Juliana May’s newest piece examines the correlation between the vulnerability of the human body and self-consciousness. And while I had a hard time finding moments in which the dancers seemed truly vulnerable, I think the audience, at least, managed to reap some real feelings of rawness and disquieting exposure.

© Ian Douglas
© Ian Douglas

Ms May’s piece is gestural, repetitive, and distinctly off-putting for about two-thirds of its duration. This is not to say that it is a work that falls short; I just wish there were a more original way to convey vulnerability than nudity.

Ms May’s three dancers – Ben Asriel, Kayvon Pourazar, and Maggie Thom – begin the piece in primary-colored clothing. The movement is specific to each performer, and it is repeated often. It is not mundane or boring, but there is an undeniable atmosphere of a warm-up, that this is not the chunk of significance. Text makes an early appearance, also repeated often and occasionally moaned and gasped in voices that sound as if they are about to run out of oxygen. An argument, or at least a confrontation of sorts, appears to be happening. A small table and three chairs are set up in the middle of the space, and then Mr Asriel is suddenly and utterly naked, sitting at one of the chairs.

Ms Thom and Mr Pourazar soon follow suit. (Or, rather, unsuit.) Eventually, all three dancers take a good many turns about the space, walking evenly and closely enough that they can grope each other’s bodies. What begins as a more naïve and unfocused groping soon becomes fixated on reaching between the legs of the person in front and handling his or her genitals. Though initially somewhat intrigued by this display, I soon found myself focusing more on logistical details. How had the dancers first rehearsed this sort of thing? Were any of the dancers about to engage in sex on stage? Should I be preparing myself to see that?

Thankfully, this section ended with all three performers walking offstage into a curtain, rather abruptly and unexpectedly. This was a nicely smart moment. When they came back on stage, one by one, they were accompanied by Chris Seeds’ most excellent percussive score, and they were clothed once more, albeit in more earthy tones. I genuinely enjoyed this section: the movement was pure, syncopated, dynamic, and now familiar enough to me that I could appreciate each dancer’s approach. It was the first and only section of the piece that felt like real, live dance.

More clothes were removed later, although not as many as before. Repetition was the theme, to the point of exhaustion and disorder.

I suppose that I feel mostly that I’m being gypped. Nudity in dance isn’t an original idea. It has lost most of its shock and awe. And although the choreographer may not have been aiming to present something new and incendiary and previously unexplored, I still got a distinct vibe that this would be an unusual piece of dance. But once nudity in dance becomes the norm, it ceases to jolt the audience, thereby abandoning any pretense of gleaning vulnerability. I anxiously await the day when I view a piece that conveys self-consciousness and rawness and susceptibility in a new way – one that doesn’t involve the removal of clothing.