Nude awakening

Pub date July 11, 2006
SectionArts & CultureSectionDance

Anicca — at the Theater Artaud complex this week — is not exactly your everyday site-specific dance theater event. With the audience in tow, the piece makes its way from the Noh Space through internal hallways into Theater Artaud proper. Its 20 dancers (half professionals, half amateurs) all perform in the nude. Onstage. Outside. Foggy or not.
Eric Kupers, codirector of Dandelion Dancetheater, knows the risks of this kind of endeavor. Anicca, which means “the impermanence of all phenomena,” is but the latest work of his Undressed Project, which challenges us to look closely at what usually goes unacknowledged. Though we may no longer be shocked by naked bodies in public, for the most part this is still an uncomfortable experience for both viewer and dancer, particularly when the performers come in all sizes and shapes. Two of them have each lost a leg in a car accident.
“We have to accept the discomfort that comes with nudity,” says Kupers, who practices Buddhist mediation. “If we make room and embrace it, we can harness the energy that comes from relaxing with it.” At the very least, a project such as Anicca raises questions about vulnerability and voyeurism.
By exposing themselves the way they do, the dancers have to let go not only of the way they see themselves but also of the way they customarily present themselves to an audience. They put themselves into extreme, emotionally fragile positions. In doing so, they challenge perceptions of how identity is tied to the image we have of ourselves and of others. Still, Kupers was amused to see that while some dancers had no problem with being seen naked by hundreds of people, “they said they wouldn’t dance barefoot on cement.”
As for voyeurism, Kupers remembers that in the early days of the Undressed Project he would get audiences who were ready to ogle buffed and muscled bodies. That’s not what they got. Looking at the diverse bodies of his dancers — old, young, skinny, wrinkled, and big, as well as toned — raises questions. What does our gaze mean to us, to the dancers? Is there shame, embarrassment, titillation, curiosity, acceptance?
Anicca features a taped score and at least one live (naked) violinist. As they view the piece, audience members will be guided by members of Kupers’s Undressed Project workshop. “I think I’ll call them ‘naked rangers,’” Kupers concludes. (Rita Felciano)
Wed/12 and Fri/14, 7pm (also Fri/14, 10 p.m.);
Thurs/13 and Sat/15–Sun/16, 6 p.m. (also Sat/15, 10 p.m.)
Begins at Noh Space
2840 Mariposa, SF
(415) 863-9834