New York

Doug Elkins Dance Company

Dance Theater Workshop

There’s little subtlety in a hopped-up hormone, so appropriately Doug Elkins’ The Testosterone Diversions, 1988, began with a knockdown drag-out duet. Two burly male dancers in coonskin caps and biker pants caromed around the stage after fixing “I dare you” smirks on the audience. They slammed into each other or thudded to the floor, as if expecting to hit a trampoline. Movements that could have passed for “dancerly” they neutralized by wiping noses with the backs of their hands. They ran the short gamut of movement possibilities between samurai and linebacker, and the sequence ended with one of them bellowing “Stella!” Yet the piece wasn’t just another critique of macho—that easy target.

What’s body language to a tough guy? His life. In both The Testosterone Diversions and The Patrooka Variations (Conspiracies of the Seduced), 1988, Elkins’ choreography illustrated how movement creates a personal style, and thus an identity. The quartet of women who followed the coonskin duet announced their names and astrological signs (“Lisa, Aries”), but the real clues about who they might be showed only in their physicality. And that kept changing. Coy turned to reckless; a pirouette turned into a kick in the butt.

A self-proclaimed “style thief,” Elkins will cobble breakdancing with Merce Cunningham and post-Cunningham, flamenco and Swan Lake with sports. One style would shudder through a body, to be replaced by another—always with great precision, which set each movement in relief as just a style. The company always maintained a certain self-conscious, aggressive detachment, as if to say, “I’m just performing this movement. It isn’t about me. Wanna make something of it?” The dancers occasionally stared into the audience, making us both voyeur and mirror.

Both dances were filled with physical references to real characters, from Bruce Lee’s fists of fury to Charlie Chaplin’s herky-jerky. They were also layered with jokes about gender, about dance—in other words, the meaning of movement. At a romantic moment in The Patrooka Variations, a man sauntered onstage to music from Bizet’s Carmen, and a woman ran at him and swan-dived onto his chest. The choreography always undercut the anticipated sexuality. Romantic partnerings between men looked more goofy than homoerotic. When a man gave a woman a meaningful glance, she would turn to give one to the audience. A James Brown record would start, get out a shout, and be cut off. It was an all-inclusive interruptus, then on to the next thing, the pace fast and repetitions few. I’d be tempted to call this “Dancing for Obsolete Bodies” if the performances hadn’t been so exuberant. The company performed throughout with a gleeful self-mockery, as though the whole thing were about going through the motions and they knew it.

C. Carr