Take a look at any modern dance company today — and many ballet troupes — and you’ll likely see more women than men on stage. Even in a post-Nureyev, post-Baryshnikov, “So You Think You Can Dance” era, the ranks of professional dancers are still dominated by females, and choreographers still face challenges finding a sufficient number of males when casting.
But things are changing, and this year’s biannual Men in Dance Festival is proof. There were more artist submissions than ever before in the festival’s 20-year history — double what the festival can present over its two weekends. The variety of dance works will be more varied with more pieces by big names like Mark Morris, dance pioneer Ted Shawn, Cirque du Soleil’s Darren Bersuk and former Seattle icon Bill Evans.
According to festival co-producer Gérard Théorêt, as word about the festival has spread — and as dance has become more “acrobatic” and has gained exposure on televised reality shows — it’s been easier to attract submissions, including ones from outside Seattle. Almost half of this year’s choreographers and companies come from elsewhere: New York, Ohio, Oregon, New Jersey, California and Canada. And unlike previous years, when the festival had to repeat some works to flesh out its two different programs, of the 17 dances being presented this time around, only one appears twice. That’s a major feat considering that only male dancers are allowed as performers.
It’s appropriate that the repeat is a solo choreographed by Ted Shawn. After creating the mixed Denishawn company with Ruth St. Denis, Shawn went on to establish an all-male company and a dance center, now the world-renowned Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires, to showcase his troupe. Dedicated to building acceptance of the male dancer, Shawn developed innovative choreography that celebrates masculine movement. His solo, an excerpt from a larger work, is being staged by the UW’s Hannah Wiley and opens both programs.
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Mark Morris’ ballets are well known to Seattle audiences; for the festival, he has offered “I Love You Dearly,” a 1981 solo he created for himself set to three traditional Romanian songs. It will be danced Oct. 3 and 4 by Aaron Loux, a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group who started his career with Seattle’s Kaleidoscope Dance Company. That same weekend’s program will feature a soft-shoe solo by Bill Evans, who established a unique technique and modern dance company here before moving away in 1983.
The festival includes an opening-night tribute to Kaleidoscope director Anne Green Gilbert, who is retiring this year, and a workshop geared toward teachers, led by Evans.
With more submissions to choose from, the festival’s producers are able to move in exciting new directions. Darren Bersuk brings a Cirque-like flair to his solo, which becomes almost a duet as he maneuvers around an apparatus resembling a tripod with a pole. Portland’s Lindsey Matheis of NW Dance Project features four dancers from Oregon Ballet Theatre in her modern work, and Rainbow Fletcher of Can Can Castaways presents a burlesque-inspired creation with scantily clad men in heels.
There’s also a Pilobolus-inflected trio, a jazzy tongue-in-cheek trio, a bravura ballet for six and two sociopolitical works. According to Théorêt, what they all have in common is the special quality that men bring to dance. “You put a bunch of men on stage and the stage is full of energy and electricity. Hopefully, the festival will inspire young boys to say ‘This is what dance can be.’ ”
Alice Kaderlan is a Seattle-based arts journalist who writes about dance and other subjects.