High energy dance is unspeakably physical
Anthony King | Downtown News
There are plenty of ways to classify dance—from grandiose ballet to street-smart krumping, and from modern jazz to the pop-culture speed of “So You Think You Can Dance”—but there really is only one purpose: to tell a story.
It is up to the choreographers to determine just what that story will be and the dancers to interpret that story, but it also takes a little interaction from a third sphere, the audience. And for four years, audiences in San Diego have fallen under the spell of the annual production “RAW,” a collaborative evening of contemporary performances produced by Malashock Dance.
Independent choreographer Michael Mizerany is producing “Malashock/RAW4,” bringing the company’s unique, cutting-edge dance to the Lyceum Stage Nov. 14 – 16. Mizerany will be debuting his piece “Unspeakable,” calling it “high energy work that is unabashedly bold and undeniably risky.”
In part, “Unspeakable” addresses a taboo subject: physical desire in a very dysfunctional family, but he said he has never really shied away from difficult subjects.
“The whole thing behind RAW for me is confronting issues that people normally think dance won’t do,” Mizerany said. “I think that dance can address things in a really good way.”
In a previous “RAW,” Mizerany brought bullying to the dance floor, which he said came from a very personal place in his past. While his experience dealt with bullying because of his sexuality, the bullying piece was a universal look at an epidemic that has plagued almost everyone.
“We’re all human beings, and we all go through the same trials. [It is] more about things we share and less about things that make us different,” he said, acknowledging that young people dealing with their sexuality today, while still difficult, have more support and resources available.
“If we focus on things that make us similar … we’re still part of the change. We’re still part of the cycle,” he said.
In “Unbelievable,” Mizerany brings five Malashock dancers together to convey the touchy subject: Nicholas Strasburg, Justin Viernes, Blythe Barton, Stephanie Harvey and Laura Bender.
Strasburg, a North Park resident who also danced in Mizerany’s bullying piece, said he especially appreciates Mizerany’s style.
“His subject matter is usually dark, especially for RAW,” Strasburg said. “He has a pretty good idea of a story line that he likes to do, and he has a definite technique and dance style that is unique.”
Technically trained at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, Strasburg has a unique story himself, coming into dance. He was studying to be a roller coaster engineer at Portland State University—taking several physics classes focused on movement and velocity—when he realized he was literally moving in the wrong direction.
He said he was attracted to the unusual field because it was “something that makes so many people, so happy,” and then realized dance would achieve the exact same thing. After graduating from Cornish, he moved to San Diego and looked into City Ballet before approaching Malashock Dance.
The move, he said, was perfect, and exciting for him as well as his new audience.
“I have never heard somebody come see a Malashock show who wasn’t surprised or wasn’t excited, or left bored,” Strasburg said. “It’s a very dynamic style of modern [dance]. … It’s always exciting to watch because we do work that seems to defy how the body wants to move.”
Strasburg said dancing Mizerany’s choreography is not just physically challenging, but by adding emotional aspects to the movement gives another layer of challenge to the performance. Learning the moves, however, comes first.
“When you start learning a dance, our bodies do the movement so often that we create muscle memory, so our bodies remember how it wants to move with the momentum of how we’ve been doing it,” Strasburg said.
Those emotions – sometimes cathartic, sometimes overpowering – come later, and Mizerany is quick to say he does ask a lot from his dancers.
“Physically it’s just go, go, go,” Mizerany said, calling the emotional side “some of the hardest stuff” to present to the audience. For him, the pay off is worth it.
“It certainly challenges people to look at dance in a different way,” he said.
In addition to Mizerany’s “Unspeakable,” the show also features new choreography by Malashock Dance Artistic Director John Malashock and guest choreographer Andy Noble, whose NobleMotion Dance company is located in Houston. Malashock, a Mission Hills resident, will debut “The Garden Path of Lou & Laurie,” a drama depicting an imaginary, yet doomed, relationship that uses songs by counter-culture musicians Laurie Anderson and the late Lou Reed.
In “Beast,” Noble has choreographed an “aggressive, physically-daring and theatrical” story, organizers said, that uses facial expression and movement to initiate the choreography. Movement in the dancers’ faces are examined, then distorted: “unlocking the inner beast,” they said.
“Malashock/RAW4” will be staged for three performances, Nov. 14 – 16 at 8 p.m. at the Lyceum Stage, 79 Horton Plaza in Downtown. General admission tickets are $25, and there is a VIP reception after the final performance on Saturday; tickets (which include the show) are $75.