The Pushers

Sex, religion, gender, race, art, and drugs. All of these topics were confidently (sometimes cockily) juggled by SB Dance’sThe Pushers, all the while gliding through the wine and beer that was served to audience members. The show is truly a modern day cabaret. Each attendee was given a velcro-backed seat marker to hold their place while they moseyed up to the bar and mingled amongst the high bar tables that scattered the stage. Eventually company members, Nathan Shaw, Juan Carlos Claudio, Christine Hasegawa, John Allen, Annie Kent, Florian Alberge, Dani Diaz and Stephen Brown himself trickled into the pre-show party, bringing with them the buzz of imminent performance. Purposeful conviviality abounded. Everyone present seemed to know that they were a vital part of setting the mood for the rest of the evening.

Around 8:45 the house lights dimmed and each audience member began to carefully find their seat, glass in hand, possibly considering what would happen if they remained onstage. They might have been forced by John Allen to take a shot (of what was supposedly hard liquor). He did just that to Christine Hasegawa, cradling her head, throwing the liquid down her throat and letting her recover, just to accost her system with another, and one more, and one more, and one more. This demonstration of power and submission recurred in other parts of the show and sometimes the gender roles were switched, but it was apparent from the onset that we were seeing a show through a primarily male lens.

The scene eventually morphed into a more upbeat one. The tables were removed, and SB Dance’s signature pole entered. Then the entire cast accelerated the show, walking fast and dipping underneath the fifteen-foot-tall pole held limbo-style by two or three people. Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” accompanied this movement sequence, which became the interim activity for the entire show. The pole was expertly wielded by each company member like a weapon of fate, forcing others to duck out of the way; or it was held perpendicular to the ground and became a stripper pole that catapulted individuals above their counterparts to slither down to the ground. The movement in the show was intensely physical, including many lifts and group-dependent formations. This physical prowess supported the overtly sexual positions that the dancers landed in so naturally. Repetition of movement and verbal lines sometimes highlighted farcical situations and at other times simply energized the show–– the repeated lines becoming mantras.

Continuing in traditional cabaret fashion, Stephen Brown was the master of ceremonies, contextualizing the sex, drugs, and alcohol with anecdotal monologues about his life as a young, straight, male dancer in New York City in the eighties. Juan Carlos Claudio augmented these stories tremendously by acting the part of a quintessentially gay Puerto Rican: excited about sex, constantly erupting with emotion. The show took some poignant turns, acting as an homage to victims of AIDS in the eighties. Brown’s rehearsed lines on this subject were somewhat moving, but what was more moving was the vibrant energy of the show as a whole, demonstrating the legacy of the young artists that were being remembered. The performance was a celebratory wake rather than a morose funeral. It paralleled Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids, about her life in New York City as a young, lost artist with the late photographer Robert Maplethorpe. One of the most charged scenes in the show was set to Smith’s “Horses.” The hypersexual nature of the show referenced Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography, which also focuses on sex and sexuality, BDSM and human vulnerability.

SB Dance has a history of pushing conventionally taboo subjects into the public’s (or at least their audience’s) eye. Sometimes it seems to be in direct response to conservative antics, but the alternately passionate and deadpan demonstrations of desire, confusion, and power come from personal experiences of the seasoned group of people that make up the company. The Pushers is scrumptious for the eyes and revealing for the mind. The show will continue this weekend, June 13 and 14 in the Rose Wagner Blackbox. For more information visit

This article is published in collaboration with 15 BYTES.

Emma Wilson is an intern for loveDANCEmore, studies dance at the University of Utah, and performs with PDC and in Porridge for Goldilocks, among others.

Of Meat & Marrow review

The piece begins with humor: a Gilbert Gottfried soundbite that speaks of the body as an excessive weight, vegetative, without the operating mind – easier to reconcile with, humorously, if dead and done. The character of the piece, situated discretely amongst the audience as one of us, is then summoned unwillingly to the stage with a lottery ticket. Thus at the onset of the piece, we are called to identify with our character as we try to understand whatever chaos has demanded her presence in the grotesque world that follows.

In this world, skin ripples. Flesh melts. Bodies on stage fold as though millions of cells emit final breaths – repetitively, microscopically. The dancers onstage introduce us, with conviction and startling continuity, to the quality of this dimension.

A duet between Toni Lugo and Christine Hasegawa, bathed in red illumination and suspended by meat hooks, becomes the profound epitome of this world of decomposition. Here we become all at once disgusted, confused, and intrigued by the slapping of skin and the molding, folding, and gyrating of the human form.

As so often seems to be the case in life itself, the piece becomes a battle between body and mind. Our character returns, giving voice to the ego: I am, I am, but – “Where am I?” she asks, confused, anxious, alone. We recognize her questions throughout the piece – “Is this the line to heaven?” – as expressions of a way of thinking (and hence, a mode of living) where all action is guided by the belief in a divine, transformative ending. But this world is no heaven as we’ve been told to expect. The bodies on stage provoke and disassemble our character, sweeping her up with an asterisk-shaped prop, turning her over like a leaf in a compost bin.

A morgue cart becomes the most necessary and powerful prop, weaving together a beautiful solo performed by Juan Carlos Claudio with duets and full-cast dances, and underlining the rolling movement quality of decompositional break-down. There are large metal tubs, too – utilized most powerfully when collecting and consuming the human form, their presence evokes meat, blood, and slaughter.

The character we have been asked to identify with is always terrified or skeptical of her inevitable decomposition, even as it happens. As the piece concludes, she is swallowed by waving folds of fabric. The body disappears, becomes motionless. But the ego persists with its commentary – “it must be karma!” – as we discover that her transformation through decomposition has turned her into a carrot, an earthly thing that is picked up and bitten into.

Executed beautifully, “Of Meat and Marrow” exhibits the exceptional potential of dance to root us in our bodies and remind us of our mortality. I take issue, however, with the humorous context in which the piece begins and concludes because all other elements of the piece powerfully evoke the idea that dance, an artistic form that directly involves the physical potentialities and – most importantly – the physical limitations of the body, could be compelling all participants to internalize their mortality more deliberately, and could be asserting itself as the most powerful vessel of empathy and compassion.

The fact that we, as an audience, are expected to accept within the comforts of humor a truly thought-provoking piece that reminds us – through physical, empathetic sensation – of the vulnerability of our flesh speaks volumes regarding our pervasive, tired world view. I oppose the framing of this piece with humor because I believe we should instead be seizing the moment to emphasize the communicative power of dance, well-demonstrated in this piece, as a potential means for a transformation in perception – for what we need now most of all in our world view is the reminder that the organic world, of which our bodies are a part, has limits and repercussions that our intellectual realm does not.

The state of humanity is now too dire to merely chuckle at our cultural fear of death and the unknown. We must be called to do more than just laugh in the face of our uneasiness – otherwise we are permitted to leave the theater and return to whichever of many microscopic groups, by which we define ourselves through a false sense of belonging. And there, in that dangerous state of isolation and illusion, the salience of our mortality again becomes lost. We must be instead called to act, to live with full consciousness, in accordance with the belief that everything is connected – beyond death, across time and place – and that nothing can be resolved sustainably in isolation.

Moving forward, let us embrace dance as a means of communicating compassion and empathy, of encouraging communion with all that is. Let us be reminded that these are the qualities that we are so desperately lacking in our relations with others and with the natural world, that must be embodied on a massive scale if we truly want to live in a more just society.

Alison Hoyer re-located to SLC after completed a degree in linguistics at McAlister. 

the very BEaST


In anticipation of attending last night’s concert, I imagined the VERY BEaST of SB DANCE to be a unicorn—a mythical beast of which I had heard fantastic stories, but had yet to see with my own eyes.  Since moving to Salt Lake City in 2008, well-intending people have suggested on more than one occasion that I should check out SB Dance.  Three years later, here was my chance.

The VERY BEaST of SB DANCE is a sampling of the company’s greatest hits from 1997-2006, including one hit from each of the selected 10 years.  As excerpts of longer works, each piece offered a glimpse of what SB Dance must have been like in its glory days.  Through the use of his adept dancers, props, and lighting (kudos to Glen Linder), Stephen Brown creates an entire world in a matter of moments.  He is a choreographic master of images.

Like catching a glimpse of a unicorn through shadowy evening mist, I see Juan Adalpe’s shining face staring into a silver bucket that seems to glow from within.  I see Nathan Shaw and Jenny Larsen gliding across an eerie green stage via an industrial kitchen table on wheels.  I see Stevan Novakovich dressed in a long flowing blue skirt, tumbling in the wind of an upstage corridor of light.

Other moments were less like glimpsing a unicorn–Corinne Penka sporting a ball gag and Nathan Shaw baring all–but I presume Brown’s world must include some dark magic as well (perhaps this is the “adult themed content” I was warned of at the box office).  In fact the last three pieces centered on the theme of nudity, which I found to be a bit of an overkill.  However, Shaw’s full-frontal in the final piece of the evening, Waltz of the Dog-faced Boy, offered a cheeky discussion of the use of nudity onstage that reminded me of Dorothy and her gang venturing behind the curtain at the climax of the Wizard of Oz.

In the program notes, Brown writes, “SB Dance’s funding has drooped to a 10-year low.”  I wonder, which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Has the company not made any new work in the last five years because of low funding or is it the other way around?  Either way, my guess is that The VERY BEaST of SB DANCE is a call to galvanize SB Dance supporters for new work to come.  Overall the evening was a wonderful tease, like a series of decadent hor’dourves with no entrée to follow.  Now that I have seen the magic Brown can create in a moment, I am hungry to see how he sustains that over an hour.

Elizabeth Stich completed her MFA at the University of Utah