On Nakedness

 

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.

Comments

nukity

I found the naked bodies distracting. And the whole thing a little too much like a bunch of sketches.

What a bummer to be on the other side of the pasture from you guys on this one.

nekkid!

hmmm, i found the sketches distracting from the nakedness. sometimes enjoyably and sometimes problematically.

i found myself thinking about distinctions between dance and theater- not in the petty "this-is-dance-and-this-is-theather-and-we-plant-our-flags-in-the-semantics-of-it" kind of way, but in a dramaturgical way. in a process way. in the way that Dance and Theater (in big booming voices and broad strokes) take different approaches. young jean lee seemed to have surprised herself by making a dance. i wish she would have embraced it. 

i was thinking about how she employed a choreographer, and relied on her performers' experience, both of which i heartily appreciate, because she claimed to not know how to make a dance. i wish she would have asked herself how she could make a dance, rather than relying on others for movement skills. this is the distinction- i wonder what would have happened if young jean lee had allowed herself to take the approach of making a dance, instead of thinking that because it was becoming a dance she needed more of the trappings of things that looked like dance. 

and then i thought, oh, right, i am a dance-maker. i have always been wowed by young jean's skills with language and crafting as a play-maker. but maybe this is a place/piece where my greater understanding of dance is asking, how would this piece have benefited from the approach of dance-making. and i think the nakedness and the body-ness would have been more intimately and mysteriously explored that way. and maybe it would have helped the episodic/sketch-like nature of the piece. 

so now i am thinking, nakedness was the right starting place for this piece. nakedness was the interesting thing, not because of nakedness, but because of it's complete body-ness. and maybe the primacy of bodies is why i want a "dance approach." (what is a "dance approach" or a "theater approach"? these are crude terms that have been rolling around in my head for a while and i'm probably gonna write my next blog about them.)

turns out i was not completely satisfied. but i enjoyed myself and i'm interested in this seed of bodies and possibility. this show was not so much about critique (a much easier space to inhabit.) it was about expansion, maybes, futures, and possibilities, which is much harder to chomp off. i wish she would have invented a new language. 

gate hopping

I'm so glad to have this conversation -- it's what How Dare You! is for...and it started there, but here's more! Yay! The fence has been broached! The gate has been hopped!

"i wonder what would have happened if young jean lee had allowed herself to take the approach of making a dance, instead of thinking that because it was becoming a dance she needed more of the trappings of things that looked like dance. "

Yup. I think of it as a playwright's dance, a phrase which articulates some of my dissatisfaction. Not that she wasn't successful (who cares) but that I didn't find the reach to go very far. Here's some movement because text isn't working...needs another "and then..." step. Give me more, I want more.

"how would this piece have benefited from the approach of dance-making. and i think the nakedness and the body-ness would have been more intimately and mysteriously explored that way."

Not sure how this would all fit with how I understand the process to have taken place, but if the piece had started with Nakedness as center instead of Feminism, maybe this could have gone somewhere more interesting to me. But then that's wishing wings on pigs.

"nakedness was the interesting thing, not because of nakedness, but because of it's complete body-ness. and maybe the primacy of bodies is why i want a "dance approach." "

I just kept seeing boobs and butts. Not sure this was a het-male thing, judging by my previous conversations. I felt that the nakedness didn't underlie the performance but was an added element (exactly like costuming) rather than a conceptually integral aspect underlying how and why the thing was made.

What would have happened if when she got to the point where she had naked women and no text she threw everything else out and started from there? Would we still get the multiple iconic sketches? Maybe. I hope not, though.

Body-ness. To me a problem with the YJL piece relating to this body-ness thing was that the bodies we saw were all women of a small age range. It seemed too like a young person's show if it was about flesh. When I think about the materiality of bodies I think about dying bodies. Aged bodies. Wounded bodies. Injured bodies. Absent bodies.

The sketchiness to me was (not for the first time) so damn empty. I think of it as a THEATER thing. Much of the recognized "history" of contemporary theater relies on mimesis to render meaning (icon, symbol, allegory, "story," etc). Sketch comedy has become an additional contemporary influence that can appear theatrically fresh but still remain within the same old theatrical mode (mimetic). The prevalence of sketchiness in a lot of recent theater work makes me grind my teeth. I want something a little more engaging, challenging, inspiring, mysterious, and rich. DANCE (with whatever baggage that Discipline brings to the table) has the benefit of a rich history of abstraction. Performance that makes me pee my pants tends to escape the limits of representational mimesis by thinking a little bit more like a mover. (Maybe this is what you mean by a "dance approach"?) This thing didn't do that. It was THEATER without words and with moving bodies.

Although, all this aside, I really did like what I call the Blow Job scene. I thought it really tackled the themes, the performance conditions, and the mode of performance effectively. It was a lot like stand-up, but it worked in a way the other stuff didn't (not just because it wasn't boring, but because it was rigorous in a way the other stuff wasn't).

...on the other side of the

...on the other side of the pasture from Theresa. I only saw it in my mind, so I can agree with everyone about their thoughts on it. It's great!

good observation

Nudity is always a tricky device to use on stage, especially given all of the conflicting sociological vectors that pass through it. I like thinking of the nudity itself as a costume!