Opening Nights: Men in Dance Festival

This year's Men in Dance Festival offers an impressive variety of work to challenge preconceived notions of masculinity. The stigma of the male dancer served as the inspiration for the very first festival in 1996. Today, seeing men perform roles of strength, weakness, and whimsy can be both surprising and inspiring. In the eight sections of the program (not all of which repeat in the fest's second weekend), dancers of all ages and abilities perform everything from tap to ballet to modern dance. Throughout these works, a multifaceted idea of the masculine emerges, whether it's through the charisma of a trio of high-school tappers riffing to the syncopations of a snare drum in the fanciful 15 to 20; the tribal Cypher, a piece by Barry Kerollis that features the soaring, balletic strength of its three dancers; or the intensity of Wade Madsen's Breath of Light, a heartbreakingly sensuous pas de deux with an AIDS subtext. If there's a show-stopping moment in the festival, it came last weekend courtesy of PNB's Peter Boal. (Sorry, no repeat.) He danced solo to Shostakovich in the premiere of Donald Byrd's haunting Carveresque, wearing jeans, a black T-shirt, and white Converse sneakers. Boal arced his arms in precise yet tender reaches, showed a whispery lightness in his turns, and displayed sheer mastery of classical movement. He exuded a tough yet vulnerable gravity. (Not bad for a dancer in his 40s who's supposedly retired from the stage.) The idea of the masculine gets a thorough investigation across the festival, and it falters only when obvious stereotypes come into effect, as in Eva Stone's Me Over You, a sort of mock-ballet in four acts that features four dancers, one in a tutu. The most compelling group piece is Deborah Wolf's Frattura, in which five men dance in a ritualistic formation that gradually crescendos until finally fracturing. Why this powerful, graceful solidity must split apart, we are left to wonder. 

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