At first as you watch Drama Tops, This Is for You, it feels quite serious, two men in white briefs posing. But soon a sly sense of humor bubbles up, maybe around when one performer, Shane Donohue, says, “The last time we cried was—never” and you recognize that this new dance piece is taking aim at American masculinity.
But creator, choreographer, and dancer Elby Brosch is after more than taking jabs. At the same time that Donohue says “never,” Brosch says, “Last week when I called my mom I was just feeling a little bit overwhelmed.” The tension between those statements runs through the rest of the work, as the pair skip together, grunt, flaunt their strength, balance on each other.
Brosch is telling his story by prying at what it means to be male. “The experience that I’ve had was fairly unique,” he told me. He was socialized female, then transitioned and went through a time being perceived as between genders, before passing as male. Here, he sets out to look at the “different kinds of expectations associated with gender and how they’re so unachievable.” Like what? “The relentless need to prove that you are the strongest…. It’s kind of a fun one to play with with dance. Also, the always being right.”
He does that through a pair of duets, one with Donohue (who’s cis) and one with Jordan Macintosh-Hougham (who’s non-binary). In that one, they explore expectations of femininity.
While Drama Tops is pretty austere and abstract—time is fluid, dialogue is declarative more than narrative—it also flaunts Brosch’s ties to Seattle’s drag scene. He grew up in rural Florida, where discovering ballet kept him “very deeply grounded in my body” as he went through puberty. After studying dance at the University of Illinois, he moved to Seattle in 2012. He started dancing with Cherdonna Shinatra, and for BenDeLaCreme, who co-directs this piece. While their surface aesthetics are as dissimilar as could be, Brosch was inspired by how the RuPaul’s Drag Race alum can “take a theme or an idea that is so complicated or super heartfelt, and then throw a lot of glitter and camp on it. The audience is entertained the whole time, but they come away with some really deep message.” Here, he's dialed back the camp, but kept the same underlying impulse.
Drama Tops, This Is for You
Jan 28–30, Washington Hall, $15–$25