Monday, September 17, 2012

The Naked Truth

. . . in dance and in life

The Wild Reed series on dance continues with excerpts from an insightful article published last month in the New York Times. In "The Dancer (Fully) Exposed" Alastair Macaulay explores reactions to "the look of the naked body onstage."

Now, to be sure, the sight of the naked human form on stage is confrontational and uncomfortable for many. Yet Macaulay believes that such nakedness has the potential to "change our perceptions of muscle and flesh; to plant new meanings and ideas" and to "extend the frontiers of liberation." He then gives an example of this by highlighting choreographer John Jasperse's work Fort Blossom Revisited (above right).

Dance writer Lisa Kraus has this to say about Jasperse's revisited work.

[It] is a study in human difference and complementarity. Its four dancers butt against, play off, ignore, and explore each other and ultimately settle into an easy co-existence, richer for each other’s presence. As a model of behavior, it’s hopeful. And the craft that went into shaping its often-changing and mysteriously moving atmosphere is prodigious.

Macaulay's words in particular got me thinking about the reality of gay relationships in our world today. They too are a source of discomfort for some; they too often confront people's certainties and beliefs. Yet they also have the potential to "change our perceptions" and "plant new meanings and ideas" about, for example, sexuality and marriage. I believe that at this moment in human history we're witnessing – and, in many cases, actively facilitating – such change, such expansion in awareness and acceptance. And that's a good and hopeful thing.

On that note I share now, with added images and links, excerpts from Macaulay's August 19, 2012 New York Times piece, "The Dancer (Fully) Exposed."

. . . In experimental modern dance, [the naked body on stage] is now a widespread condition. . . Thirty-four years ago, many must have felt that the big battles about naked bodies on stage had already been fought and won. In 1965 the dancer-choreographer Anna Halprin made Parades and Changes, in which a group of people, standing equidistant from one another, slowly removed their clothes. "Indecent exposure!" cried the old guard. "The liberation of the body!" cried others. Further liberation followed. Nudity was a famous component of the late-1960s musicals Hair and Oh! Calcutta! Recently, though, several instances of nakedness have extended the frontiers of liberation; the majority of the more advanced examples have featured men.

. . . When I tell friends of these viewings, they inevitable ask: Where is the line between art and pornography? But there's always been a huge overlap between the two; you can see scenes of copulation on Greek vases and Indian temples. What's more, many works of art have seemed pornographic without nakedness. Many of us are tempted to talk as if art = good, pornography = bad. Yet that's wrong too. Much art is poor, while the novels of the Marquis de Sade are pornography taken to a brilliant, horrifying and extraordinary peak.

The overlap between art, sex and nakedness was illustrated — superbly, I believe — in an enthralling, but thoroughly strange show in May in New York Live Arts, when choreographer John Jasperse presented his Fort Blossom Revisted, a 70-minute reworking of his short 2000 work Fort Blossom (whose title referred to a friend's tree house. Two female dancers wore short dresses throughout; the men, Benjamin Asriel and Burr Johnson, stayed naked. In one episode, Mr. Asriel and Mr. Johnson lay on each other, in profile to us, sandwiching a vinyl inflatable pillow between them, like an air mattress. The men began to move their pelvises in rhythm.

We were watching a deconstruction of anal sex. The peculiar coolness and objectivity of the scene made in compelling, even poetic – and singularly unsensational. After it ended, and they had lain still a long wile, they let the air out of the inflatable, as if it had been a condom.

In a slow duet that followed, now with no object between them, the two men together with extreme intimacy – yet only once, briefly, brought their naked groins to meet and only once, at a late stage, held in other's gaze. Clothed, the choreography would have made no great impact, Unclothed, however, the intimacy was often astonishing. One moment of tender cheek-to-cheek contact involved a cheek of one man's face and a cheek of the other's buttock.

Yet everything in this work was ambiguous. The men were remarkably relaxed, dispassionate; and the slowness acquired its own cool rhythms. While Mr. Johnson and Mr. Asriel parted their legs, shifted their pelvises, rippled their spines, new contours and alignments of their musculature would emerge. The interest was heightened by their physical disparity. One had more muscular firmness and definition, the other more softness and linear flow. New connections of shapes and lines in abdomen, back, pelvis, thigh, different in each case, emerged continually.

My point is not to single out Mr. Jasperse as a great artist amid a field of awkward experimentation; I have liked other pieces by him much less. I mean simply to show that works of serious art can occur in situations where moral and aesthetic considerations are complex: the effect of good art is to make them only more complex. Among other things, Fort Blossom Revisited showed how the erotic and the unerotic can coincide bewilderingly. Those movements and positions for the two men: were they sexually hot or cold? Scientifically objective or personally revealing? The answers kept changing. . . .

To read Alastair Macaulay's "The Dancer (Fully) Exposed" in its entirety, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
Intimacy’s Many Facets: John Jasperse’s Fort Blossom at New York Live Arts – Alastair Macauley (New York Times, May 10, 2012).
Fort Blossom's Peaceable Kingdom – Lisa Kraus (Writing My Dancing Life, March 2, 2012).
Consider the Body – Deborah Jowitt (DanceBeat, May 16, 2012).
Homosexual Relationships: Another Look – Bill Hunt (The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 8, 2012.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Dr. Erik Steele and the "Naked Truth on Same-Sex Marriage"
Thoughts on Mallorca's "Naked Easter" Calendar
The Inherent Sensuality of Roman Catholicism
The Soul of a Dancer
The Trouble with the Male Dancer (Part 1)
The Trouble with the Male Dancer (Part 2)
The Trouble with the Male Dancer (Part 3)
The Premise of All Forms of Dance
The Dancer and the Dance
The Church and Dance
Recovering the Queer Artistic Heritage
Dark Matters

Image 1: Subject and photographer unknown.
Image 2: Andrea Mohin.
Image 3: Jérôme Delatour.
Image 4: Lindsey Browning.
Image 5: Maria Anguera de Sojo.

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