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Men Dancing Out of Closet
High-velocity performance plays to nearly full house.

“Men Dancing”
Mark Foehringer: San Francisco
August 18, 1990

by Allan Ulrich, SF Examiner Dance Critic
copyright ©1990

Anyone Searching for a heartening Bay Area success story couldn't do any better than Men Dancing, the all-male anthology series currently in residence at Theater Artaud.

When Men Dancing started modestly in 1982 at Centerspace, the project barely gathered sufficient patrons to fill that closet-sized room for five evenings. In the intervening years, the series has emerged from the closet, in a couple of significant was.

The ninth edition of Men Dancing, a presentation of Centerspace Dance Foundation and the Gary Palmer Dance Company, packed Artaud virtually to capacity Friday evening for a high-velocity, mostly absorbing entertainment featuring nine different performers or groups working in just about the same number of syles. The excellent sight lines and more spacious performing space at the Florida Street site allow the performers a greater expansiveness and more venturesome possibilities for staging.

And, if gay themes were approached gingerly in 1982, and evoked in a more confrontational manner later in the decade, they have now been incorporated into structures with more rigorous formal concerns. One can detect rage and sorrow in the works on the 1990 program, but the sheer joy at finding oneself whole and mobile pervades every entry, even the most forgettable of them. In group numbers, brotherhood seemed the recurrent theme.

The range of movement styles veered from quasi-ballet to classic modern to ethnic to what can only be called postmodern camp. Everybody was very ingratiating, but virtually everybody wielded the solid technical credentials that endure longer than sinewy bodies and handsome faces.

The performers Friday were David Niu; Richard Green and Sairus Patel in Remy Charlip's "The Cuddle Duet"; Gary Masters in the first movement of Jose Limon's "Orfeo"; the men of Contraband in an excerpt from their "Mandala"; Mark Foehringer in his "In Memoriam"; Masters and Fred Mathews in the latter's "Toward a Greater Place"; Loli-La Art Warriors of Aloha: Brazil Dance Revue and the San Francisco Saddletramps.

Niu, a member of Beijing's Tehlu Performing Arts Company kept the audience riveted during Jai Zuogang's "The Magnificent Eagle," partly because of an uncertainty of tone. Intended to suggest Mongolian herdsmen and the eagles they revere, the work tosses all manner of ballet vocabulary at you. The transitions stem from another source. The flapping arms seem overtly descriptive, but what were we to make of Niu's exit? The fluttering fingers, rippling back and bourres almost duplicate Odette's exit in Act 2 of "Swan Lake."

A trio of no-nonsense pieces left the greatest impression. "The Cuddle Duet" (1990) is another of Charlip's celebrated Air Mail Dances, works he draws sequence by sequence and sends to interested performers (Artaud's program reproduces the work in its entirety). Charlip originally called the piece, "The Wooloomooloo Cuddle," intending it for members of Australia's New South Wales Dance Company.

Stanford's Diane Frank set the piece on Green and Patel (two of her students), whose uncommonly intense performance recalled those old photos of modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn. Charlip's wonderfully focused work traces the shifts of power in the arduous backbends, supports and lifts. And he seems to have choreographed the heavy breathing, too. Stuart Dempter's avant-garde trombone music seemed the ideal complement.

The discovery of the current Men Dancing is Minnesota-born, Brazil-trained Foehringer, in his North American debut. The remarkably sinuous "In Memoriam," intended to commemorate Amazonian deforestation and the choreographer's recently deceased father, emerges a brilliant solo, marked by shifting viewpoints. At one point, Foehringer seems to be both hunter and victim. the cogency of the dance and the extended eloquence of the dancing bear remembering for the future.

Master's revival of the Limon (set to a Beethoven string quartet) projected a concentrated grief in the sudden contractions and moody inevitability. Charles D. Tomlinson's original costumes and stylized lyre were of properly mythic proportion.

"Mandala," which teeters on the edge of self-indulgence, has been previously reviewed. "Toward a Greater Place," a duo involving unison movement and parallel bamboo sticks, bogged down in needless repetition.

For sizzle, Marcelo Pereira and Cassio Martinho offered a mesmerizing demonstration of Capoeira, the Brazilian martial art that evolved into a dance. The Art Warriors of Aloha stressed squats and rustic humor. The S.F. Saddletramps' fine precision dancing to Western tunes suggested outtakes from "Andy, Get Your Gun." .

Men Dancing 9 will be repeated Saturday at 8p.m. and Sunday at 2p.m.

August, 1990
copyright ©1990
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