What does it mean to be a man? It’s a big question, and Michael Mizerany has explored it with depth, wit, and steamy sensuality in a series of programs—called Man Dance—for Compulsion Dance & Theatre, the company he founded two years ago.
The latest (and, Mizerany says, final) installment of the series, “ManTrap,” opened Thursday night at Diversionary Theatre. The work spans twenty years, from a 1997 solo to a premiere—the title piece, “ManTrap,” which was the least satisfying of the five dances.
In “ManTrap,” a haughty femme fatale (Brittany Taylor) enjoys her power over a panting B-boy (Isaac Kalimo). She prowls the stage in a slinky minidress and stiletto heels; he looks gobsmacked. He shows off his moves against the back wall and strips off his shirt, displaying a buff tattooed torso; she stands, arms folded, with apparent disdain, but she’s watching. Then she strips, to bra and trunks, and does an elegant dance—Taylor has gorgeous extensions—for him. At last, they briefly get together, but the combat continues in a prickly phrase where they come face to face, then push each other away.
This kind of approach-avoidance ballet is a Mizerany signature, and it usually crackles with sexual tension. That doesn’t, however, happen in “ManTrap.” Maybe it’s because Kalimo is a hip hop dancer and unused to partnering, or maybe this piece just hasn’t yet jelled. But the lack of chemistry was notable, in comparison to two other pieces, “[manhandled]” and “Man Clan.”
“[manhandled]” (2016) opens with Andrew Holmes and Nicholas Strasburg inching toward each other in silence. They’re nearly naked (they’re wearing dance belts, essentially thongs for men), and the lighting is so shadowy it’s like watching film noir. The lighting (beautifully designed by Curtis Mueller) shifts to Venetian blind-like stripes as they meet and embrace … but Holmes quickly backs away and goes into an eloquent solo—tortured insect-like creeping and his body deeply contracting then exploding—as Strasburg lounges in a corner, watching. (Another signature in this work is one dancer simply watching another).
Then it’s Strasburg’s turn to solo, flinging his muscular body and sometimes curling into a fetal position. They come together (after putting on shorts and singlets, though I don’t understand why) in graceful unison arabesques and acrobatic supports, the contrast between their bodies—Holmes thin with delicate features and exquisitely clean moves, Strasburg like a circus strongman—striking.
And things get volatile in “Man Clan” (2015), especially in an erotically charged wrestling match between Strasburg and Bradley Lundberg. Mizerany has said this piece—set to songs by Woodkid, including the urgent “Run Boy Run”—deals with the stereotype that aggression equals strength. What stood out for me, watching the seasoned Strasburg and Lundberg with young Martin Anthony Dorado, was how much onstage authority comes with maturity.
The program also includes two powerful solos, including the the deliciously raunchy, Lester Horton Award-winning “Bump in the Road.”
Performed by Strasburg, “Bump in the Road” (1997) is a tour de force of vamping, struggling as if with unseen opponents, and pumping fists. And there’s no sound but Strasburg’s ragged breaths … described drolly by Mizerany (in a 2015 interview) as “part of what happens when you practice the manly art of self-gratification.”
In “Via Dolorosa” (2015), a solo set to the ethereal “O Magnum Mysterium” by Morten Lauridsen, Holmes scrambles with what feels like desperation. At moments, he stands Christ-like, head flung back and arms outstretched. “Holy body,” I thought, and in a way, that’s what all of these dances are about—the holiness of the body and of sexuality and desire.
“ManTrap” continues today at 2 and 8 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 and 7 p.m.