I saw Young Jean Lee’s Untitled Feminist Showlast weekend. It was done entirely in the nude. Or naked, if you prefer. (I prefer. Nude suggests prudishness, euphemism, excuses. Naked is so much more honest. But the phrase “in the nude” is funny, and should be used as much as possible.) At any rate, there were no clothes! It was a really good choice. Probably the smartest thing about the whole show. (And I don’t mean simply from a marketing perspective, though a show with all naked ladies, all the time does have a broad appeal.)
Something happens when you see people naked for over an hour. They stop being naked and start just being people. Actually, it happens remarkably quickly. The opening dance (which seemed to be a ritual of sorts) functioned as a chance to get all the gawking out of the way. Yes, these people are naked. Yes, it’s a lot of jiggling flesh. Yes, you can see their naughty bits. Here, let’s just flash some cootches at you now, so you can stop craning for a better view, guessing if you’re seeing labia or not. I like that approach, the approach that yells, LET THERE BE NO QUESTION OF LABIA!
Nakedness, poorly done, can be distracting. When you keep stepping out of the performance to wonder why they’re naked, or how much anatomy you can see, or if it’s a choice purely done for shock value or mass appeal. In Untitled Feminist Show, nakedness was integral, deeply tied to concept. Something about their nakedness made the performers more human. Not “more human” in a “becoming more individual we-are-each-unique-snowflake-people” kind of way, but “more human” in a way that called to mind the overarching human-ness, the body-ness, the thing we all share by inhabiting flesh.
In this show, as our friend Naomi put it, nakedness was a costume. I found myself quickly drawn to watching faces, not forgetting nakedness, but absorbing it, accepting it as a thing containing the performer. It was not the absence of something, but an active presence. Like the most effective costumes, it did not distract from the faces, if faces were what was going on. Neither did it hide, or settle on being merely decorative. Sometimes the costume was what was going on, and it didn’t shy away from that role. Rather, the nakedness-as-costumes encased and accentuated, was something that underscored and interacted with the performers, integrated in the performance.
Mad King Thomas has talked about using nakedness in our dances. It was a big question in our last ( also ostensibly feminist-themed) show, All Sparkles, No Heart. We joke about how we can’t be naked on stage until we’re older and our boobs are saggy and our bodies are wrinkly. There are too many hot young bodies on stage (if I can be so bold as to include us in the hot young category). But really we’re waiting for the time when nakedness is integral to whatever dance we’re making. When we use nakedness, we want it to be because we have to be naked. Because nakedness is right. And maybe we’ll give up, and get naked on stage just because it’s fun, or liberating, or a good way to get press and sell tickets. Who knows? But in the present, it’s heartening to see a show that does naked not for nakedness’ sake, but because the show asks for nakedness.