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Naked or not?Nudity in ballet and other dance forms


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#121 Mel Johnson

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Posted 19 August 2009 - 05:51 PM

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.

#122 dirac

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Posted 16 August 2012 - 10:56 AM

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.

#123 Birdsall

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Posted 16 August 2012 - 11:31 AM

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.

#124 sandik

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Posted 18 August 2012 - 04:45 PM

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

#125 dirac

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Posted 18 August 2012 - 11:10 PM

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


Good point.....

#126 bart

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Posted 19 August 2012 - 04:12 AM

I'm not sure what I think about this topic, so it's good to read this thread.. Right now, I am leaning towards the position expressed in Alastair Macaulay's NY Times piece, linked by dirac above. (Thanks, dirac.) Especially the following:

[When tights are removed from ballet, the art itself is changed. Ballet, the genre that once recaptured the ideal quality of nudity, becomes instead, in these modern examples, the art of nakedness. This could prove a valuable new departure, but itís worth considering its implications. The look of the bare leg drastically changes the entire aesthetics of the form. Muscular details of thigh, knee, calf become suddenly distracting. The leg becomes real, the arabesque not.


Perhaps I was exposed to too much well-intentioned, but clumsily executed, naked dance -- and, frankly, too many less-than-beautiful bodies -- in the downtown NYC dance scene of the 60s and 70sPosted Image Posted Image Naked bodies definitely have their place on stage. But for me, nakedness when put in a spotlight is inevitably about literalism. It expresses a value system of "warts and all."

Ballet, on the other hand, is most effective when it idealizes the body and the body's ability to express feeling and music through movement. For me, this is what is most characteristic of classical ballet, and of classical dancing of all kinds. I don't just mean "looking pretty." Classical ballet is an art that focuses our eye on physical essentials while avoiding the distractions of too many competing details.

In this sense, if one exposes all the body parts and surface markings, it is just as bad as loading the dancers with costumes with far too many decorations.

#127 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 19 August 2012 - 07:13 PM

Unnecesary to me-(at least in each and every single performance I've seen it). Can live with it if pointes are not mixed in the equation though. Otherwise, silver bullet with it.

#128 dirac

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 09:18 PM

A few paragraphs ago, I was talking about dancers showing us the cracks between their buttocks or deconstructing anal sex. So isn’t it trivial to talk of a ballerina merely baring her thighs and calves? Well, no.


Well, yes. I do have some trouble equating a dry hump onstage with barelegged ladies. Danseurs have occasionally gone without tights, as Macaulay notes, without posing a threat to the essence of the art form. I don't much care for the pointes-without-tights look, but it could be because I just don't see it that frequently (not that I'm complaining). As I remember Croce's original the-arabeseque-is-real quote in context, she was not talking so much about the idealization of the ballerina's body but her body presented as an abstraction, which isn't the same thing. What's so horrid about being reminded from time to time of the fleshly humanity of a female dancer by the removal of tights?

#129 bart

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Posted 21 August 2012 - 03:48 AM

Thanks, dirac, for pointing out the differences between "naked" and "without tights." For me, the choice has a lot to to do with the piece itself. A bare-legged Aurora or Giselle, or (more extremely) a Prince in Speedos, work against the the story, music, feeling, and historical context of the piece. With neoclassicism and contemporary works, the situation is different,

... [Croce] was not talking so much about the idealization of the ballerina's body but her body presented as an abstraction, which isn't the same thing.

An interesting point, if I understand it correctly. It's funny how conversations like this often hinge on what we mean by our key vocabulary. Croce was fond of making sweeping pronouncements that sometimes depended, when you thought about, on highly personal, and ofdten unexplained, definitions.

"Abstraction" seems pretty clear, though I'm having trouble imagining what Croce could have meant in this context. A stripping away of non-essentials?

As for "idealization," too often it is used to suggest de-sexualization or prettiness -- the opposite of "real." I prefer to think of it as a kind of meta-realism. A way of experiencing physical reality in terms of larger (possibly "higher") meanings and values. Beauty and even sexuality can and do transcend the physical surfaces of the human body.

#130 kfw

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Posted 21 August 2012 - 06:01 AM

What's so horrid about being reminded from time to time of the fleshly humanity of a female dancer by the removal of tights?


Nothing, in my opinion, but physical attractiveness can momentarily distract me from the actual choreography.

bart wrote:

As for "idealization," too often it is used to suggest de-sexualization or prettiness -- the opposite of "real." I prefer to think of it as a kind of meta-realism. A way of experiencing physical reality in terms of larger (possibly "higher") meanings and values. Beauty and even sexuality can and do transcend the physical surfaces of the human body.


Very nicely put, as usual. "A way of experiencing physical reality in terms of larger (possibly "higher") meanings and values" is not a bad way of defining a lot of ballet in general, although the experience isn't always conscious.

This NYCB Moves clip features bits of Symphony in 3 Movements and Duo Concertant danced barelegged, beginning at the 48 second mark.

#131 bart

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Posted 21 August 2012 - 07:06 AM

This NYCB Moves clip features bits of Symphony in 3 Movements and Duo Concertant danced barelegged, beginning at the 48 second mark.

I like that look on Fairchild and on the female corps. The subtle movement of muscles and tendons, along with the shifts in light and shadow, fit the music and the choreography quite well. on the other hand , the distraction of the busy white-on-black NYC Ballet tee shirts on the men confirm my feeling that "too much is too much." But the women's naked legs -- wonderful.

Somehow, I found myself thinking of several beautifully drawn charts of muscle groups on a male torso, displayed on the walls of my gym.

The SVConcerto clip with Hyltin Posted Image and Fairchild has the feel of a performance that might have been given when Balanchine was around. This demonstrates to me that, tights or no tights, it's what you do with the body that counts most.

#132 Parma

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 08:01 AM

Nudity in ballet-no thank you, especially in classical/romantic ballets, but preferably in none. One of the things I love about ballet is the aura of romance and glamour in the older ballets, and nudity destroys that. Besides, most of the heroines in the older ballets are supposed to be young girls, virginal and/or ethereal, and nudity would shatter that aura. Also, I think nudity is incompatible with the artifice of classical ballet. And finally, call me a prude-nudity is for painting and sculpture, when done tastefully.


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