NEW YORK — Among the many fun events during Pride Weekend, attending a performance by 10 Hairy Legs, the all-male dance troupe based in Highland Park, is a stand-out. This company’s terrific new program, which opened on June 27 and runs through June 29 at New York Live Arts, in Chelsea, is guaranteed to inspire viewers with its subtle athleticism and heart.
Stephen Petronio’s playful duet “Bud” — in which a relaxed Will Tomaskovic must hang on for dear life as his partner, Michael Wang, pulls him into swooping lifts —is familiar from earlier seasons. Set to Rufus Wainwright’s amazed-to-be-gay song “Oh What a World,” this cheerful frolic for two men wearing complementary jacket halves always feels celebratory.
The balance of the repertoire is new, and the variety of movement styles extraordinary. It ranges from Yin Yue’s sinuous and elastic trio “So It Goes” to the staccato imagery of Adam Barruch’s premiere “Heist,” and onward to Larry Keigwin’s ebullient “Cruise Control,” a second premiere in which a wistful interlude tints the hijinks of the ensemble with a drop of the blues.
Yue cleverly salts her choreography with sharp gestures, oblique angles and moments when an expansive intake of breath suggests ecstasy. But despite these tactics and a section that contrasts the stillness of a soloist (Tomaskovic) with the speed of Jared McAboy and Robert Mark Burke performing in unison, “So It Goes” remains overwhelmingly a dance of impulse. Here the men’s task is to surrender to the flow of movement without losing control, and they do this superbly.
Sections in which two men dance parallel contrast with entanglements in a way that seems suggestive, although Yue never makes it obvious what she has in mind. The world she creates in dreamy half-light seems at times like a hall of mirrors in which the men become self-obsessed, and then seek to connect with others who are alike but different. In the context of this program, at least, the dance could be a metaphor for gay life.
“Heist,” in contrast, seems only incidentally a dance for men, and though the present cast give it a weight and physicality that viewers may appreciate, this mechanistic ensemble could just as easily be performed by women. The key is visceral tension. Barruch’s work is typically high-strung, and here he seems to have contrived a noir-ish scenario about jewel thieves on the loose, borrowing safe-cracking gestures like dial-turning and drilling (disturbingly, the drill goes into a man’s throat) and creating a heart-pounding atmosphere of suspense.
Derek Crescenti opens the piece lying prone on the floor like a man who has been shot, but then stirs into agonized consciousness watched over by a line of four men standing somberly upstage with hands behind their backs. They approach and absorb him into their midst. Machines do not know fear and guilt, however, so in order for Barruch to achieve the desired effect of borderline hysteria, the choreographer must interrupt the ensemble’s mindless tramping and its splendid group architecture with break-out solos and gestures in which a man stares at his arm, checks his pulse or claws at his own chest, as if fighting for air. That drilling gesture may signal the way into a vault, but it also has the physical intimacy of a tracheotomy.
Eminently resourceful, “Heist” is filled with expressive and rhythmic structures, perhaps the most inventive of which has the men create a “mountain” shape with their forearms, which then part to reveal a giant “diamond” hidden inside.
The piece feels grim, but tension can lead in different directions. “Heist” could have been a comedy if, instead of its commissioned score by Roarke Menzies, the choreographer had placed tongue in cheek and set his dance to a James Bond medley including, naturally, the song “Diamonds Are Forever.” As things stand, “Heist” is just shy of going over-the-top, with fluent Alex Biegelson and a tautly intense Burke delivering great performances.
Campiness is more the province of Keigwin, however, as we see again in “Cruise Control,” with its score of jazz standards sung by Diana Ross. Taking to the air, the men act light-hearted, shoving and tugging one another into adventures. A sudden embrace or an arm draped casually over another man’s shoulder as a pair of men exit together hint at romance.
Keigwin gets to the point when the group leaves Crescenti and McAboy alone together for a catch-me-as-you-can duet that hits the brakes when these lovers meet each other’s eyes in deep, soul-stirring gazes. Crescenti is just a tease, however, who will leave McAboy stranded in the noble lunge that the other man had once been happy to climb. No hard feelings, though. Keigwin isn’t into downers, and eventually the featured pair rejoin the romp that begins to feel more and more like a series of liaisons with partners who are never quite “the one.”
Maybe it’s time to change the music here, too, although it’s hard to imagine this group dancing to the “Bridal March.” Carry on, fellas!
Remaining shows are at 7:30 p.m. June 28-29; visit newyorklivearts.org. For more on 10 Hairy Legs, visit 10hl.org.
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