Dance Lovers 8

Duets by Couples, Crushes, & Comrades

Written by:
David E. Moreno
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Molly & Aviva Rose-Williams “Mind The Gap”

Chanel Bibene & Daiane Lopes da Silva, “We Don’t Know But We Know”

Melissa Lewis & Johnny Huy Nguyen, “I Will Be”, Choreography: James Graham

Snowflake Towers & Xav Ome-Lauren, “Chaac & Yum: Exploring Indigenous Two-Spirit Gender and Sexual Fluidity”

Lani Dickinson & James Bowen, “Little Bird”, Choreography: Robert Dekkers

Jeremy Bannon-Neches and Emma Lanier, “You Go I Go”

James Graham and Sebastian Grubb, “4 Years Later”. Choreography: James Graham

For eight consecutive years, choreographer and Gaga dancer extraordinaire James Graham has produced “Dance Lovers: Duets by Couples, Crushes, & Comrades.” It has become an eagerly anticipated Valentine event in San Francisco, although this originally had more to do with studio dates and availability than romance.  Graham makes his annual selection by approaching artists that he respects, balancing their different styles and trainings, nonprofessionals with professionals (last year dancing with his mother), with at least one duet per season given as a platform for newer choreographers. The dances are either choreographed by the couple or by another choreographer. Most of us would assume that couples that dance within the same company have multiple opportunities to dance together but this is actually rare.

“Dance Lovers” is like opening a heart-shaped box of chocolates–what hidden gems will be found, what are the background stories of each of these couples, who are the crushes, and which couple will sparkle up the night?  Among the surprises and highlights of this performance was a clever floor to ceiling pole dance, “Mind The Gap”, by siblings Molly and Aviva Rose-Williams. Presented with smart comedic flare and athletic prowess, these twin sisters revealed the playful and ironic sides of their relationship with perfect timing, wide-eyed humor and casual coolness. And they did so effortlessly–nimbly climbing up or sliding down the pole, or nonchalantly hanging onto it with one leg. Contrasting this whimsical performance was a new dance by the Berkeley Ballet Theater’s artistic director, Robert Dekkers, called “Little Bird”, featuring the lyrical dancing of Lani Dickinson & James Bowen. The piece was short and sweet yet full of nuanced content and was as tender as nymphs frolicking in the woods. Their interracial pairing and Dickinson’s disability of one arm add a powerful subtext to their elegant performance that minimizes the spatial apprehension between disabled and non-disabled dancers. Oakland-based transwoman and music producer, Star Amerasu’s delicate and soulful song rested on dancers like a feathered blanket, as their simple white shirts flowed gracefully with them—Bowen shirtless and Dickinson with an off-the-shoulder cut.

“4 Years Later” the celebration of a long friendship and male bonding extravaganza between super dancers James Graham and Sebastian Grubb, was worth the four year wait since their last award-winning duet. “4 Years Later” is a lovefest made in a locker room with muscle flexing moves, snotty face attitude standoffs, and a rivalry over who can throw the medicine ball harder and faster. It’s also the vulnerable container of that fragile bond between bros, as portrayed through a starkly lit pieta-like tableau of Grubb sitting in a chair holding Graham who is draped across him. The image is held in silence and returns three different times between segments and following a blackout. The image holds its power and impact each time, continually expressing a deeper tenderness and caring–especially in one variation when Graham is completely naked with Grubb fully clothed.  In between these lengthy pauses the two soared with tangible chemistry and athletic physicality. This is a partnership that should continue to develop new works every four years to mark the maturing of their relationship and talent. And, should they “open up” their dynamic relationship (like so many relationships in San Francisco…) it would be fun to see them dance with Jeremy Bannon-Neches, whose vibrant physicality and lyricism also shone throughout his duet with Emma Lanier in “You Go I Go.”

David E. Moreno.

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