Ask Terry Creach about men dancing and he's almost surprised. Though Creach has been at the helm of one of the few all-male contemporary dance ensembles in the nation, which he and one-time collaborator Stephen Koester founded in 1980, he doesn't see his work as a dancer and choreographer defined as by and for only men. "Sometimes I completely forget that we have men dancing," he says. "In my mind it's not necessarily about a male thing; it's about a technical issue, a concept, a movement motif."
For Creach/Company, his New York-based ensemble of six, Creach crafts highly physical works that take advantage of the strengths of male dancers, while also exploring the ramifications of male-male relationships. "I am interested in male physicality, momentum, strength, weight," the choreographer explains. The legacy of all-male modern dance companies dates to the 1930s, when Ted Shawn, who was among the pioneering generation of modern dancers, helmed a troupe of men that toured the world for seven years. Shawn's all-male company allowed him to expand his options beyond the female-dominated modern dance matriarchs -- Ruth St. Denis, Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey -- who were garnering the accolades and attention.
Creach, though, doesn't peer that far back into the modern dance legacy. "I saw some footage of that early period and I found it a total cliche," he says. "Any male duet was either about brothers or competition." Creach, instead, strives to investigate relational issues and to explore the male psyche. While he says he initially concentrated on male dancers for technical reasons -- how male bodies can move together, exchange weight, lift and carry -- he has continued because of the artistic and expressive possibilities.
His hour-long "Study for a Resurrection" explores the unity of a brotherhood of men through biblical imagery. It had its world premiere in 1997 at St. Mark's Church, a stripped-down sanctuary that serves as a dance space in New York's Bowery district. Creach, a lapsed Southern Baptist, mined the poetic and artful imagery of the Bible and the works of Michelangelo. Friday at the Kay Theatre in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Creach will place a 15-member University of Maryland choir throughout the theater to allow the Latin chants to engulf the audience. The vocal music, with its emphasis on tonal color, includes "O Virgo Splendens," from 14th-century Spain, and "Tatum Ergo Sacramentum," an early Corsican chant.
Creach says, "I thought about groups of men singing in the church and I imagined that culture, what it was like to be in a close-knit group that was so dependent on one another. These monks were living in a small, confined situation and they made this music for spiritual reasons."
He also said it brought to mind the AIDS epidemic. AIDS-influenced poetry inspired him to juxtapose his brand of tough physical contact against the smoothly organic sounds of these antiquarian chants, just as rough and tender groupings of men have supported one other through the AIDS crisis.
He also considered the religious paintings of Michelangelo. Enchanted by the artful manner that painters draped the male nude body, Creach, too, plays with hidden and exposed bodies using large swaths of fabric. He says, "I love how those cloths seem to magically float in and cover just what needs to be covered."
STUDY FOR A RESURRECTION -- Performed by Creach/Company, Friday at 8 at the Ina and Jack Kay Theatre, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park. 301-405-2787.