Dance: Redux production of ‘The Pushers’ has SB Dance company pushing boundaries
By Daisy Blake Special To The Tribune
Published: June 8, 2017 12:50 am
The cast and crew of SB Dance shows have an internal slogan: “How naked and how dangerous?”
Indeed, the company’s work aims to surprise audiences with adventurous content that challenges the status quo, plus genre-busting form delivered with a large dollop of humor and athleticism.
The group is in rehearsals for a redux of “The Pushers,” which plays at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center downtown June 9-17. Stephen Brown, the executive and artistic director of SB Dance, describes the piece thus: ” ‘The Pushers’ takes you on a humorous, gritty dance theater trip about a family of artists as they grow up, come out, get famous, turn to dust and crawlback. Beginning in retro New York when rent was cheap and AIDS started taking its toll, ‘The Pushers’ winds up in an era of marriage equality, outcast culture gone commercial, and the same old questions asked by a new gang of characters.”
The original 2014 production was inspired by “Just Kids,” a book by singer-songwriter Patti Smith that describes her and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s artistic and sexual awakening.
The company has presented an original piece every June since 1998; the June New Creation repertory includes works of pure dance, pure theater and almost everything in between. “Waltz of the Dog-Faced Boy,” “Revenge of Yoga the Musical,” “Surrenderella” and “Snaked” all aimed to depict what Brown calls “the offbeat corners of humanity.”
SB Dance’s gelatinous shows often ooze off the stage and into the audience with interactive elements, gastro-theatrical events and installations. This time around, the show features an onstage cash bar opening 30 minutes before the show and reopening after.
Another twist on convention is found in the performance cast — dancers, actors, movement specialists, physical comedians and singers, some of whom have been working with the company for over 17 years and whose average age pushes 40. The show features Christine Hasegawa,Nathan Shaw, Annie Kent, John Allen, Rick Santizo, Florian Alberge, Miriam Gileadi and even Brown himself, who nowadays rarely appears onstage.
Brown, who created and directed the show with Winnie Wood as co-director, said SB Dance shows are unlike anything most folks have experienced before. “They are whacked-out mash-ups of dance, theater and circus,” he said. “The work is accessible, fun and funny. ‘The Pushers’ is a blackbox show, which means it’s a small, intimate space, where viewers can feel heartbeats on the stage. It’s live performance at its best, human to human, where you laugh and cry and are transformed when you leave.”
He said it’s also worth the audience’s while to come back even if you’ve already seen “The Pushers.” “It’s juicier!” he said. “New characters, new scenes and cleaned-up choreography. Still raw like the original, but added polish where required. A bit more raw in some places.”
Brown said the company’s aim with this show has been to combine humor with poignancy. “Life is extraordinarily funny and sad at the same time, isn’t it?” he said. “You just gotta screw your head on a certain way to appreciate both. And helping people do that — it’s one of the jobs of artmakers. We have permission. According to Clive James, you should never trust anyone without a sense of humor because common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. This is especially true in art.”
One of SB Dance’s most seasoned performers is Shaw, who has performed with the company for almost a dozen years in some 17 shows. He said what keeps his performances fresh is play in both rehearsals and performances. “My colleagues are veteran pros,” he said. “It’s inspiring to watch them. We really play a lot in rehearsals. Even in performance. Also, there’s enough structure that I can do my best work but not so much that it’s stifling. I’ve really got no patience for the normal dance company routine anymore. SB Dance is far from normal.”
Shaw added SB Dance is perfect for audiences who wish to see a hybrid of dance and theater. “We have great arts groups here,” he said. “They work in traditional formats: Theater groups stick to theater; dance to dance. SB Dance throws that all away. Plus, the company has no obligation to any particular audience. We can do whatever we want. We usually do. And we serve booze.”
Gileadi, the newest addition to the group after starting last fall, said she got involved after seeing several SB shows and having a friend who works with the company. “I let him know that I’m available and willing,” she said. “Stephen had me perform for ‘The Rose Exposed,’ and then we kept going. “I brag to my immediate community about how acrobatic, humorous and exhilarating ‘The Pushers’ is,” she added. “There are several pieces in the show where my fellow performers and I are literally flying through the air, being catapulted, swinging under poles and diving under one another. The next moment, your character is cussing at someone else. You’ve got to totally trust each other and be present.” She said she’s been welcomed into the company with open arms and that makes her job easier. “I was part of the crew immediately and learned very quickly to jump in without being asked, to voice my opinion or a question and be unafraid of being wrong or not understanding.”
Brown added that “The Pushers” is a perfect show for summer. “Downtown SLC is a blast on warm evenings,” he said. “It’s hopping. SB Dance shows let you make a night of it. The performance itself is a sort of drug that alters your state of mind and fills you with ideas and ambitions. Get a drink at our onstage bar before and after the show. Then head out and conquer.”
And when asked just how naked is too naked and how dangerous is too dangerous, Brown says cryptically: “There’s good naked and bad naked. Same for dangerous.”
Guess you’ll just have to see the show to find out what he means.