'Drama Tops, this is for you' set at Washington Hall. Photo by Chase D. Anderson.

‘Drama Tops’ Explores the Switchy Territory of Gendered Experience

The new work by dancer/choreographer Elby Brosch looks at trans experience alongside binary and non-binary identities. It runs through Thursday.

 

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now … 
I’ve looked at life from both sides now 

 

Drama Tops, this is for you, the debut full-length dance work from Elby Brosch that’s premiering now in a three-day run, is an exercise in extremes.

The closing scene, which beautifully encapsulates one unique aspect of the transgender experience — the ability to approach and view life through a multi-gender lens — is reflective and mournful and gorgeous. It’s exactly the scene to tie out and close this work.

The opening scene — in which a projector light flashes on standing-still, illusorily naked, bodies — reminds me of those strange old standard-issue school sex ed films. (Also the type Cathy Moriarty’s character favors to show the “true directions” in But I’m a Cheerleader.) It’s exactly the scene to make me lean in, bemused and intrigued, to this work.

As for the in-between? Less magnetic. Less memorable.

Brosch, one of the few transgender choreographers making work locally, and co-choreographer Shane Donohue (a non-trans man) have intense physicality in some scenes together. Their push/pull is the crux of much of the work. And in some scenes, their tumbling together — sometimes as opposites, sometimes as one body — is breathtaking.

But plenty more of the hour-long work found me listed over, bored, thinking, This is everything I hate about modern dance. At points, the work takes itself so. seriously. At others, it’s just the opposite. We don’t take ourselves seriously! Seeeeee? Both cases plod along, trying hard, adding little.

But another scene brings those two extremes together wonderfully, as Brosch and Donohue celebrate with the audience and each other while Ke$ha proclaims unwillingness to “date a dude with a vag.” “When you grow a pear [sic], you can call me back.” The song, juxtaposed, is gross; and the scene is just the right pairing of poignant and playful. And then, for no clear reason, it’s rehashed later.

Another keen (but cattier) exchange: Donohue tells Brosch, ad naseum, You are so brave, you are so so brave as he shoves him down into the ground. It’s a sly dig at the condescending commentary from non-trans people, who fetishize the “other” for simply living their lives.

Of the performance’s three dancers, Brosch and Donohue have worked together longest, and it’s clear from their chemistry. But dancer Jordan Macintosh-Hougham is a vital third component, a non-binary embodiment of rejecting the purely masculine. Macintosh-Hougham, though absent from the most intimate physicality in the middle sequences, is crucial in the bookending scenes, the core of the message.

As Macintosh-Hougham looks on, Brosch and Donohue dance together in the final scene. Horns crescendo in Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, vocals swirling, as Brosch and the binary, the masculine, twirl, the non-binary on the sidelines now, but still very much a part of the scene. Overall, Brosch brings a vital lens, and a unique staging.


Drama Tops, this is for you runs through 1/30 at Washington Hall in the Central District/First Hill area. Tickets $25; info here. NOTE: tickets are sold out online, but $10 balcony tickets are available in person. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gender-neutral (for this show) and multi-stall; theatre is wheelchair accessible through entrance ramp and elevator. Financial accessibility: $15 subsidized tickets and $10 balcony tickets are available.

Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.