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Jack Anderson

Chunky Move and Clunky Men

"I Want to Dance Better at Parties"
Chunky Move
July 11-15, 2006
Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., $36, $27 Joyce members
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, Chelsea
Tickets: (212) 242-0800 or www.joyce.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson July 12, 2006

Just as social dancing causes certain men to show off on the floor, it keeps others clinging to the wall. Gideon Obarzanek choreographed a sympathetic portrait of both agile and maladroit gentlemen in "I Want to Dance Better at Parties," presented by his company, Chunky Move, from Melbourne, Australia.

Photo by Igor Sapina.

He based his production on interviews with five men whose reactions to dancing range from joy to terror. Excerpts from their remarks are heard on tape and images of the men occasionally flash across screens in video designs by Michaela French.

But Obarzanek's choreography does not always try to duplicate the words literally. For one thing, although five men inspired him, his work has a cast of three men (Antony Hamilton, Lee Serle, and Adam Wheeler) and three women (Kristy Ayre, Jo Lloyd, and Delia Silvan), all of whom assemble in various pairings and groupings in choreography derived from salsa, Greek, and clogging styles, as well as contemporary theatrical dance techniques. A comparably eclectic taped score comes from Jason Sweeney and Cailan Burns of PrettyBoy Crossover.

Some episodes relate directly to the men's reminiscences. For instance, a widower's remarks on grief prompt tense movements. And Obarzanek has devised amusing choreography to accompany the musings of a gauche fellow who can't dance at all and even hates attempting it. As portrayed by Serle, the company's tallest man, this shy retiring guy becomes an inescapably conspicuous beanpole. Other dancers make vain attempts to lure him into motion. But such invitations only cause Serle to grimace and clutch his crotch in anguish. So, too, a contorted duet with Ayre expresses extreme distress.

Some scenes evoke emotional states in ways less directly tied to narratives. Most of the dancers appear tall on stage, and Hamilton, the shortest man, gets comically mismatched with towering female partners. At several points, audible breathing becomes a sign of discomfiture; there is a scene for twitchy gasping women, an epidemic of hyperventilation infects the cast so that bodies inflate and deflate like balloons, and a ferocious ensemble sends people crashing to the ground.

But the pleasures of dancing are also affirmed: for instance, in a hearty line dance filled with uninhibited hops and kicks and a solo in which a bare-chested Wheeler relishes the sensual delights of languidly swaying and posing.

The production, which reaches a quiet conclusion, offers few revelations about just what precisely in the male psyche, or in our society, makes men either eager or reluctant to dance. But Obarzanek's choreography is never merely glib. And the skilled members of Chunky Move make even their characters' clunkiest moves entertaining and, occasionally, poignant.

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