Corian Ellisor and Alex Abarca stay locked in a handshake. When neither will let the other one go, the act turns from a friendly gesture into a set of evasive jiujitsu-like moves before finally settling into a sort of mutually agreed-upon imprisonment. The dance, like the new show Be(a)stie in which it appears, illustrates some of the joys and complications of a close friendship in the world of professional dance.
"Dance is already so competitive," says Abarca, "but between men, it's even more so. When a man walks into a studio, I'm like, 'Who are you? Where are you from? Where'd you study? Who have you danced with?' When I see someone who's good, I need to know them. Keep your friends close, your enemies closer."
Abarca and Ellisor met in the dance program at the University of Houston and now live together in East Atlanta. They've been best friends for eight years and dance for the same professional company, Decatur's CORE Performance Company. (And, in case you were wondering, "Alex and Corian are friends, Alex and Corian have never had a romantic relationship." It's an explanation they've given so often, they've turned it into the soundtrack for their handshake dance, repeated over and over by a robotic voice.) CORE, based in both Houston and Decatur, asked Abarca to join the company as a full-time member after working with him as a student. When artistic director Sue Schroeder mentioned that CORE was still looking for another male dancer, Abarca encouraged Ellisor to audition. "I don't think she knew we were such close friends," Ellisor says. "And then we got here, and she was like, 'What did I sign up for?'"
Be(a)stie premieres Dec. 10-11 and includes dance, spoken word, improv, and an original song, "Beast," by Ellisor and Abarca, as well as music by the Beastie Boys, Francesco Tristano, and Panda Bear. "I don't think of it as a 'dance show,'" says Ellisor. "I think of it just as a show, as performance, because it incorporates so many other elements." The overall tone of the show is upbeat, but Abarca and Ellisor have each choreographed a more introspective and personal solo on the other dancer.
Although the two have been friends for many years, this is the first independent show they've created together. "It's been great. I feel like our relationship has been strengthened by this," Ellisor says. "It could have caused the friendship to go horribly awry." He pauses for a moment, and Abarca finishes the thought: "Of course, it still has that potential."