Dance Mideast Sexual Politics

Washington’s City Paper blurbed: “Thierry Smits, Compagnie Thor’s artistic director, swears there’s no political or social edge to D’Orient, though it’s hard to deny the bristling homoerotic undercurrent of the piece: If men discovered the beauty of the human form, they’d spend less time waging war against each other. The opening sequence–staged in a bathhouse–is completely, hopelessly sensual, as members of the all-male company writhe against one another within a hyper-masculine environment.”


After living 18 years with Ira Tattelman, author of a graduate thesis and several articles on the architecture of bathhouses in New York City and the codes and uses developed therein, I anxiously awaited Tuesday’s performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The company rarely brings its explorations of the bonds between the mystic and the erotic, the sacred and corporealness to the United States. Wonder why, because the 500-person theater was filled last night.

This month the Kennedy Center features a series called Arabesque: A focus on the Arts of the Arab World that the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Saudi Aramco and others are funding. Art installations filling upstairs include the replication of a cinema in Egypt, a glass reflecting kaleidoscopic images, and a pseudo-planeterium showing the Arab world in the 8th to 15th centuries. The Belgian company contributed this dance to the festival because it is based on impressions gained from trips to the Middle East Orient.

Three factors informed their performance: the aesthetic dimension of the Sahara, the festivity of brotherhood and conviviality of the society, and the Hammams, a place of relaxation and liberty. Eight shirtless men dressed in thin light, flowing white pants emerged from the wings and took seats across the stage. I was surprised that all had white skin. Yet, today I discovered the company issed a call for experienced African-American dancers recently.

Slowly, the dancer in the center stretched his arms against his bare back. A second rose and slid behind the first and sat beside him, imitating the stretch. Soon the two wrapped around each other. Slowly, others moved and mingled with one another. Hands touched and carassed. Eyes met others and walked off with their new found friends. More intermingling of torsos and laying on of hands followed. As the dance moved through its three scenes while perhaps not an attempt at political analysis, the piece provides a compelling look at the behaviors inside a same-sex environment in a traditional partriarchal society in today’s world.

Thor performed the piece again Wednesday in DC. The Post dance critic gave the following review.

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