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Flash Review 1, 4-16: Figure Studies
Body Language from Daniel Leveille

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2003 Chris Dohse

NEW YORK -- Does nudity recognize a language barrier?

Nudity saturates our culture. Yesterday at my local gay bar, each of the two-for-one drink chits had a naked porn star on it. We see naked bodies in the locker room, the life drawing class, in photos of death camps, strippers, high art odalisque, the intimacy of a lover in the bath, the anatomy textbook. And there's plenty of nudity in post-modern dance. At times, the nudity in Daniel Leveille's "Amour, acide et noix" (seen last week at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church) suggests all those sites. Yet it is unlike any of them. The four pale-skinned bodies (Frederic Boivin, David Kilburn, Ivana Milicevic and Dave St-Pierre) are uncannily beautiful for one thing, lit by Marc Parent against the creamy white columns of the church and its glowing wooden floor.

These naked dancers sift through a series of duets and solos, all with a liberal use of stasis. One figure jumps suddenly, usually with great force, to be caught in mid-air or pushed through space by a partner, for an effect similar to a quartet seen in Brian Brooks's recent Streb-inflected work. Or the figures pose in totemic, athletic stances, slowly curling into a fetal shell while a variety of music (Vivaldi to Led Zeppelin) plays at a variety of sound levels.

The paintings of Francis Bacon come to mind, wherein riotous, anthropomorphic brushstrokes are made vulnerable by the rigidity of their architectural framing. There's something clinical, almost antiseptic, to the dancers' presence: intensely aware, yet congenial, childlike, innocent.

Like the stripped insides of a clock, the simple mechanics of the human body are revealed. We see a machine made of levers, a computer made of meat. At times the dancers simply stand, watching us as acutely as we're watching them. Adopting a deceptive neutrality before crouching to pounce or fly.

Within this structure they seem to need each other the way babies do. I see an affectionate and funny duet for Kilburn and St-Pierre through the lens of being the youngest of four brothers and something elusive and elemental in me responds, a complex emotional reaction that leaves me clumsy and inarticulate. On the walk home I analyze this atypical wordlessness. I think maybe it is the dancers' remarkable blank serenity that makes the work so powerful. Their unflinching vulnerability, so unashamed, so unapologetic.

I am able to identify two brief moments as the source of my feelings. Somewhere during more than an hour of unnatural equilibrium, released into gravity, held but not rigid, Milicevic allows her arm to dangle naturally while in Boivin's arms. This response to the momentum of being caught suddenly looks unbearably fragile. And in the men's duet mentioned above, St-Pierre lifts his hands above his head to the much taller Kilburn, like a toddler indicating, "Help me" or "Carry me."

Only the next morning does the complex arrangement of feelings inside me clarify. I have felt this before and am able to name it. It is heartbreak.

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