Suite Emotion

An enthusiastic choreographic tribute to the heyday of hair metal.

"You're gonna want an ice-cold Pabst Blue Ribbon for the performance," said the bouncer as I entered the steamy showroom on Sunday night. After I paid for two— one for my hot date, of course—another bouncer eyeballed our outfits and handed each of us lighters. "You look like the kind of girls who are into audience participation," he said. Never ones to shy away from such a come-on, we took our places in front of the stage, backlit with red and blue lights and a faint misting of fog, and waited for Buttrock Suites to begin.

The venue wasn't a rock club but the Velocity Mainspace Theatre, home of some of the most interesting contemporary dance in Seattle. In truth, I'm not an expert on the medium or the night's soundtrack, which created a blank slate for my visceral enjoyment of both. In plainer terms, I'm too young to be a buttrocker. Yeah, Def Leppard were still making music in 1993, but I was thrashing around to bands like the Offspring. Nobody wants to admit they remember the words to their songs, and it's doubtful they're worthy of tribute in the manner of Buttrock Suites III . . . sweetest, the latest installment of dancer-choreographer Diana Cardiff's celebration of hair metal.

The idea she launched in 2003 with Bob Gregory, Pam Gregory, Jana Hill, and Matt Mulkerin makes a lot of sense. Despite my initial hesitance to acknowledge what was the driving music of my own youth, I've grown to appreciate buttrock, whose revival has been an unstoppable pop culture force. The surge of emotion, the power chords! Attempting Ann Wilson's piercing yelps in "Alone" for a group of horrified drunks at karaoke! The Buttrock dancers may have gotten their kicks in similar ways—Cardiff admitted to rocking out to "More Than a Feeling" in her car—before bringing them to colorful life through movement.

Tonight's performance begins with Bob Gregory vamping Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive" for the crowd, eventually donning his trademark massive, crimped white mane as a transformative gesture. Some of the participants in the first two Buttrock Suites appear again, including Alex Martin, Hill, and Mulkerin, but the program's first half also features dancers from newish company Left Field Dance. Formed in 2004 by Heather Budd, Jody Kuehner, Molly Ouellette, and Jules Skloot, the group—seen in the playful Dancey Dance earlier this year—brought a similar unpretentiousness to their Suites together. Skloot uses Ouellette as a human air guitar, then mimics crowd surfing on the wave of the other women's backs as a life-size cutout of Jon Bon Jovi looks on. If it sounds like stuff that anybody could do, I think that's part of the fun. By incorporating serious dance moves into a version of what happens in your bedroom, they make you feel like rocking a real stage yourself. Following Left Field Dance's antics is one of the night's highlights, "Pour Some Cherry Pie," Drew Elliott and Lasara Jarvis' never-too-literal interpretation of two mashed-up buttrock favorites.

A little momentum is lost in the second half; in-jokey skits like "Storytime With Bob" seem most satisfying to longtime Buttrock followers. And when Mulkerin's "Unleash the Beast" reins him in instead, you get the joke but want more, more, more. Luckily, the atmosphere provides. Brian Mabe's lighting works wonders throughout, especially during an Aldo Nova/Foreigner/Mötley Crüe trilogy in which dancers emerge from the shadows like slow-motion video vixens. Some performances felt deeply personal— like Martin's "Now," where stadium-sized laser beams mirror the crowd's outstretched lighters, and Cardiff's Scorpions montage "You," which is arguably, in a show bursting with unchecked enthusiasm, the cherry on top of the whole delicious thing.

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