Scott Wells & Dancers Play at Counterpulse
I cannot figure out why the choreographer Scott Wells is not universally popular. His 20th anniversary shows run through June 3 at Counterpulse, a hole-in-the-wall one block from Civic Center BART at Mission and 9th Streets (down from that gigantic building that has a Walgreen’s up at Market). There’s nothing recherche about Wells’ work - the only explanation I can come up with is that his playful dance style is radically innocent, like playing with your dog. The dancers (especially the guys) look buffed and hot as porn stars. Perhaps the appeal is bisexual; it is subtle. In any case, I think they are beautiful, and cannot think of any dancers anywhere I more enjoy seeing perform.
His dances make me watch with the feelings I had as an adolescent queer - before I knew I was gay, when other people could see it: the way I gazed at beautiful guys. "What are you looking at?" They attacked me for it before I knew what it was I was feeling. It is an absorbing beauty the dancers have, the same kind of beauty enshrined in Tarzan swinging through the trees, or Zorro jumping through windows, leaping off walls, and astounding the federales. Maybe a better analogy is Gene Kelly, who could take moves that only true dance-geeks find worth the mastery, and make the pleasures they enshrine available and visible to the audience.
Wells’ dancers are not preening macho thugs - they’re into their tricks. They don’t even have the levels of glamour and parade that male ballet dancers have. His dancers, male and female (there are a few women), move like yoginis, with an introspective bent - but, of course, in patterns that require them to be responsible to the partners flying towards them, whom they have to catch.
Remember Gene Kelly’s dance with the squeaky board and the sheet of newspaper? Wells makes dances that are grounded like that in the ordinary, but ecstatic in their content. He’s done dances with Frisbees (O altitude!) and with skateboards - now he’s done something with parkour.
Wells is a child of the 60s. He likes to expand consciousness to insane levels, the way marijuana taught us to appreciate peanut butter on crackers. He takes cartwheels, somersaults, pommel-horse vaulting, rock-climbing, juggling and treats them like ballet - to find new ways of being ultimately coordinated and graceful, and to find ways of creating community out of shared skill-sets.
The main piece in this show is Parkour Deux, which incorporates parkour, the French extreme sport of running through parks and public buildings - bounding over rooftops, down stairs, through windows, from tree to tree - that was developed in France by David Belle, who is credited with inventing the art with high levels of fitness (though it clearly is an urban version of Tarzan). It’s inherently romantic - though there’s no question there’s a thick overlay of machismo, the whole point of it is to swing through windows, over walls, up drainpipes, along ledges, over rooftops and down staircases by vaulting along the handrails like an ape-man, where the arms have become legs again, and we’ve become the creatures we were in the garden of Eden, despite the fact that they’ve paved Paradise.
To do this indoors, he’s had to resort to the training methods and equipment used by his collaborators at the Athletic Playground (the extreme-sports gym in Emeryville), Shira Yaziv and Andrey Pfening, using the huge gymnastics pads they employ for training. A big motif is to spring onto a wall-high pad and cause it to topple in slow-motion, in a Rube Goldberg fashion that leads to endless complications, most of them funny. They save their wall-flips (aka "Donald O’Connors") for the end.
The fabulous dancers include Zack Bernstein, Cameron Growden, Sebastian Grubb, Kellye McKee, Rajendra Serber, Ronja Ver, Miriam Wolodarski, and the aforementioned Mr. Pfening and Ms. Yaziv.
Reserve tickets at CounterPULSE.org. Info at scottwellsdance.com.