Express male 

Lift showcases the often-overlooked masculinity of dance

THE MALE FORM: This year’s Lift performances focus on the theme of masculinity. Tara-Lynne Pixley

Tara-Lynne Pixley

THE MALE FORM: This year’s Lift performances focus on the theme of masculinity. Tara-Lynne Pixley

When Daryl Foster was growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., there were not many options available for a little boy interested in dance. No other males took dance classes in his area — there weren't even any male teachers — and his parents wouldn't let him take lessons because they didn't think dancing was something a man should do.

Although this changed when he started to formally study dance at the University of Alabama. When he moved to Atlanta in 2006 to continue his professional career, he found himself confronted with the same imbalance once again. "I wasn't seeing a lot of men in the dance community," he says. "There were a lot of companies beginning to form at that time, but there'd be maybe one man here or no men there. ... Many of us have that same experience."

To remedy this, Foster, who now teaches dance at the University of Georgia, started the annual Lift showcase in May 2010. The event, which has its third-annual set of performances from July 20-21 at the Alliance's Hertz Theatre at the Woodruff Arts Center, is designed to bring the work of Atlanta's male choreographers and dancers to the stage. There are seven choreographers represented this year, all working with the chosen theme of masculinity.

"What you'll see is the choreographers' interpretation of what masculinity is," says Foster. Foster's own piece, titled "American Mandingo," plays off of the highly sexualized, highly athletic Mandingo myth as it's been attributed to black American men, blending Foster's contemporary work with that of hip-hop choreographer Gordie Holt and set to the music of Gnarls Barkley. "The piece explores different types of black men in America and the pressures they go through to conform to the masculine myth," he says.

Choreographer Bernard Jackson looks at men in the military in his piece, which originally premiered as part of the Rialto's "off the EDGE" dance festival in January 2012, and Victor Jackson looks at masculinity in the work place. The evening will include a first for Lift, a female choreographer: Hip-hop dance-maker CiCi Kelley will give a female perspective on masculinity with her piece for male dancers enacting a rite of passage. "I thought it was important this time to get a woman's take on the theme," says Foster.

In its three years, Lift has become an important part of the careers of the dancers and choreographers that participate. Atlanta Ballet Artistic Director John McFall first encountered the work of Juel D. Lane at a Lift showcase and later commissioned the young Atlanta-based choreographer to create a work on the ballet, and actress Jasmine Guy came to the first Lift and picked out one of the dancers to be in her musical I Dream, which she was producing at the Alliance. Lift also attracts choreographers, agents, and company directors from around Atlanta, New York, and other places who have ended up using Atlanta dancers and choreographers for their various projects.

Foster hopes to move the Lift concept forward in the next few years by creating an independent "Lift" dance company of 10 men for year-round performances and touring. Also in the works is a series of summer intensive classes for male teachers and dancers.

"The first year was mostly just about putting on a show," he says. "But it became more about helping these young men realize their dreams and goals." After the first showcase, Kim Thomas of Gotta Dance Atlanta, the studio which sponsors Lift and houses its rehearsals, helped provide a scholarship. Now, every year there's one young man, who, like Foster as a child, might not otherwise have the opportunity to study dance, who takes a full year of free classes at the studio. It's a scholarship Foster hopes to soon extend into the chance for the chosen student to study dance for a full year at the college level.

"I hope the audience that comes to our show is able to recognize that Atlanta has strong male choreographers and strong male dancers," Foster says. "Atlanta is a place where art is flourishing. We're just at the beginning, and we're moving to great places."

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