Performance Review: Method Contemporary Dance
photo by Monique L'Heureux
One of the big things that choreographer Bradley Michaud mentions in his company's promotional materials is his aesthetic austerity. He’s interested in the movement, the energy and the physical abandon. He’s not looking for music, text or other visuals to tell his not-a-story. At the Bootleg Theater, he and his performing collaborators in Method Contemporary Dance followed that prescription in their weekend production, See If You Still Love Us.We walked in on the group executing some highly athletic floor crashing, arm slashing and legs-in-front-of-you jumps (the dancer jumps and extends both lower extremities forward) with some falls to the floor and rolls to stand again. Mostly in pairs, they appeared as fearless, body punishing (over time) and forceful.
True to the tone of the hour long work’s title, there seemed to be a threat inherent to the relationships between those six men and women on the stage. And the predominant lack of musical accompaniment brought their efforts smack into our faces.
Dressed in hooded gray/dark sweatshirts and similarly colored leggings, the athletes modified the costuming (credited to the company) as the piece continued. In the following sections, they removed their hoods, they stripped down to off white tank tops (think wife beaters) and they put on/took off their black athletic shoes. And those slight changes described most of the variations in the piece.
One exception to this hard-edged antagonistic physicality was lithe Nicole Cox’s subtle syncopated hip swings, circles and posturing center stage to contemporary Latin party music reminiscent of Carlos Santana’s Oye, Como Va? (music credited to the choreographer, Brad Lindsay, Hope Tato and Mike Robbins). The other variant was a trio for the men (Kalani McManus, Jay Bartley and the choreographer) set against a woman’s voice reading gay men’s personal ads. With that descriptive and direct sound score, the three undressed down to black under briefs (a little more than G strings) and stood checking each other out, before exchanging a few handshakes and suggestive back of the hand kisses.
The most dramatic integration of movement, lack of sound and intent was a duet for Michaud and Bartley. Already breathing heavily and loudly (breath was a constant audible accompaniment in the piece), both men shared some bottled water and proceeded with whole body attacks on one other. Think football scrimmage line. The broader, hairier and heavier Bartley was always smiling in his self-assurance and their combat repeatedly ended in aggressive mouth sucking, implying an aroused sexual response to competition and their human animalism.
Though the audience on Saturday gave the performers a deserved standing ovation—they certainly worked hard for their no-money—the bluntness with which everything happened tempered any evocative impact. It was all there in front of me, but it didn’t go anywhere else. There were different sections with different groupings of performers, but the quality of the movement was so similar throughout, that I was only able to admire the Olympian action and rarely connected to the piece. I tried envisioning the sextet as a team at a training center, but I didn’t see the camaraderie that usually adjoins that or enough contrast to their muscling. All the performers—Chelsea Asman and Jessica Harper not yet mentioned—are strong and outstanding movers, devoted to their director and all are formidable performers. I hope that next time we get to see an even greater range of who they are and what they can do.