Heavy Mettle

Some of the big-hair Buttrock dances display the music's staying power.

The popular music of our youth can have a stranglehold on us, so it's easy to understand the appeal of a dance concert using staples from the big-hair period in rock and roll—though it's not always so simple to make a satisfying dance with them. Buttrock Suites II . . . sweeter (through Sun., Jan. 16; Velocity MainSpace Theater, 206-722-0963) is the follow-up concert to last year's version, a good-time amalgam of rock-star posturing, cheerleader routines, and actual choreography. The current model repeats that combination, but some of the dancing reaches beyond simple imitation to explore the visceral nature of the music and our connection to it.

The opening and closing works, "The Spandex Five" and "Heavy Decibels," rely on our instant recognition of rock and roll iconography, and the tight pants and fright wigs automatically triggered howls and raised lighters from the crowd. The opening of "Spandex," with the dancers running in slow motion toward the audience, looks like an outtake from This Is Spinal Tap, yet the dance doesn't quite reach that film's stunning combination of homage and parody—on their own, lip-synching and air guitar only go so far toward satire. "Heavy Decibels" combines a hodgepodge of movement references from Russian folk dance to breaking and roller disco, cruising from joke to joke, but only occasionally reaching the same level of intensity that the music carries. (This happens best in choreographer Diana Cardiff's solo for herself, where she rides on the AC/DC score with a kind of joyful abandon.)

The trick seems to be to craft dance material that embodies the self-identified monumental nature of the music, to find the kinetic equivalent of a power chord. In "I'm Italy Now," Juliet Waller Pruzan recites the lyrics from Ozzy Osborne's "Crazy Train" with manic zeal, like someone learning fractured English from MTV, but her teeth-chattering, full-body vibration is a dead-on physical expression of feedback. Like Cardiff, she eats up the dancing space, matching the freedom of an extended guitar solo with long strides across the floor. A final trick, pretending to eat the head off an extra in a bat costume, is a silly coda to an otherwise powerful transformation.

Alex Martin's "no big thing" deftly comments on female stereotypes in both rock and roll and feminist scholarship. Her trio of students at "Buttrock State University" prance cheerfully to Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" while "professor" Laura Curry gives adulatory comments on Lita Ford. Martin's choreography takes the kittenish postures from the original videos and animates them in a larger space, making the panting students into powerful women.

Most of Buttrock Suites II has the happy feel of a big party, with loud music and plenty of beer, but parts of it manage to get inside that music, underneath the spandex and big hair and show us its ongoing vitality.


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