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Every clue suggested we were in for a wild homoerotic evening of dance: The sweaty imagery of the title, “Hot Guys Dancing,” the GLBT territory of the venue, Diversionary Cabaret, and the fiercely physical reputation of its director, Michael Mizerany.

But Mizerany took a creative risk and turned the title on its head. The dances that appeared on the little black stage in “Hot Guys Dancing” celebrated acceptance and ordinary guys, an unexpected departure from the sexy acrobatics or Liza antics we’ve seen before.

For the series debut Jan. 11-13, Mizerany assembled dances with substance that covered compelling themes and a range of emotion, with only hints of eroticism.

The program of five premieres also featured a restaging of a solo choreographed by Mizerany, a gifted performer and artistic director for Malashock Dance, who won a Lester Horton award in 1994 for best individual performance.

Justin L. Viernes in "Tin Soldier," a dramatic solo choreographed by Michael Mizerany.  Photo: Manny Rotenberg

Justin L. Viernes in “Tin Soldier,” a dramatic solo choreographed by Michael Mizerany. The dance earned the 1994 Lester Horton Dance Award for Mizerany’s outstanding individual performance.  Photo: Manny Rotenberg

In “Tin Soldier,” danced beautifully by Justin Viernes, we were struck by his desperate attempts to rise from the floor, his rolling shoulders, bones protruding, and his chest open and vulnerable as he crawled on knuckled hands. Set to Henryk Goreki’s Symphony No. 3, the Sorrowful Symphony, the dance was heartbreaking and beautiful.  Musical themes are of separation through war and loss of a child. Viernes and his broken body shared that experience with viewers just a few feet away. .

“Indi VISIBLE,” choreographed by Anjanette Maraya-Ramey, explored the need for tolerance and acceptance, which set the tone of the program from the start. Three men peeked and poked limbs through empty picture frames, suggesting we should reframe our thinking. The piece was well-rehearsed, though frames as props seemed too literal.

Spencer John Powell’s “Arctic Night” was a creepy ensemble for men dressed in hideous sleeveless turtleneck sweaters and spandex leggings. The dancers portrayed deranged addicts trapped in a hellish world of crystal meth and sex parties. They became nonhumans with zombie eyes just looking for self-gratification. While drug addiction is nothing to laugh at, (the program included at Stop Addiction helpline phone number), their groping and posturing was borderline funny in a revolting sort of way.

“Cause and Effect,” by Khamla Somphanh, was a duet for dancers Shannon Snyder and David Wornovitsky who rolled together on the floor as radio static and violin sounds wafted in. Their impossible task was to make sense of the world, and they could only grab the air.

In “Duologue,” by Blythe Barton, two muscled men in cargo shorts eyed each other from afar and slapped their sides.  Bradley R. Lundberg and Nicholas Strasberg slogged forward and lifted each other with amplified tension and overtly masculine mannerisms.

Nicholas Strasburg cradles the neck of Bradley R. Lundberg in "Duologue," a new work by Blythe Barton. Photo: Manny Rotenberg

Nicholas Strasburg cradles the neck of Bradley R. Lundberg in “Duologue,” a new work by Blythe Barton. Photo: Manny Rotenberg

With every encounter they seemed to grow larger and stronger. The fascination was the rebounding and sharing of weight between two strong men and repeated gestures. Both men are favorites in works by John Malashock and Jean Isaacs, but Barton gave them a unique vocabulary, one that captured images evocative of early humans, and ordinary guys. Their slapping and gestures became a tantalizing language.

The 90-minute program was sold out, and of course, given the title, lots of gay men showed up to see Magic Mike. They ended up with several not so very hot looking men who remained, for the most part, discreetly clothed. And Keith Johnson’s piece, the fabulous finale, was the opposite of what you’d expect from a show called “Hot Guys Dancing.”

Set to music by Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet, “Take This Letter to Juliet” imagines that Romeo asks a messenger to deliver a letter to Juliet, but they fall in love.  Here’s where you repeat that axiom about never assuming anything.

The men were not long and lean or smooth skinned and suave. No Magic Mike here. Imagine droopy sweaters, washed out flannel shirts tied just under the bellies, a hoodie, and tattered net skirts.

In this twisted tragedy, dancers Rogelio Lopez Garcia and Andrew Merrill (who also designed the costumes) whipped their long pony tails and sprinkled petals. Movement was lyrical and circular, and they seemed to glide as if they wore ice skates.  While the piece did seem overly long, the men were immensely likeable, expressive artists. Witnessing their cavorting and protracted adieu was a delight.

Dancers included:  Jacinto Delgado, Marty Anthony Dorado, Arthur Huang, Rogelio Lopez Garcia, Bradley R. Lundberg, Andrew Merrell, Ramon Montes, Edrian Pangilinan, Shannon Snyder, Nicholas Strasburg, Justin L. Viernes and David Wornovitsky.

Lighting and Stage Manager: Luke Johnson. Audio Engineer: Kevin Anthenill. Producing Director: Bret Young. Executive Director: John E. Alexander.

NOTE: Considering the large turnout, the “Hot Guys Dancing” series will likely continue, perhaps to coincide with the Gay Pride Festival in July.  Mizerany is already discussing the next production with Diversionary managers.

Mizerany is a busy man to watch.  He announced this week that after 15 seasons with Malashock Dance, four as artistic director, he is leaving his position.  He will continue to teach at the school and assist John Malashock during the Chagall rehearsals this spring. “Currently, I am resetting John’s piece FATHOM for the 25th Anniversary,” he said, “So I will be at MD through February 8th.”

He will also become an instructor and choreographer for Visionary Dance.  He will direct and make work for the troupe’s Visions on Broadway performance series.  Stay tuned.

Photo of Diversionary Theatre
Diversionary Theatre
Work 4545 Park Boulevard #101 San Diego CA 92116 USA Work Phone: 619.220.0097 Website: Diversionary Theatre website
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Kris Eitland

Kris Eitland

Kris Eitland covers dance and theater for Sandiegostory.com and freelances for other publications, including the Union Tribune and Dance Teacher Magazine. She grew up performing many dance styles and continued intensive modern dance and choreography at the Univ. of Minnesota, Duluth, and San Diego State Univ. She also holds a journalism degree from SDSU. Her career includes stints in commercial and public radio news production. Eitland has won numerous Excellence in Journalism awards for criticism and reporting from the San Diego Press Club. She has served on the Press Club board since 2011 and is a past president. She is a co-founder of Sandiegostory.com. She has a passion for the arts, throwing parties with dancing and singing, and cruising the Pacific in her family's vintage trawler. She trains dogs, skis, and loves seasonal trips to her home state of Minnesota.

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