When nudity does not feel naked…

Yesterday I saw Julianna F. May/MAYDANCE’s Gutter Gate. Part of New York Live Arts – Live Artery series.

The piece had a lot. A lot.

But, of course, I got caught up in my own intellectualizing… about nudity. Which, was not totally a bad thing (I like to try and let go of my headiness when I watch dance, but sometimes it does not work).

Gutter Gate‘s use of nudity was unlike anything I have experienced.

In theatre, nudity is often a metaphor for revealing. I think about the end of In The Next Room… or the vibrator play when the doctor gets naked in the snow to reveal himself to his wife. Or it is used to let the audience know that the character is about to reveal something big about his/herself. I think about Alan in Equus who gets naked to have some sex, but instead reveals his love for his horse god. For some reason, sometimes, we have to get naked to tell a secret.

In dance, nudity is often used in a number of ways: shock, focus, power, primal energy, etc. I think about Anna Halprin’s parades and changes, replay with them dressing and undressing while watching the audience – a little bit uncomfortable. Or maybe it is the fierce power of the naked ladies in Roseanne Spradlin’s “beginning of something” that I’m thinking about… but, the point is, I have never had the beauty of skin revealed to me.

Julianna F. May showed me that skin is gorgeous. It shines. It glows. It refracts light. It changes colors. It is living, therefore it is more.

I have always thought about nudity in the theatrical sense – a reveal. But, I realized that nudity reveals nothing but a body. It tells us nothing of an individual, it shows us some skin.

Seeing someone naked (who you do not know) is just a body. However, getting to know a person and then seeing them naked… a very different experience.

Skin is beautiful.

But, skin is not revealing. Skin is a great blanket that covers us and protects us.

Hmm. How can I get creative with nudity? With skin?


4 thoughts on “When nudity does not feel naked…

  1. I know, right?!

    Okay – thoughts after YJL’s UFS.
    I don’t know. It is a hard thing. Once you make a realization (that is properly stupid thing to say…) – you almost cannot go back.

    No – here is the difference. J. F. May was not just people being naked. She played with nudity and the idea of nudity. She would dress and undress, have awkward moments of half undress, other moments of clothing, and she made the lights so that skin would shimmer.

    It was not just a desensitization of my person toward nudity (which was what happened, for me, during YJL). In a way, in YJL, I kept forgetting about the nudity – rather than thinking about the how/why/what of nudity. JFM kept reminding me… knock, knock, you are naked under those clothes and so are we. Remember that human truth, we are all naked.

    I think that is the difference, for me. Some might have that same experience with YJL, possibly. But JFM gave it to me.

    • I think that makes sense. YJL says in her program notes that they discovered early on in the process that nudity “prevented the audience from imposing identities on the cast.” In a way it’s about neutrality. Or denying the responsibility to give/pay attention to the cues of clothing.

      Untitled Feminist Show was pretty much never about the body. Aside from a few sequences where the performers consciously jiggled their fat, for example. But the performers don’t call attention to their bodies, generally. At the very beginning they dissipate the shock (I loved that moment, the graphic leg-spreading: “Here it is, everybody, you can stop waiting for it, get over it”) and then the body issue is off the table.

      • How funny… nudity can neuter your audience’s perception.
        What an idea/thought.

        What was also interesting about YJL’s UFS.
        I felt that without clothing I did not pre-judge their character, because I did not have the costume signals. I did not think “oh, okay, I know that character. I wonder if they are going to play with… XYZ convention”

        I instead thought “naked.” Then as they played out their pieces, I did feel that I had to pay attention to each individual to understand who they were and what they were about. I was forced to get more intimate with the actors, because I could not take them at face-value. Hmm. Each actor was not blank, I really understood their personality or maybe more precise would be felt their personality.

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