Seattle's "Against the Grain/Men in Dance" festival has a stellar lineup, including a collaboration by Spectrum Dance Theatre's Donald Byrd and Pacific Northwest Ballet's Peter Boal. Other choreographers include Barry Kerollis, David Lorence Schleiffers, Wade Madsen and Jim Kent.
“Against the Grain/Men in Dance” is a great way to catch up on Seattle’s dance scene. Performed entirely by male dancers, it’s a two-weekend showcase of work by local male and female choreographers that lets you glimpse new work by familiar names and see out-of-the-blue treats from choreographers just getting started.
It also hosts collaborations by people who don’t often work together: This past weekend, for instance, Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB), in a work by Donald Byrd of Spectrum Dance Theater.
“Carveresque” is a study of an isolated figure (Boal) engaged in a series of strong ballet moves, only to be hit by hesitations. All Boal’s elegant action is outwardly directed, until he senses something sneaking up on him. Looking repeatedly over his shoulder, he loses ground, going into a haunting backward tightrope-like walk.
The dance reads almost like a death premonition.
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The Byrd-Boal piece was just one high point in the unusually strong first-weekend lineup. “Cypher” by Barry Kerollis, also of PNB, was a subtle, shapely item for three PNB dancers who moved in tight, springy sync, their actions dovetailing perfectly with a lively percussion score. Meg Fox’s lighting design, superb throughout the evening, touched magic here.
“Hillside” by David Lorence Schleiffers — another new talent to watch — featured six dancers doing track-and-field inspired high jinks with crack timing and a great sense of humor.
Of the more familiar names, Wade Madsen revived a melancholy duet from 1982, “Breath of Light,” with Jim Kent and Ben Maestes III entwined in moves that ranged from willow-soft to reflex-sharp. Excerpts from Olivier Wevers’ forthcoming work addressing homophobia, “Monster,” also struck a serious note, as Andrew Bartee and Lucien Postlewaite went through tangles of increasing complexity and intensity.
Eva Stone’s “Me Over You,” by contrast, was a fluffy prima donna spoof.
All six works above were scheduled for Weekend 1 only. But some striking pieces repeat this weekend.
In “Ascent,” soloist Jason Ohlberg goes through a rise-again-fall-again progression with beautiful fluidity and control. Deborah Wolf’s “Frattura” — for Ohlberg and four other male dancers — is an impeccably performed fugue, with each phase of movement offering a spare, fractal variation on what went before. It definitely invites multiple viewings.
Also repeating: Cheryl Johnson’s “15 to 20,” a snappy tap-dance number to live snare-drum accompaniment for three teenage dancers, and Alia Swersky’s “Small Spaces,” in which half a dozen of the most acrobatically inclined dancers in town use Broadway Performance Hall’s lobby and staircases as their jungle gym. New on the program for Weekend 2: work by Sonia Dawkins, world premieres by Louis Gervais, Geoffrey Johnson, Markeith Wiley and Gérard Théorêt, and a “structured improvisation” by Christian Swenson, Scott Davis and Aaron Swartzman.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org