“There’s an aversion to male beauty in this country. We have this idea that beauty has to be defined as feminine,” says Ariel Rose, Miami City Ballet soloist and choreographer.
Rose is a founding contributor of "Men Who Dance," a ground-shifting dance program showcasing all-male performers that returns to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts’ Amaturo Theater for two performances on Saturday, November 26 and Sunday, November 27.
“For us, masculinity is rough and abrasive,” he continues. “Our view [of masculinity] is very different than, for example, what the ancient Greeks thought about it. For them, it was something beautiful so long as it was right and fit,” Rose explains.
Rafi Maldonado-Lopez, artistic director of “Men Who Dance” and director of the Inter-American Choreographic Institute, produced the first program in 2020 as a platform for exploring gender through dance.
Since then, "Men Who Dance" has grown from 15 dancers to 40 dancers and also includes two opera singers. The program’s mission has expanded, too.
“In fact, what has happened to us as we have gone to different countries, we’ve come to realize that the stereotypes of masculinity change,” explains Maldonado-Lopez. “In Chile, we encountered an indigenous people who were never invaded by the Europeans. Their notion of masculinity was very different. Every country we have gone to it has been different.”
Rose adds a bit of American and European history.
“Whereas for Europeans, it was acceptable to be the romantic, more expressive male, [those aspects of masculinity] didn’t make it over here. For us, it was the Marlboro man, the cold stereotypical male which became dominant, and things that are bred in culture over time can take a long time to unravel.”
In 2021, Maldonado-Lopez assumed the role of principal managing director of the Sanctuary of the Arts, an artist-led arts institution and arts campus located in Coral Gables at two historic locations – the Church of Christ complex at 410 Andalusia Ave. and St. Mary’s First Missionary Baptist at 136 Frow Ave.
Though he calls Miami-Dade home, Maldonado-Lopez has chosen to stage each iteration of “Men Who Dance” at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
“I really wanted it to be in Broward because we need to have a unified South Florida approach to the arts,” explains Maldonado-Lopez. “If we don’t advocate for the cultural councils to think of a tri-county approach to the arts we will not be able operate differently post-COVID than we did pre-COVID.”
For their part, Broward Center officials have cultivated close ties with Maldonado-Lopez and the Sanctuary of the Arts with game-changing implications for the South Florida dance scene, he says.
“There is not a single professional dance company in Broward,” says Maldonado-Lopez. “We would like to help Broward grow their own professional companies.”
For Maldonado-Lopez, the central motivation behind "Men Who Dance" is about giving opportunities to dancers.
For instance, Rose will premiere at this year’s "Men Who Dance" a new work, Messianico, a four-minute quartet for four male dancers inspired by the overture to Handel’s "Messiah."
“Most of my growth as an artist occurred when ballets were made on me,” says Rose. “This will be a good opportunity for them.”
Another returning performer is Randolph Ward, dancer, choreographer, and artistic director of RTW Dance. Ward is known locally for cutting-edge choreographies that confront notions of “toxic masculinity.” His new work for "Men Who Dance" is Code Switching, which he performs with dancers Natanael Leal and Savery Morgan.
“The first section is about being yourself and not dumbing down your Blackness to feel safe,” explains Ward. "The second section reflects on the response given in 1968 by African-American writer James Baldwin to the question, ‘What does a Negro want?’ The last section goes back to the motherland,” adds Ward, who researched tribal communities for this part of the work. “We have red handkerchiefs in our mouths, and throughout the piece, we are dressed in neon green to represent the alertness you need to have in order to code switch.”
Dancer, choreographer, and filmmaker Enrique Villacreses is another founding "Men Who Dance" contributor who returns this year. Villacreses first met Maldonado-Lopez at the New World School of the Arts when Maldonado-Lopez taught musical theater there.
Villacreses’ new work, Jupiter Jazz, is an 11-minute piece in three sections set to music by United Kingdom cellist Oliver Coates.
“I first workshopped and experimented this at the Sanctuary of the Arts over the summer,” says Villacreses. “I brought in six dancers, both straight and gay. All six [performers] dance in all three sections and are on stage for the entire performance.”
Villacreses worked through his choreography by assigning each dancer a purpose.
“I’m mostly following my intuition as I experiment with sequences on the dancers. These dancers were so different, from different backgrounds and different training. I had to design and adapt the dance around their specific bodies,” he says.
Maldonado-Lopez says that each of the pieces stands on its own.
“Each of these three [performances] is so different from the other,” Maldonado-Lopez adds, “and then think about how there will be 17 performers. Well, as an audience member from last year’s MWD said to me, 'If you don’t like this one, wait for the next one because they are all so different from the one before.'"
– Sean Erwin, ArtburstMiami.com
“Men Who Dance." 8 p.m. Saturday, November 26 at 3 p.m. Sunday, November 27 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222; browardcenter.org. Tickets cost $25 to $45.