Thursday night dancer/choreographer Kim Lusk premiered her first full-length show, Dance for Dark Horses, to a packed house at Velocity. Velocity selected Lusk as their "Made In Seattle" fellow this year, which spurred several generally glowy previews in the arts sections of magazines around town, and so expectations were high.
This sense of anticipation provided the perfect context for the show, which is ultimately about perils of striving to achieve anything at all in this ridiculous country. We must be strident visionaries with our own brilliant ideas, but we also have to be good team players. We must demand the limelight, but we don't deserve all the attention. We must be fabulous! But also humble. We're all awkward idiots who are insecure about everything, and yet we all have to become famous Academy Award-winning doctors who saved Latin or whatever, or else live in shame as miserable failures.
In Dark Horses, Lusk revels in all that tension. She juxtaposes the awkward with the graceful, the pedestrian with the classical, the backyard pop-group routine with the virtuosic solo—all to hilarious effect. You end up falling in love with everyone's humanity, and laughing (!) along with them as these extroverted introverts (or are they introverted extroverts?) exhaust themselves in their attempt to earn your approval.
To the extent that there's a narrative, Lusk shapes it around the body types and personalities of the four primary dancers—Alexander Pham, Erin McCarthy, Shane Donohue, and Lusk herself. These are our "dark horses," the kids who nobody thinks can win. It seems like Lusk is consciously (and humorously) working against the dance world's expectations for what a dancer "should" look like, in an effort to expand creative possibilities for choreographers and dancers alike.
Lusk is tiny, slight, and soft-featured. Half of her movements are tiny, slight, and soft—but the other half are big, cocky, and come from the land of cartoon cowboys. She struts around stage with a fake lasso in her hand and a gung-ho look on her face. She stomps and hunches her shoulders if she were approaching a group of bandits.
The show continues to play with gender expectations and notions of strength (i.e. who catches whom, who supports whom) in the role Erin McCarthy plays. She does not have a classically thin dancer's body, but she shows off her strength and flexibility by nailing a number of impressive jumps and splits, proving she can hold the room's attention as well as any dance star. Pham is shorter and smaller than your average male dancer, and Lusk plays this fact up by having McCarthy catch him in a jump. Pham's got serious skills, and he also shows off his power and largesse in several incredible sequences throughout the performance.
The absolute funniest, most fascinating, crowd-pleasing, wish-I-could-bottle-it-up-and-release-it-in-my-studio-apartment-when-I'm-feeling-sad performance was Donohue's tambourine dance. Donohue is tall and stringy, and the role he's dancing, like many of us, seems to both crave and shy away from the spotlight. But when a certain Marvel comic book hero walks cross the stage and hands him a tambourine, his consciously awkward solo routine turns into a hilarious, transcendently-good display of weird-ass bravado.
Could the whole thing have been 15-20 minutes shorter? Sure. But I laughed out loud approximately 14 times during this performance and left with a warm heart, which aren't often things that happen to me at dance performances. (Not that dance can't be funny, or that non-funny dance can't be incredibly enjoyable and even "heartwarming," but whatever, you know what I'm saying.) Anyway, go see it!