VSA’s regional series returns with Whitman, war and psychology
Meshi Chavez’ We Two Boys bounces between violent, floor-heaving thumps and gentle gestures. Chavez and his dancing partner, Chip Sherman, gradually build an intimate story about their relationship. What the nature of that relationship is, exactly, is unclear. But it seems to embody both the torture and exquisite pleasure of loving someone in whatever capacity.
It’s also a show that Chavez didn’t think he’d bring to Albuquerque, says Susanna Kearny, director of Wild Dancing West. “He said he could never imagine coming back with this piece about male relationships.” Originally from Albuquerque, Chavez was chastised in high school for being gay. “I spent my time trying to figure out how to get from one class to the next without getting beat up,” he says.
Chavez moved to Portland, Ore., at the age of 18. Sixteen years later, he’s returning with We Two Boys to Wild Dancing West, VSA North Fourth Art Center’s contemporary dance festival. Now in its seventh year, Wild Dancing West is “the sibling of Global DanceFest,” says Kearny, referring to VSA’s international spectacle that began in 2001. After celebrating dance from around the world, creators decided “it was important to also focus on contemporary dance happening in our region,” she says.
Wild Dancing West started small on a shoestring budget in 2006, running over the course of four days. But in the last two years, North Fourth has been given grants from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as funding from Bernalillo County, and that’s allowed the festival to expand. This year, the event will last three weeks.
It begins Friday, May 25, with Chavez’ We Two Boys, which is based off Walt Whitman’s “We Two Boys Forever Clinging.” Chavez, who choreographed the piece, says he constructed it as a physical manifestation of the poem, working line by line to interpret how it made him feel and how it propelled him to move. The original music for the work will be performed by composer Adrian Hutapea.
The next week brings Los Angeles choreographer Victoria Marks’ An Evening of Film and Dance. Marks’ mediums are nontraditional. In addition to creating works for dancers (and dancing herself), she also makes pieces called “choreo-portraits,” which are for people who don’t identify as dancers. The award-winning Marks has served as a professor of choreography in the department of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA for nearly two decades. Her often subversive work aims to stretch social norms, and she does this by highlighting the sex appeal and wit of disabled dancers, and by relating the experiences of women and minorities.
Four films will screen at Wild Dancing West, which Marks made in collaboration with editor and director Margaret Williams. “Not About Iraq” attempts a reconciliation between notions of what dance can and cannot do. About citizenship and artistic expression, it lives in abstract concepts of impermanence, beginnings and endings. “Veterans” follows five U.S. soldiers who return from war with post-traumatic stress disorder as they try to restart their lives in Los Angeles. “Men” focuses its lens on the contrast between seven elderly men and their mortality—between a lush landscape and the paleness of their skin, the infiniteness of space and their impending expiration date, the deterioration of their bodies and their strength of character. “Mothers and Daughters” examines the sensual and pivotal nature of this key relationship.
After the films, members of the Public Academy for Performing Arts’ Contemporary Dance Ensemble will perform Marks’ most recent work for stage. It’s the culmination of Marks’ teaching residency at the Albuquerque-based PAPA.
The Tale of Natali finishes the festival. Choreographed by Donna Jewell, head of dance at the University of New Mexico Theatre and Dance department, and performed by Croatian native Natali Radelic, this is a piece about transformation. The story explores how imagined, fairy tale-like archetypes interact with modern life.
Every year, Kearny says the focus of the festival is simply to find engaging pieces and help them get noticed. “It’s wonderful to bring in national and international work, but what about what’s happening here?” she says. “There’s really interesting work going on. ... We don’t have to look very far.”