Touchy Subjects (premiere)

Scott Wells & Dancers

Written by:
David E. Moreno
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“Yeah! Come on, come on, come on, come on
Now touch me, babe, Can’t you see that I am not afraid?”
The Doors

A gauntlet was thrown by politically correct, and radically charged sparkplug, Keith Hennessey. The recipient of that challenge was the fluid and juicy contact improver, Scott Wells. Hennessey was being sensitive about a gay joke in one of Wells’ dances. Wells, an air force brat with older brothers, puffed up his manly chest to Hennessey and said (so I imagine,) “Yeah, wanna do something about it!!?” Actually, what he said was, “Okay, let’s make a show.” The two San Francisco Bay Area choreographers hadn’t worked together in 23 years and all though their joints might be a bit stiffer (so I imagine) their creative artistry and relationship is quite youthful. “Touchy Subjects” is their beautifully realized collaboration, love child, and peace accord–piece accordingly. In fact, these two are so lovey dovey that they are already on the stage floor balancing, sitting, and, rolling all over each other as the audience enters the theater. Meanwhile, the rest of the company is mingling with the audience informally testing the appropriate boundaries between people and themselves. These interactions and intersections, how close can you get to someone before it gets weird or sexual, what assumptions get made, what fears stand in between, are precursors to what they are about to explore.

Once on a barren side lit stage, the company talks as much as they move, reading from lists, picking up a microphone, asking questions of one another as body contact is made. “Is this okay? Yes. Is this? No.” Sebastian Grubb sets up the opening segment mentioning the clumsy reaction two men have after unexpectedly touching another man. That punch to the shoulder, that awkward guy joke, that jarring tension that has to be expressed automatically to defend boundaries. The dancers start having one awkward social encounter after another, a fake hug, a missed kiss on the cheek, a kiss that hits smiling teeth–the gawkiness of physical contact with others. Their comical exchanges, bawdy gestures, and poetic disengagements weave in and out of progressively more contact dancing. The choreography is clever but never pretentious, everything about “Touchy Subjects” has a surprisingly authentic quality to it. The questions they ask one another are often new each performance, as are the stories they tell while dancing over and around each other. “What gender pronoun would you like me to use?” Even the contact improv style of dancing seems fresh, especially when they cover each other with blankets. These shrouded tableaus create moveable sculptures that collapse into puddles of boulders.

Megan Lowe sings her questions. She vocalizes her declarations being lifted by others or hanging upside down from an aerial rig. Her delivery is as good soaring through space as standing on her feet. Shira Yaziv sustains an impressive handstand for lengthy amounts of time–shaming most yogis–as dancers swirl and jump all around her. And, Hennessy and Wells dance spryly tumbling effortlessly in their late midlife bodies as if 23 years hadn’t passed. James Graham is spellbinding as usual, pulling off one of the few solos with a combination of angular robotic moves and gyrations that break in and out of fluid lines of perfection. The intensity of his movement is complimented by his deep inner presence and lightness that seems to deflect attention even as he astonishes. This quality of intensity and lightness, the mutual balance between subject and sincerity, are the most touching aspects about “Touchy Subjects.” The use of words in dance, the therapeutic processing of social and personal issues through movement, the vulnerability of asking and answering those things truthfully could easily come off as barrowed and arduous. Instead “Touchy Subjects” playfully offers honesty as a means for genuine connection.

David E. Moreno

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