i was told there would be cake
April 11 & 12 at 8
Houston Ballet, Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab
601 Preston St
If you caught Hope Stone Dance Company’s last show, say please and thank, a kid-friendly dance concert about the transformative power of art-making, you know that artistic director Jane Weiner is capable of conjuring dance of the utmost enchantment and whimsy. This weekend’s i was told there would be cake, however, marks a dramatic shift in tone and thematic content. The cake in question isn’t all sugar and spice and everything nice. In fact, there is no cake at all because, like the catchphrase from the videogame Portal, the cake is a lie.
Weiner wades through turbulent water in this show, as evidenced in called back, a repertory piece I’ve seen three times by now and could very easily watch another three. The trio of Courtney D. Jones, Alonzo Lee Moore IV, and Candace Rattliff are powerhouses in not only their movement, but in their commitment to their exploration of the dance’s thematic content. Dressed in trench coats and shielded by umbrellas, they jazz it up across the stage from one point to the next. Masking tape circles are created on pivotal areas of the stage, a commemoration of key moments in the sometimes ebullient, sometimes apathetic journey of life.
Of course, a life is marked just as much by the people who are absent as the people who are present. The dancers move shoes—high heels, flats, sneakers—into positions across the stage, stand-ins for the people who have passed along or passed away. called back proves a lovely meditation of life and death and the gray zones in between.
Weiner’s new piece, fandango, is a funny, heartfelt, and heartily danced take on masculinity in 2014. The quintet of Moore, Jesus Acosta, Shohei Iwahama, Nick Nesmith, and guest artist and former company member Joe Modlin caress one another hand-to-face, face-to-face, partnering up with a sense of gentle handling that belies their bodily prowess. Much of fandango is set to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and the dancers lip synch and act out some of the lyrics with comedic precision. The movement is beautiful, and alternates between loose-limbed bursts of power and elegant, full-bodied phrases.
It’s inevitable that Queen’s anthem layers the dance with thematic associations of gay empowerment, but I love what this dance says about men of every persuasion. The men of fandango are emotive, thoughtful, and aware of the necessity and sacredness of physical contact. They are funny without any bro-code buffoonery. They are stalwart and steadfast without the façade of overplayed toughness. The final image of the quintet melting into one another is a touching reminder of the many possibilities of manhood free of cultural constraints.
The program also includes in situ, a piece dedicated to the men and women in uniform who selflessly serve this country, and boat, boat, helicopter, a work-in-progress that showcases the fine partnering work that has come to characterize Weiner’s best dances.