as he runs, and the cycle continues) and charming (as when, after sparring, one dancer picks the other up from the floor on his shoulders, piggyback-style, and chauffeurs him off the stage like a father taking his young son to see the fireworks).
HORSE is a solid, inventive company no matter how you slice it. But when seen through the gender lens, they also bring to light the playfulness, strength, and simplicity associated with masculinity. And those are nice attributes for everybody.
April Greene, the Rail's dance editor, lives, writes, and bikes in Brooklyn.