Review: Desire and sexual politics whirl among ‘Them’
A horrific, unforgettable action painting of male energy, intimacy and agony, the collaborative, partly improvisational “Them” comes to the REDCAT at Walt Disney Concert Hall as a reminder of the fierce beauty of contemporary dance — even contemporary dance backdated by more than a quarter-century.
Created in 1986, “Them” has been reconstructed into the award-winning version that opened Thursday for a four-performance run (through Sunday). The original creative troika has been reunited: choreographer-director Ishmael Houston-Jones, composer-guitarist Chris Cochrane and poet-narrator Dennis Cooper. In about an hour, they and a troupe of seven extraordinary young dancers give us a raw, multifaceted, sometimes shocking portrait of an obsessive-compulsive homosexual community looking for love, sex and — at the end — telltale signs of a dread disease.
Houston-Jones is a master of movement-haiku: simple action patterns that repeat, accelerate, intensify into definitive statements. Take his depiction of that quaint behavior known as street cruising — now as dated as a rotary phone in this age of computer hookups. We see men passing one another with increasing velocity and desperation until they crash against a wall in a collision of engulfing need. That’s it, that’s enough.
Cooper’s spoken texts can be sweet — as in a compendium of budding teenage sexuality — but are more often softly pitiless: “I can’t believe I once felt what I’m talking about,” he says about his romantic illusions, quickly abandoning them for capsule obituaries. And Cochrane’s guitar can rumble, weep and scream as we watch Arturo Vidich portray a violent homophobe preying upon the others at the moment of their greatest vulnerability.
It‘s all here: a sense of genuine connection in love duets purged of sentimentality; also nasty cycles of exploitation with the victim and victimizer equally unable to break free; the dating game as a swirl of ever-changing bodies. And, above all, there’s the rawboned, propulsive way American men move.
A cathartic confrontation between a blindfolded Enrico D. Wey and the carcass of a goat takes “Them” all the way into nightmare, but the sight of men fearfully searching their bodies for swollen lymph nodes is just as scary in its quiet, uninsistent way.
Although Niall Noel Jones can’t help exuding an innate nobility even when dancing ignoble acts, “Them” is queer in every sense of that word: an artifact of radical sexual politics having nothing in common with either the celebration of gay heroism in “Angels in America” or the desexualized male kissy-poo of “The New Normal” and other recent attempts to repackage and market gay identity. No, it’s dark, strange, rebellious, painful, ballsy — and brilliant. Look away if you dare.
Besides the dancers previously named, the multiethnic “Them” cast enlists Joey Cannizzaro, Felix Cruz, Jeremy Pheiffer and Jacob Slominski.
“Them,” REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles. 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. $20 and $25. (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org
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