This Is Spinal Tap Dance

Bust out the leather pants for a Bumbershoot performance that will rock your butt.

  Bumbershoot 2005 Bumbershoot's been a family-oriented event since its early-'70s inception. Even so, this year's music lineup—despite Devo and later, after that band dropped out, Iggy and the Stooges—seemed even safer than usual. So we decided to search out the festival's odder corners. We don't claim to present them all in this package, but we do claim that the four events we're highlighting—the "In Resonance" sound-art exhibit; the ballet-meets-hair-metal of Buttrock Suites; stand-up comic Todd Barry; and Wreckage, the one-woman show by Lauren Weedman—will give you something you weren't expecting. Which is, of course, the entire point of an event like Bumbershoot. More Bumbershoot Bumbershoot Music Picks — Our guide to the festival's highlights. The ABCs of Bumberfood — Rich Amador of Sugee's Giant Strawberry Shortcake explains it all for you. Short Film, Long Gestation — It took 10 years to harvest Fruits—one of many titles to be shown at 1 Reel festival. Her Brand of Humor — Local lit mag brings funny women to Bumbershoot stage. No, really. Performance Picks — Are We Scared? and STREB. Visual Arts Pick Bumbershoot music schedule grid (pdf). Festival information Think caviar on Pringles. Yo-Yo Ma on MTV. Imagine the ultimate marriage of highbrow and low, and you'll begin to anticipate the pleasures of Buttrock Suites, a collection of modern-dance works performed to the raunchy, repetitive strains of vintage hair- metal bands like Twisted Sister and Van Halen. Buttrock Suites is the leather-clad brainchild of self-proclaimed "buttrock snob" Diana Cardiff. A regular performer with some of Seattle's most well-respected modern-dance troupes (Pat Graney Company, Wade Madsen and Dancers), Cardiff has been buttrocking on the side since the show debuted in 2003. Or maybe even longer. "I grew up listening to this kind of music via my brother. We always had it playing in the house," she recalls. "Sometimes he would play it to annoy me—like, he'd turn on [AC/DC's] 'Big Balls' really loud when my friends came over to embarrass me. "A few years ago, I was in a car and I heard 'More Than a Feeling' by Boston and thought it would be so great to set dance to it—it was just so dramatic." About that time, she saw a dance by local choreographers Matt Mulkerin and Jana Hill set to Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive." The audience response was so frantic, and Mulkerin and Hill were so supportive of the idea of Buttrock Suites, Cardiff decided to go ahead and jump. The current edition of the show is co- produced by Mulkerin, Hill, and Bob Gregory and includes contributions by a number of local dancemakers, including Alex Martin, Juliet Waller Pruzan, and Wade Madsen. Some of the numbers on the hourlong program are straight-up spoofs of the genre, complete with big-hair wigs, studded dog collars, skintight pants, and fog machines. Others stray into more abstract territory, incorporating modern-dance technique or cheerleading routines. (Fans still recall Saiko Kobayashi's butoh version of Styx's "First Time" from the 2003 show.) None is likely to go down in the annals of dance history, but the choreographers involved don't do this to advance the cause of art. "It's a nice break from the more serious dance we do," says Cardiff. "It's a guilty pleasure." Adds Gregory, "You're fronting your favorite band. Who wouldn't want to do that?" Occasionally the performers have a little too much fun with it. Cardiff says, "We crack up all the time. I can't look at Matt onstage sometimes; I definitely can't look at Bob—ever." And the audience shares in the joke. Even Cardiff has been surprised by the cat-scratch feverish response to Buttrock Suites. "The first time, we ran just three nights. It was sold out; it was insane. People want to see it again and again. There's so much energy in the room. People scream and stomp and hold lighters in the air. They dress up, too, pulling out their old Judas Priest or Styx T-shirts." "Everyone sings," adds Gregory. "If for some reason the music suddenly shut off, the performance would keep on going." For some people, it's a nostalgia trip. But you don't need to be a devotee of buttrock to appreciate Buttrock Suites. In fact, you don't even have to know what it is, since the performers themselves can't agree on a definition. Cardiff: "Buttrock bands are hair bands." Dancer Drew Smith: "It's buttrock because they wear tight pants." Hill: "Everyone argues what buttrock is and what band belongs. AC/DC: Is it, or isn't it?" According to the ultra-authoritative Web site, "buttrock" is "rock n' roll music produced from the mid-'70s to present that has the following characteristics: four or five male members with long, feathered hair (bangs are common, but not necessary) or mullets, wailing guitar solos, distorted guitars, and lyrics about women, sex, drugs, Satan, and fast cars." Some of the bands whose music is featured on the Bumbershoot program are Twisted Sister, Def Leppard, Ozzy Osbourne, Van Halen, and Ted Nugent. Even if you're not an aficionado, if you watch the choreography closely, you can start to appreciate what made some of these bands so popular: the mix of anger and innocence so peculiar to the teen experience. At one point in Cardiff's "The Spandex Five," a soloist struts downstage, snarling the words of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" while four rockers in the back do a variation on the '60s dance fad the Swim. It's an image that perfectly captures the song's rage and goofiness. It's hard to think of a form of entertainment more perfectly geared to the artsy but antsy crowd at Bumbershoot. Dance has never thrived at this festival, but Buttrock Suites should provide enough distraction, laughs, and just plain noise to keep folks in their seats—especially if they're properly prepared ahead of time. "I recommend people stop at the beer garden an hour before the performance," Gregory advises. "You definitely want to have a drink first—Pabst Blue Ribbon, ideally." Buttrock Suites opens at Bagley Wright Theatre at 1 p.m. Mon., Sept. 5.

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