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Naked or not?

132 posts in this topic

It is interesting though that we accept nudity in paintings and sculpture and not in ballet.

I'd think that in watching nude dancers the eye would be torn between the moving parts of the body -- the ones the dancers have worked so hard to train and with which they express their artistry -- and the, shall we say, inadvertently moving parts. :) So that, to turn around the Robert Johnson quote Helene posted above, the downside of nudity for the audience might be that it would make it harder to see the dance.

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The nudity actually took me out of the ballet because I found it distracting. It is hard to explain but I feel that the power underlying ballet/dance is a universality of expression and my feeling is that nudity brings the expression down to the individual.

It is interesting though that we accept nudity in paintings and sculpture and not in ballet.

When I was a theatre major I was in a production of Cloud Nine that involved (brief) nudity. It was a production done for a directing student's thesis project so it didn't get a big audience but I was surprised at how, when I was in character in the piece, the nudity from an acting standpoint was fine and not hard to do at all. On the other hand from an audience stand point--and I think this would be the same for ballet too--everytime I've encountered anything on stage with nudity it has also taken me out of the moment of the play/dance piece. Maybe if it was a dance that was *all* nude, after a while you'd get used to it and look past the nudity.

I saw a Fringe dance/music piece based on the Russian novel The Master and Margarita that had maybe 15 seconds of full male nudity. It was a costume change done on stage but it caught the whole audience so much by surprise that it was all I heard *anyone* leaving the theatre talking about. So I think more often than not you have to be really careful about how you use it as it still causes such a reaction (not necesarily shock so much as surprise) even in non conservative audiences that it can make the rest of your piece suffer.

As for why we accept it in art and sculpture I think there are two reasons--one is we're all used to it beign a part of art and sculpture (and photography even). And another is, like nudity in film too, it's there at a distance--in ballet or stage you're there in "real time" with real people and I think that causes more of a reaction.

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Like most of us, I've seen a share of nude performers, and it always seems to come down to the intent of the choreography. If the movement is designed to be seen without clothes, then it seems fine to me. If the work seems to be about a kind of shape-making that gets derailed by naked flesh, then it doesn't work.

In a strange way, it's like dancers with long hair unbound. It can be really evocative, or it can be a distraction -- it all depends on what they're doing with it.

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Just this evening I saw "Bluebeard's Castle" and "Erwartung" at Seattle Opera. In this production by Robert Lepage, in "Erwartung", an actor portraying The Woman's lover, Noam Markus, was murdered in bed upstage left, and very slowly rolled naked out of bed and towards downstage right. Across the front of the stage was about 4-5 feet of water, and during that time, to the most beautiful part of the score, all I could think of was "not the water, Not The Water, NOT THE WATER!!!!" (A certain Seinfeld episode came to mind...)

Of course, he rolled with his limbs in the water, then entirely in the water, from which he swam offstage.

After the performance, Speight Jenkins said that the water was a comfortable 104 degrees (40 C), so I really didn't have to worry, and tomorrow night, when I see it again, I won't.

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Helene--I saw those productions in Montreal 5 or so years ago--I'm a HUGE Robert LePage fan, so went just because I knew he was the director. I thought both were striking--but particularly Bluebeard's Castle which has become a fave opera of mine since, as well. Now that I'm in Victoria I wish I could take the boatride just to see them again--certain images have really stuck in my brain.

LePage loves using water--almost too much by this point--but always poetically. A few of his art installations have used nudity with the water--shower imagery based on Psycho in his movie adaptation of his own Le Confessional caused some controversy when I was younger I think because it was so erotic.

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Some people may find nudity offensive in art ,we are going back in time.I wish I could tell you the name of this performance,probably the best ballet opera I never witness.I made all kind of research without any success.It was a cold night right after hockey night in Canada,the year is 1988 to 1990 cant really remember.It was a Sunday night special presentation for tv,it strated around midnight on chanel 4.Mme Adrienne Clarkson was a guess and only made a brief discourt before a man presented the Ballet opera.First it open with an orchestra and a french woman as a opera.Then there was a couple of dancer in what seem to be flamingo in Spain ,the woman dancer had a long red dress.The other act was quite different ,a man in white thigh and a woman in a white long dress ,thing is it was almost see true,as the male dancer lift her up ,you could tell she had no panties what so ever,erotic or what ? The next part involved around twenty ballet dancers,dancing to the french opera woman voice and the music of the orchestra.The men was dress in white and you could almost see there genitals ,the woman had short white dress like in the Ceasar area,thing is every one forgot panties, as the males dancers lift there partners up you could see there most intime parts....Flesh it was.As a grand Final ,the main dancer lifting the Star up and holding her with her legs wide open right in front of the camera,you could see ,as it was so close , pubic hair and no fake outfit there,Wow...For a tv late night show it was defenitly not for kids and not uncensored ether.This was the 90's I guest people was more open to nudity then 2009.Some one told me it was L'île des amoureux...I know it was about love but dont know the title yet and it is more than twenty years ago and I remember that show,can you say the same today ? There was an ovation from the public present at the time....Probably just produced for tv and not for public purchased.This was quite the performance,for nudity in Ballet and Opera together....Thanks for reading.

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I always reserve one elective ballet class per week as a "seminar". In addressing the truth of what has been called "avant garde' theatre, I provoke a discussion regarding nudity in ballet. No, I don't show video examples, LOL! However, I often mention the ballets of Flemming Flint who (passed away last March), in "Triumph over Death" (based on Ionesco) and a few others, incorporated nudity...full frontal nudity - often with outrageous and provocative choreography to match.

I remark to my young students that "if they ever visit Copenhagen, look for a ladies bathroom." If they ever find one, they should let me know. Well, their likely are a few men's and women's rooms, but many are simply "publicly shared bathrooms". I tell them this because the Nordic European view of gender and the human body isn't quite so confined as ours in the US...or even more, other conservative cultures. Ergo, a ballet incorporating nudity in Copenhagen might be less challenging than it is here in the US. Certainly, when RDB performed in the US, a disclaimer was given at point of purchase that the ballet included "nudity and scenes not appropriate for children"...or the faint of heart!

As a teacher in culturally conservative VA, I have to be careful that the content of any such discussion does not go beyond the the level that some of my Baptist preacher parents would be comfortable with. (I value my work...and my legal freedom!) So, I let all know that education about such issues as risk are necessary for students considering a career on stage. The proscenium arch is little protection from criticism (Am I right, Alexandra?! ), the eyes of the public, public scrutiny on one hand, and private lust on another.

I think too little is taught to students of theater, dance, opera and other performance regarding "performance risk". When hired, one is at the mercy of the director or content of the show. A very difficult task to do is to expose oneself to an audience in normal performance. Fears of being judged, stage-fright/performance-anxiety, fear of making a mistake, and even the risk of stage combat, 'flying' and backstage hazards in general are one thing to psychologically encounter and handle. Another is to stand naked in front of directors other performers and staff, as well as a theater of people, some of whom may not be that friendly...and others of whom may want to become a lot friendlier than they'd like waiting for them at the stage door after the show...(abonnés, anyone?...LOL!).

Regardless of whether nudity is appropriate in certain settings or not, is one question. But, I think educating students that they may be asked to take such risks is also important. They need to be prepared to make the decision for themselves as to whether or not to accept such employment when and if they are consistently working on stage.

-Philip

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The last time they revived "Triumph of Death" in Copenhagen (a work which, shall we say, was not universally admired for reasons that had nothing to do with the nudity; I loved klingor's post in the early days of this thread), the women refused to dance nude.

I'm on the "if it's artistically necessary, it's ok" side of this. I wouldn't think twice about seeing nudity in performance art or modern dance (conditioning? :thumbsup: ) but, unless it's dramatically necessary, I'd be wary of it in ballet (or any virtuosic dance) for the reasons many people have already pointed out: discomfort, distraction, etc.

In DC, many years ago, a local modern dance company did a nude duet (the flautist was also nude) to protest the controversy then raging about Mapplethorpe's photographs. (Some Senators were appalled that federal money had funded an exhibit that showed the photos.) I loved the earnestness of the gesture, but they made the decision right before showtime, and hadn't worked out the details. What made matters worse, a cockroach became fascinated by the dancers and followed them around for the whole dance, and since there was as lot of stretching and rolling on the floor, the audience was completely distracted by the cockroach, and worried that the dancers would roll on it. Whether we were worried about crushing the cockroach or the effect on the dancers was a lively debate after the performance.

Edited by Alexandra
adding an afterthought

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I saw one program at Netherlands Dans Theater where there was so much nudity that was so predictable and gratuitous that it was boring. Who wants to be bored with seeing a beautiful body?

Are you referring to "Bella Figura" by Kylian? (which was a catalyst for this discussion.) I actually liked that ballet because he used nudity to create a "genderless" effect, not of androgyny, rather of level ground for dance with both men and women without attempting the idea of interplay other than of simply 2 to several humans dancing together. Yet, I found that the sections of the ballet that were "clothed" to be intentionally sexually charged.

-----

I remember reading an article on nudist camps were those interviewed said that after a few days, the whole sexual component became null. The idea of "you've seen one human body, you've seen 'em all". From the point of view of dance, I know that some human bodies can cause arousal to some, repulsion to another; we all have our own internal filters. Certainly, viewing dancers nude might be more currently acceptable than viewing a Botero-esque figure in real life - ("in the flesh", so to speak). Are these attractions and rejections actually veils for our prejudices or preferences? Do these views reflect the causes and conditions which bring us to such views, or simply some flaw in the human psyche. I personally don't think it a flaw. But, I do think it a challenge to our view as a whole. Nudity is the ultimate intimate exposure of the physical. Possibly, we who view it could be just as exposed in our reactions to it, as those standing/dancing naked in front of us.

-Philip

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The last time they revived "Triumph of Death" in Copenhagen (a work which, shall we say, was not universally admired for reasons that had nothing to do with the nudity; I loved klingor's post in the early days of this thread), the women refused to dance nude.

HA! That's great to know. The next time I use this as a discussion with my students, I'll mention that! BTW: I agree that the ballet was overkill, as I recall it.

I'm on the "if it's artistically necessary, it's ok" side of this. I wouldn't think twice about seeing nudity in performance art or modern dance (conditioning? :thumbsup: ) but, unless it's dramatically necessary, I'd be wary of it in ballet (or any virtuosic dance) for the reasons many people have already pointed out: discomfort, distraction, etc.

I agree. I can be said that breaking the bounds of ballet has its limits similar to a rhetorical question I hinted at on the "Balanchine" post a day or two ago: Where does ballet end when 'pioneering" & "experimentation" move passed familiar territory? Is it ballet if we dance naked in the dark without pointe shoes, using mostly contemporary techniques? Or is it simply contemporary self-indulgence, neglecting the necessity or not of audience? (Semantics? Yes? But, it -is- as important not only to referential linguistics, but also to the kinetic syntax and language of ballet.)

In DC, many years ago, a local modern dance company did a nude duet (the flautist was also nude) to protest the controversy then raging about Mapplethorpe's photographs. (Some Senators were appalled that federal money had funded an exhibit that showed the photos.) I loved the earnestness of the gesture, but they made the decision right before showtime, and hadn't worked out the details. What made matters worse, a cockroach became fascinated by the dancers and followed them around for the whole dance, and since there was as lot of stretching and rolling on the floor, the audience was completely distracted by the cockroach, and worried that the dancers would roll on it. Whether we were worried about crushing the cockroach or the effect on the dancers was a lively debate after the performance.

Oh, I remember the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center and the Maplethorp conundrum that lead Bella Lewistsky to refuse NEA funding, all to well. The sculptures of dissenting politicians using "poop" as a medium, were amusing but serious attempts a squashing "federally controlled financial censorship."

---------------------------------------------

But I have a question about the nude duet: was the cockroach wearing clothes? Now -that- would have been a statement!!! ;@)

(As far as crushing cockroaches goes, I think the PETA attempt to make an issue of President Obama swatting flies, deconstructs such arguments, discrediting such otherwise well -meaning institutions, simply through its mere stating!)

-Philip.

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In DC, many years ago, a local modern dance company did a nude duet (the flautist was also nude)
I know that this is a serious topic. I am (honestly) fascinated by what's being posted. But ..., for some reason it's the naked "flautist" that I can't get out of my mind. :unsure: Naked dancers are ho-hum (to me at least). But a naked flute player. That truly seems "gratuitous" -- and much more disorienting (which satire is supposed to be).

On thing I'm getting from this topic is that the creator of performance art really needs to understand and take into account the cultural expectations/ sensibilities of his or her audience. The work changes as the audience changes. Members of a nudist colony will see one work; the lady's Bible study group will see another. In this situation, the "nudity", like beauty, is very much in the eye of the beholder.

Meanwhile, I note that there is an organization dedicated to the promotion of playing the cello naked.

http://www.nakedcellist.org/

You'll have to Google "naked flutist" on your own to see a depiction of that.

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But ..., for some reason it's the naked "flautist" that I can't get out of my mind. :unsure: Naked dancers are ho-hum (to me at least). But a naked flute player. That truly seems "gratuitous" -- and much more disorienting (which satire is supposed to be).

You'll have to Google "naked flutist" on your own to see a depiction of that.

Well, I sure can get it out of my mind, and that's why I'm not googling! :huh:

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Here is Robert Helpmann's take on the topic.... :wallbash:

When asked "Would the fashion for nudity extend to the dance?"

Helpmann replied, "No. You see there are portions of the human anatomy which would keep swinging after the music had finished."

page 213
Helpmann
by Elizabeth Salter

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Here is Robert Helpmann's take on the topic.... :wallbash:

When asked "Would the fashion for nudity extend to the dance?"

Helpmann replied, "No. You see there are portions of the human anatomy which would keep swinging after the music had finished."

page 213
Helpmann
by Elizabeth Salter

My memory may be serving me ill here, but I think the quote is not quite exact. I also think it arose at a performance of Dutch National Ballet because the bon mot was being repeated as we were leaving

the theatre where male nudity had just been exhibited.

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Alexandra, that was either a very small theater or a VERY LARGE cockroach if everybody could see it! :wallbash:

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My memory may be serving me ill here, but I think the quote is not quite exact. I also think it arose at a performance of Dutch National Ballet because the bon mot was being repeated as we were leaving

the theatre where male nudity had just been exhibited.

Leonid, did you know Helpmann? What do you think of the Salter biography?

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My memory may be serving me ill here, but I think the quote is not quite exact. I also think it arose at a performance of Dutch National Ballet because the bon mot was being repeated as we were leaving

the theatre where male nudity had just been exhibited.

Leonid, did you know Helpmann? What do you think of the Salter biography?

I am sorry to say I was never introduced to monstre sacre but saw him on stage on a number of occasions from 1962 to 1979 and at first nights of several productions that he had directed. I have the

Elizabeth Salter and I confess I never completed reading the book as I did not find this most interesting of men so interesting on the page. I had after all been regaled with the stories about him as a person,dancer actor and director for nearly two decades prior to its publication. I have to say I hold the performances I saw of him in great affectionas he was by the time I saw him a great historical theatre character of the London stage.

I would like to say that now that I am retired I have the time to read it, but I am busier more hours of the day now than when I was either working for myself or otherwise employed.

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Here is Robert Helpmann's take on the topic.... :(

When asked "Would the fashion for nudity extend to the dance?"

Helpmann replied, "No. You see there are portions of the human anatomy which would keep swinging after the music had finished."

page 213
Helpmann
by Elizabeth Salter

My memory may be serving me ill here, but I think the quote is not quite exact. I also think it arose at a performance of Dutch National Ballet because the bon mot was being repeated as we were leaving

the theatre where male nudity had just been exhibited.

I cannot help but be reminded of the anecdotal exchange:

OSCAR WILDE: I wish that I'd said that.

JAMES WHISTLER: Don't worry, Oscar, you will.

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Here is Robert Helpmann's take on the topic.... :)

When asked "Would the fashion for nudity extend to the dance?"

Helpmann replied, "No. You see there are portions of the human anatomy which would keep swinging after the music had finished."

page 213
Helpmann
by Elizabeth Salter

My memory may be serving me ill here, but I think the quote is not quite exact. I also think it arose at a performance of Dutch National Ballet because the bon mot was being repeated as we were leaving

the theatre where male nudity had just been exhibited.

I cannot help but be reminded of the anecdotal exchange:

OSCAR WILDE: I wish that I'd said that.

JAMES WHISTLER: Don't worry, Oscar, you will.

I'm not sure what you wish you'd said. When you were looking, there were two things I'd wish I'd said. Now there are three, but there's a hidden Firbankalism which I especially envy. :( , although I guess it's the David Bowie you're referring to. :), 'BonMots Keep Swingin'...

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If with the literate I am,

Impelled to try an epigram,

I never try to take the credit.

We all assume that Oscar said it.

- Dorothy Parker.

I met both Sir Robert Helpmann and Sir Anton Dolin, and found that they were both entirely capable of taking the credit for almost anything said by anyone else, ever. Avoided the esprit d'escalier, I suppose.

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The original question posed was:

What do you think? Is nudity always acceptable? Never? Occasionally? Have we seen any and how did we react?

There seems to be a wide range of very interesting comments here but to me they digress into addressing two related but separate questions – Under what conditions, if ever, is nudity acceptable in performance art? And/or: Under what conditions, if ever, is nudity acceptable in classical ballet?

As many others here (but clearly not all), I feel there are certainly conditions under which nudity is acceptable in performance art, perhaps even essential in certain cases. Art is generally supposed to be subversive and provoke thought and reactions. As we see in the comments here, nudity can certainly achieve this. Having said that, I believe nudity can't make bad art good but it can make good art bad.

I'm less certain, for some of the reasons already stated, about the acceptability of nudity in classical ballet, not because of the potential of offending any prudish sensibilities but rather conflicting with the goals and aesthetics of the art form itself.

As to whether I've seen any performances with nudity lately, a couple of years ago I attended a performance of Bocca Tango Maipo with Julio Bocca. The choreography was a fusion of ballet and tango with modern elements by Argentinean Ana María Stekelman who, perhaps not surprisingly, had studied at the Martha Graham School. One of the duets was performed with Cecilia Figaredo, both wearing only black thongs, with the stage lights dimmed. More sensual than erotic, I felt it was very effective in capturing the intensity, mystery, romance, and passion of tango. Advance notice had been given in advertising.

As far as exposing children, I was always far more comfortable explaining nudity and even sexual themes in a tasteful, artistic context than trying to explain the degree of violence they were often unavoidably exposed to from so many other directions.

The latest report from the front, or rather the back, as it were, by Alastair Macaulay in The New York Times.

Even for those of us who have now seen a great many naked bodies onstage, the bent-over rear view of Mr. Weinert in “Gobbledygook” was something new. It was not, however, a problem. Though I didn’t much admire the work as a whole, that use of nakedness made Mr. Weinert memorably vulnerable.

No doubt.

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I have no problem with nudity in all art forms, but I do wonder sometimes if the people in charge (movie directors, play directors, choreographers, photographers, etc) are sometimes taking advantage of their positions to get young, good-looking people to strip. That is my main concern with the concept. As an audience member it doesn't bother me at all. If the "story" or photo shoot or play or concept necessitates nudity, fine, but if it seems to have no real reason, I wonder about the person who was in charge.

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Deborah Jowitt posted a very interesting review of recent work by John Jasperse (that included nudity) on her blog, bringing her usual skills in observing and describing to her commentary

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Depending on where you’re sitting, you may notice that the action makes the crack between his buttocks widen and narrow rhythmically).

Good point.....

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