I’m a fan of World Stage. It’s one of my favourite theatre companies in Toronto because it allows me to explore the thoughts, wavelengths, trends and experiences going on outside of my little city on the lake. This year I have had the opportunity to hum and haw over performances put on by top theatre and dance pros from all corners of the globe: from Brazil to China, Germany to Norway and beyond.
When I first got my hand on this years World Stage season I was most looking forward to a contemporary dance piece from a duo out of Portugal and Belgium. So with much anticipation I hopped on the subway with Jonathan bound for the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront Centre. Arriving at the lobby I picked up my tickets and kiss kissed a few familiar faces. We all waited for the attendants to let us into the space and while loitering I took a snap shot of the audience warning: “Mature Subject Matter, Scenes of Nudity In This Performance.” A whole lot of two naked men, a destiny for our imminent futures.
A real friend punches you in the balls. Or in the case of Belgian-Portugese dance production Still Standing You, slaps you on the back, whips you with his belt and then gives you a cute cuddle. Friends, producers and stars of the show, Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido explore the dynamic of friendship, pushing each other to their limits before their audience. Notions of touch, tenderness, violence, animalism and struggle are addressed through the medium of men’s human bodies. Funny, disturbing, and moving all at once, Still Standing You takes the audience on an embodied ride through the spectrum of emotions that accompany a close kindred. Pieter and Guilherme’s duet is not a narrative or a document on a personal story of two people but rather a segmentation of dances where psychological tensions arise for basic and simple physical situations. These shared experiences undergo multiple readings, from manhood disruption to childhood reenactments.
Arriving into the theatre the two performers are already on stage: one lays flat on his back with legs in the air, the other sits on his flat feet like a pigeon watching his reflection in a window pane. Our Mister from Portugal ever so naturally starts a conversation with the audience which sets the stage for a very candid, interactive busker style introduction. In doing so he makes it clear that this is not a formal performance space but one he wants to interact with throughout the show. Over the course of the next hour the audience had no issue with wincing, laughing, squirming in their seats and shouting in horror.
The show starts by detailing the wild imaginations young boys fantasize about living in. Both performers prance about the stage like animals, grunt, squawk and attack each other as if rough housing in a playground. Their innocense and whimsy is charming and fiercly physical. Then the clothes come off and foreskins are twisted, bums are smacked and wacked and bodies crawl upon each other. While many gays may have come to see the show in search of homoeroticism really the nudity here is non sexual and becomes the norm without much shock once you get used to the flapping phallus.
After their final bow we stuck around for a Talk Show hosted by Salvatore Antonio. The room was a giggle as both (now clothed) performers talked about the evolution of their show and answered questions from the audience. I think the most thought provoking question was the final one, where a woman commented on the fact that the show in Toronto was rated 18+ but felt as though a show like this should be accessible (with urgency) to young boys. Exposing young men to the male nude in a non sexual way, in a show that very much plays to the heart of what it’s like to be a boisterous boy was at the heart of her questioning.
Are North American reactions to the male nude too prude, conservative and fear driven? Would the exposure to this kind of work to a younger demographic help create a safe space for them to create a healthy dialogue about their bodies and perhaps deal with the stigmas of homophobia and gender and sexual stereotypes from the get go? I think so, just pay a visit to a beach in Sweden and you’ll quickly realize North America’s fear of the naked is rather gripping. Fear of your privates, fright of judgement and uncomfortable in your own skin. Something we need to work on for certain and if you live in Toronto be sure to get crackin’ this summer at clothing optional Hanlan’s Point. Set yourself free.