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Review 1, 12-5: Remembering
Tim Miller and the Boys in the Chorus
By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2002 Chris Dohse
NEW YORK -- Seeing Tim
Miller's "Body Blows" (at P.S. 122) on World AIDS Day was a perfect
way to embrace my several communities, to celebrate together what
we have achieved and to mourn what we've lost. And an opportunity
for breaking through preconceptions, which is always a good thing.
I'd previously lumped Miller with the rest of the NEA
Four (based on first-hand experience with one of them)
and into a category of minor artists who got famous accidentally
and for the wrong reasons. Now I'm happy to eat my hat. Miller is
clearly a master artisan of the talking/moving time-art form we
now call Performance, and has been making it since its 1980s East
Village genesis, before it had a name.
It would be a disservice
to the essential honesty of Miller's work to analyze it in print
without noting that I am a long-term PWA (Person With AIDS). It
was through this lens that I viewed his storytelling. The pandemic
lurked only in the wings of this particular piece but it has been
a constant undertone in Miller's life, as in mine. This is my 16th
December since seroconversion to HIV-positive and on that cold night
I was feeling particularly like, as Miller put it, "used merchandise."
Returning home to P.S.
122, which he co-founded, one last time before he emigrates to London
where his same-sex partnership can be legally acknowledged, Miller
preached to a primarily male choir about "myth, memory, feeling
and fantasy." With the fervor of a Pentecostal evangelist, Miller
morphed from a nellie Auntie to an awkward, boyish Puck, using (again
in his own words) his body as a bridge.
"Body Blows" knitted
excerpts from earlier work -- growing-up stories hinting at family
secrets and picaresque anecdotes from his New York years (all included
in the recently published book of the same name) -- with new connecting
material. Shared memories from our gay youth caused chuckles of
recognition: the sight of Leonard Whiting's ass in Zeffirelli's
"Romeo and Juliet," The Partridge Family, the "rise and fall of
the Queer Nation goatee." The stories revolved around Miller's first
high school boyfriend (heartbreaking memories of perfect, innocent
Queer romance) and NYC circa 1981, where Miller's relationship with
John Bernd evoked complex feelings of love and pain.
Miller catapulted personal
recollection -- what for most would be quickly forgotten observations
or minor epiphanies -- into the realm of mythologized, life-defining
metaphor. The text seemed to move through him, to possess him, his
galumphy body always extending beyond its kinesphere. Physically,
he was completely committed to fulfilling the action of each movement,
not concerned with its shape or afraid of looking foolish, as words
elbowed each other out of the way to be spoken.
There was something
draining about Miller's persistent, exhibitionistic earnestness
while I was watching it; I longed for him to chill out once in a
while, for a moment of repose. Afterward though, his verbal barrage
formed a clenched fist in my mind's eye, as if he'd channeled a
generation of sissies and repressed rage at the "injustice of heterosexual
privilege" in America. When he dropped his amplified stage persona
to give a post-show speech about the lack of same-sex partner rights
in the U.S., he was eloquent, astute, and charming, with a remarkable
comfort level in front of his audience.
I want to credit Miller
for a sweet catharsis. That night the damn Epivir caused insomnia
and "sleep disorders" like every night, but my dreams were unusually
vivid, even through the Restoril. I found myself in a recurrent
dream scenario: a big house full of bedrooms, where it was somehow
understood that I was one of a cast of chorus boys temporarily housed
while performing summer stock. Next morning in the shower, I catalogued
the images in my mind and realized: the last summer I did summer
stock was 1986, the summer before I tested positive. My last carefree
summer. Miller had inspired me to honor in my sleep my own heartbreaking
memories of perfect, innocent Queer romance.
Choreographer Chris Dohse is the Dance Insider's senior critic,
and has also written for the New York Times, Village Voice, and
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