Unpolished but Shiny

The sixth all-male festival mixes styles, skills . . . and genders.


Freehold Theater/East Hall, 1529 10th, 2nd floor, 425-557-2448, $12-$14 8 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 10-Sat., Oct. 12; 7 p.m. Sun., Oct. 13

STRANGELY ENOUGH, for an art form that values physical freedom, dance is still seen by many people as primarily a female activity. Though artistic directors of ballet companies are mostly men, the onstage population is mostly women. Which is why, six years after it was founded, the "Against the Grain: Men in Dance" festival is still a valuable object lesson as well as a legitimate art event. Gary Reed, a dance educator involved in several past editions of the festival, expresses a common wish when he says: "I teach all these kids—I want them to see men onstage, too."

The Men in Dance programs have been a wild amalgam of styles, skills, and abilities. First-time performers share the stage with experienced professionals; formal choreography sits next to therapeutic improvisation. The goal of the organizers isn't to present the most polished work, but to show the widest variety of dance and illustrate some of the options men have.

In this year's program, billed as "The Best of the Fest," previous artists have come back to reprise several old works. G鲡rd Th鯲괠has restaged his tango duet "Duello," which reflects the early history of the social dance, when men would often partner with each other if women were scarce. The duet's sinuous power is a significant contrast to the contemplative spinning of Dena Lee's "River Mandala." Using images from Sufi rituals and Dervish dancing, her mostly neophyte dancers sway and surge to a trancelike score. The cast affectionately calls the work "Men in Skirts" and obviously takes great pleasure in the ripple of fabric while they spin.

In "Every Night," Gary Reed combines two of his movement styles—modern and jazz—opening with a breathy, self- reflective warm-up to a voice-over recording of his thoughts on the physical challenges of a long dance career. From this, he shifts to a prowling, jazz- influenced solo choreographed by Suzanne Duckworth. The concert brings former dancers such as Phillip Lewis together with others like Phillip Borunda, who are at the beginning of their careers, connecting different generations as well as different styles. Anne Green Gilbert's youth company, Kaleidoscope, will appear on the same stage as the role models that Reed is seeking.

One work in this year's show breaks with the all-male tradition: Stanley Knaub's "Chairman's Suite." Knaub, who died last year, was part of the festival from its beginnings, and this year's performances are dedicated to his memory. He had a seriously eclectic career, shifting from concert dance to drill team and color-guard work and choreographing for award-winning groups like the Seattle Imperials. His past contributions to the festival included an appearance by the R.O.T.C. (Rightfully Outrageous Twirling Corps) and "Chairman's Suite." The suite will be performed by a group of his friends and colleagues, including women. The consensus is that even after working to establish an all-male event, Knaub would have been thrilled to subvert the convention.


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