Naked ambitions

As the lights went up on Dédale to reveal Jordan Deschamps standing there naked, a murmur of laughter ran through the audience. ‘Here we go again’ appeared to be the consensus (we’d already seen a lot of nudity at the Spring Forward festival by that point) a response which seemed unfair: Deschamps’ use of nudity was justified and refreshingly political.

The conventional nude has long been the female body, as a product both of and for the male gaze, a norm which Deschamps subverted by stripping off alongside three other male dancers. That shouldn’t be a radical act, yet it is. There was a softness to the men’s bodies, eyes, and touch, which invited us to focus on their vulnerability. Physical contact between men onstage is often either violent, or played for laughs, but here was a genuine attempt to explore male intimacy. And by exposing their bodies fully, the dancers allowed us a far greater share in that vulnerability and intimacy. Amid depictions of masculinity at Spring Forward which tended towards the one-dimensional, Deschamps’ queered perspective was a welcome one.

What about the women then? Considering the historical precedent, the use of the naked female form often pings my (perhaps over-sensitive) radar to signs of gratuitousness. However, much of the nudity we saw came from female choreographers acting as both creator and performer, presenting their naked bodies to the audience on their own terms. With women’s bodies still routinely policed and controlled by others, in itself this display of female autonomy is surely a cause for celebration.

And no one seemed more determined to celebrate than Hilde Ingeborg Sandvold, with her unashamedly feminist bulldozer of a solo, Dans, for Satan. Cartoonishly gyrating and moaning, she parodied the oversexualisation of women whilst highlighting our desensitisation to it. Having first exposed the dysfunction of current structures, when Sandvold revealed her naked torso daubed with the words ‘Pussy holds the power’ it was a defiant challenge for us to do better, to see her body differently.

Nudity, like most things, goes in and out of favour with dance makers. From the look of Spring Forward 2018, it’s back in, and it was encouraging to see it used to consciously reflect conversations currently being had around sexuality and gender. Our bodies are a political battleground, with queer and female bodies especially besieged, and Deschamps and Sandvold proved that sometimes removing your armour is the best form of resistance.

That said, the bodies seen at Spring Forward, whether naked or not, were almost without exception slim, young, and able-bodied. The dance world’s illusions that these sorts of bodies are uniquely valuable and ubiquitous are arguably even more entrenched than across society at large. Perhaps a festival as well established as Spring Forward could also use their clout to promote those currently on the front line of those particular battles, instead of waiting for them to become more palatable to the mainstream. Then we might see dance actively shining a light, and not just reflecting.

David Pallant