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Flash Review 1, 2-15: A Smorgasbord of Sex
Investigating the Erotic at Judson

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2000 Chris Dohse

When is dance erotic? When is eroticism sexy; when is it sensual? Monday night Diane Torr, a.k.a. Danny Drag King, presented four artists whose work she finds erotic at a Movement Research Studies Project event at the Judson Church. This is a space whose walls have witnessed thirty years of dance experiments, many of which have been more salacious, at first glance, than these divergent projects.

The first two soloists, Daria Fain and Paul Langland, channeled sacred shapes and energies. Fain subtitled her piece "Practice V" (accompanied by vocalist Lee Ann Brown and musician Drew Gardner), a "homage" to her Indian Dance background. She began her improvisatory material with a formal, architectural structure, then relaxed into a tactile deliciousness, tensing and releasing through positions that resembled yogic asanas. She maintained throughout a quality that was as sensual as the shimmering pink sheath that covered her.

Langland's performance dug deeper into violent or ecstatic realms, as he used breath and presence to enter what looked like the "kriyas" sometimes sought by certain meditation practices, moments when the body is moved spontaneously by awakening kundalini. His excerpt from "Almost Rapture," a collaboration with Brendan McCall, alternated from gluey bonelessness to a defiant possession of territory.

How do either of these works function within what dance scholar Ramsay Burt, recently a visiting professor at New York University's Department of Performance Studies, called during the evening's panel discussion the "social context of sexuality and eroticism"? Clearly each performer was experiencing, at various levels, intensely personal, sensually driven realities. Were they doing it for us, offering us voyeuristic pleasures, or simply allowing us to gaze upon their private rituals? Onstage, each had a full array of volumes and biological systems available for experiential choices. However, the organ through which we, as audience, primarily experienced the work was our eyes. How can a performer bridge that limitation?

Sarah Spanton, a British performer in her NYC debut, pandered to the audience's visual pleasure in her solo "Homeward Bound." After inflating a small life raft, Spanton mounted her tumescent partner and shuffled through a series of poses from vintage beefcake magazines. The fact that she is a biological female wearing a traditionally homoerotic sailor suit complicated her voluntary objectification.

A duet by Eric Dunlap, from his S&M fairy tale "Gion: The Sense of Skin," moved the heat of interaction from the audience's gaze through the performer's interiority and placed it between himself and dancer Sarah Plummer. Plummer, a Circe of curves and angles, bewitched Dunlap into a tussle of submission and resistance. This vocabulary came closest to what our culture might perceive as "sexy"; their violent foreplay certainly evoked fetishistic triggers, yet, like the earlier soloists, their liquid quality was the real turn on.

Torr, like many sex-positive, gender-nudging artists, seeks a presentation of the erotic as "a source of energy and power that needs to be celebrated." Her Valentine's Day smorgasbord presented an appropriate multiplicity of contemporary investigations, without consensus.

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