Hot! Hot! Hot!

Summer and Smoke in Alternative Spaces

Celebrating its 10th July of "homoeroticism for the whole family," Dixon Place's "HOT!" festival brought adventurous audiences together with queer artists from diverse disciplines. On the first night, with the air-conditioning fizzling, DP manager Sara Juli devised a typically loopy survival plan: She told everybody to strip naked and have a beer.

Tall, bald Jeffrey Gunshol opened the evening with a cheesy number so unfocused and uncategorizable it apparently could not be titled. He posed, occasionally danced with surprising grace, described a close encounter with a rat, quizzed us on deliberately obvious pop artifacts, lip-synched, and called himself the bastard boy-child of Boy George and Eminem. It was a mess, yet Gunshol held my heat-challenged interest by not taking himself and his spotlit moment seriously.

In Alexander Gish's intermittently pretty Landing Gear, three women shifted in and out of the beams of several flashlights. Cast as a piece about anonymity and "whether or not the choices we make in our lives are contingent upon how accountable we are for them in another's eyes," the dance awaits a convincing (and less ponderous) vision to redeem its visual contrivance. Brooklyn-based Laboratory Theater offered a sci-fi dance-theater piece called A Sign, a Grudge, a Blue Book. Coming late in the intermission-less program, the cartoonish plot often lost me, but I liked the talented trio's smooth integration of movement and acting.

By the second program, I hungered for something with feeling. That turned out to be Tamieca McCloud's geena, closing a show that included works by Anne Gadwa and Jennifer Allen. McCloud, a sinewy black sprite, portrayed a heroin addict fresh out of rehab trying to cope with her lover's defection. She'd make tentative forays into the space but soon retreat to the wall. She struggled with gravity. Her physical coherence and her strength to connect with the outside world appeared and disappeared. Uncertain and abandoned movement alternated with a delicate lyricism representing McCloud's character at her very best. Poetry by Kimabe and well-chosen music by Res, Rebekah, and Rebekah del Rio provided impetus, texture, and soulful support.

The Body Blend evening showcased collaborative works curated by Juli with Alexx Shilling. In You Want Toast With That?, made in partnership with lighting designer Amanda K. Ringger, Sharon Estacio envisioned Chris Isaak's twangy, desperate "Wicked Game" as the soundtrack to the life of a lovelorn diner waitress. This character's moments of sharp clarity—impetuous arabesques and twirls—glittered amid aimlessness and beer-swilling.

I'm not sure if video artist Kate Egan's faint, blurry contribution to Charles O. Anderson's solo, Bearing Witness, was meant to suggest the elusive nature of the ancient, storied past—Eden, Atlantis, Egypt—mused upon in an uncredited text. However, sitting near the video projector, I enjoyed the serendipitous aerial gambol of motes tinted electric blue. From my vantage point, they appeared to frame Anderson like fairy dust. He's a warrior of a dancer with the exquisite, springy power of Bill T. Jones at his most delectable. The full-evening work this solo anticipates will surely be a must-see.

Did Julian Armaya's Torrid—a tango/ contemporary ballet for a trio in velvet and leather (costuming by Daniel Irizarry)—represent the first appearance of pointe shoes at Dixon Place? Jen Abrams, collaborating with director Moira Cutler, wove set and improvised text and dance into Fried Eggs and English Muffins, including memories of September 11, the day the city "heaved and shook and emptied of its people." No element worked quite as well as her own bustling, near breathless presence—quintessentially New York.

Jehan's Goddessdance (American Theatre of Actors, July), a sumptuous production with ardent, talented performers, was a Middle Eastern Riverdance. Written, scored, and choreographed by Jehan Kamal, a master dancer with infectious joie de vivre and an earthy, real-woman's body, it celebrated the primal spirituality of belly dancing and the atomic power of women's sexuality. Thulani's narration and singing provided a kick-start to a rambling opening, but she was too earnest to mine the humorous nuggets in the text. (At the show's end, her exuberant West African moves proved that, given the chance, she can cut loose.) You might prefer the Las Vegas-style cane dance with a bevy of beauties in black bras and shiny, skin-tight slacks. I might prefer Mindy Hiyward's Loie Fuller turn in pleated, champagne-colored wings, or the commanding Serpentessa's riveting wriggles with a snake that calmly, elegantly draped itself around her head and neck. (Did anyone even notice the pretenders writhing in a sack on the floor?)

Boston's Monkeyhouse—which presented "ASPIC," seven works, at the New York International Fringe Festival (August)—makes dances that beguile and sometimes bite. Jaunty physical and comic skills support these young women as they pile on all manner of fun. The daffiness of Karen Krolak's sci-fi girlie show, What's Next, both enhanced and sent up its salaciousness. Silver tubes bobbled from the dancers' heads, a wrapped prosthesis elongated their legs, and huge rubber balls contorted their limber bodies. The troupe's sensuous display of flesh amid wearable art seemed at once pointedly fabricated and unselfconscious, a leap beyond old-school feminism. Curious titles such as Pygalgia and Ramfeezled sounded apropos as I helplessly slipped into Monkeyhouse's colorful world. But I was most affected by Krolak's 1997 tribute to two mentors, Mourning After. An engulfing red shroud at first concealed her black tulle skirt and a bodice of lethal, chiming quills. Her turbulence suggested thoughts of something unforgettable, and perhaps unforgivable.

 
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