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Intimacy, humor and technical panache combine in SB Dance's "The Pushers," a modern and mature exploration of the closets we all find ourselves in and how we get out.
Inspired by "Just Kids," a book by singer-songwriter Patti Smith that describes her and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's artistic and sexual awakening, the piece blends dance, theater and video projection into what the company's artistic director, Stephen Brown, calls a "dance circus spectacle for curious minds."
The original piece, which opened last weekend to celebrate Pride events and runs through this weekend, also features Brown onstage in a full-length piece for the first time since 2004.
The show begins as you walk into the theater; the space is lit with a deep royal blue and there is a bar set up in the corner. The audience is invited to buy drinks and mingle; slowly you become aware that the dancers are entering the space. They greet people they know, totally shattering the idea of the fourth wall behind which the audience can safely hide. The effect is one of intimacy; we are all in the performance together. Slowly, after about 30 minutes, members of the audience drift to their seats.
The feeling of intimacy continues with the production elements. The set, by Brown, and costumes by Carolyn "Winnie" Wood are sparse. The actors wear simple red and white pieces, underwear mixed with pants and dresses, and the set and props consist of a large metal pole, white ottomans, a large white sheet and a white mattress onto which images are projected. The bar is also used as a set piece. These elements suggest a sort of young, student-dorm feel, as if the dancers are stripped bare and are experiencing the passage into an adult world.
Lighting lifts the set, prop and costumes into a high pitch of beauty. Jessica Greenberg uses bold washes in bright, snappy rainbow colors, mixed with sharp, crisp, no-nonsense spotlights.
Brown is joined onstage by a mixture of SB Dance vets and newcomers: Christine Hasegawa, Annie Kent, Dani Diaz, Juan Carlos Claudio, Nathan Shaw, John Allen and Florian Alberge. The piece is directed by Wood.
The thing I most enjoy about SB Dance performances is their humor. The pieces always blend a high level of technique with elements that are comedic, so you don't feel you are watching a "serious" modern-dance piece.
In "The Pushers," Brown, in a T-shirt and jeans, delivers a funny monologue about moving to New York as a young dancer that includes my very favorite section of the show a misunderstanding that starts with an innocent reference to "making brownies."
The other dancers also deliver monologues, and Shaw sings. This is a bold choice and in lesser hands could be a recipe for disaster. Generally, if you study dance, you don't train as an actor or a singer, and so it is up to the dancers to create a world that is true and authentic. And every one of them does. Kudos to Wood for pulling this out of them, and you can also see the personal work each of them has done; their faces and bodies portray definite characters even when they are not speaking.
Standouts are Claudio, who brings an incredible panache and sass to the stage, and the three women, Hasegawa, Kent and Diaz, who all manage to create bold characters but also show their vulnerability.
The show is just over an hour long, and after the performers take their bows, the audience is invited back onstage to dance with the dancers and have more drinks. There was a sort of ebullience to the idea that we could dance and interact with the professionals, making the show a neat, beautiful, vivid package.
When • Friday, June 13, and Saturday, June 14; drinks at 8 p.m., show at 8:30 p.m. Matinee is Sunday, June 15, at 4 p.m., with the show starting at 4:30 p.m.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center Black Box, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City.
Tickets • $15-$20 by calling 801.355.ARTS or online at arttix.org. Buy six or more tickets to receive a 25 per cent discount, Sunday matinee is 10 percent off.
Running time • One hour and six minutes with no intermission. The audience is invited to mingle before and after the show.