Program pays homage to male dancers

January 25, 1993|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,Contributing Writer

More than half a century ago, dancer Ted Shawn had the idea that it was OK for men to perform in modern dance. So, he got a company of athletes and other guys and trained them at his rustic farm, "Jacob's Pillow," in Massachusetts. Last weekend at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, nine male dancers paid homage to the modern dance pioneer and his group, Men Dancers, with a program of 10 dances that encircled the choreographic accomplishments of Mr. Shawn.

Curiously, it was the words and movements of a woman that provided the prologue for the evening. "Ode," by choreographer Ann Carlson, presented a series of "in jokes" for and about dancers. All nine men dressed in suits stood solemnly in a single line across the stage while silent film images of Mr. Shawn and his dancers flickered behind them. In unison, they chanted "fag, sissy, effeminate, (cough), arrogant, hairy, narcissistic, dumb . . ." They presented the stereotypes, then toppled them with their strong movement and physical presence.

"Jacob's Pillow's Men Dancers: The Ted Shawn Legacy" is both a company and an evening of dance performance. Mr. Shawn was not a noted choreographer, and the program contained only two of his works, "Dervish" and the better known "Kinetic Molpai." Instead, Mr. Shawn's idea was the cause to celebrate, and this well-balanced program offered both dances about men and men dancing.

Throughout the evening, the themes of athleticism and aggression ignited the dances. The excerpt of Jose Limon's "The Unsung," with its heroic images of Native Americans, put athleticism in the forefront, as did "The Garden Alone" by Demetrius A. Klein and "Surrender II" by Stephen Petronio. Both dances used wrestling moves for a foundation, but for widely disparate ends. "Garden" was a sentimental coming-of-age duet, and "Surrender," also a duet, was a dark, hurts-so-good kind of number.

Rick Darnell's "The Brides of Frankenstein" had a campy blend of jock humor and dance satire. The four sections were filled with bodies slamming against each other on the floor or tossed into the air, and wild lifts and catches. The whole dance looked as if it would look at home on the playing field, despite the tutus the men wore.

Pilobolus' "Ocellus" gave us abstract images that metamorphosed the men into oddly shaped denizens of the deep. And Garth Fagan's "Oatka Trail" abstracted man's identification with nature in a wonderfully danced trio.

The program closed with Mr. Shawn's reconstructed "Kinetic Molpai," a work filled with broad geometric and symmetrical patterns and overt emotionalism. Today's dances may be more refined, but they're not any more athletic.

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