Eleven Naked Men Dancing
The documentary “Bare” is a celebration ofthe male body in all its complexity, might, and vulnerability. It chronicles the preparations for Belgian choreographer Thierry Smits’ provocative dance piece “Anima Ardens” (“Burning Soul”) which features 11 male dancers, all of whom appear completely nude for the duration of the performance. The film features men of all shapes, heights, builds, and penis sizes. The dancers bounce, jump, roll, and wiggle around the pristine white backdrop and stage.
Director Aleksandr M. Vinogradov begins with auditions bringing us a unique dynamic that transforms as the film progresses. We see Smits asking his prospective dancers if they have read the performance description in full and understand that the piece is to be done in the nude. Several dancers are visibly surprised and uncomfortable as they begin crossing their fully clothed legs as Smits makes clear that he is choosing men based on their dancing ability and the audition scenes are a challenge as the top dancers distinguish themselves through technique, form, and confidence.
The dancers must abandon all sense of squeamishness and prudishness. The choreography directly confronts notions of masculinity and sexuality as it brings men together to create a uniquely homosocial space in which the dancers writhe on the floor or connect their bodies to create pyramids of strength. Notions of queerness and masculinity are torn away as the dance numbers have the men explore one another’s bodies, riding them of all insecurity about brushing a colleague’s genitalia in the service of art.
We see images of birth and renewal as the dancers crawl between the bodies of other dancers. Smits implores the dancers to loosen up and discover new energy as two men merge to form a birth canal through which a third dancer wiggles and emerges. The dancers scream, moan, and squat as they use their bodies to evoke the physical feat of child labor.
There are scenes of the dance troupe between excerpts of the performances that are as revealing as the dance sequences with their deconstruction of masculinity and gender norms. From the auditions to the final performance, we are present atthe ends of insecurity as some dancers take time to emerge from their shells. As the rehearsals move toward opening night, the men become looser on stage and open up with each other.
The excerpts of “Animus Ardens” come across as a series of aimless compositions. Even the dancers complain to Smits that the piece lacks narrative coherence. The film explores the tensions within the troupe and the personal explorations of the self each that dancer goes through as he opens himself to the world. Ideas of masculinity, gender, and sexuality, create something new and exciting.
Aleksandr Vinogradov attempts to free the male form, as well as abstract it. The film is political in the depiction of a world “overrun by right-wing and neoliberal” ideals, conflating the unabashed nudity with leftism. The claims of freedom do have weight. It is provocative yet at times it is boring once the initial shock is over. Re-contextualizing this imagery through manhood is the closest the nude dancing comes to provocative and we never know if that’s what the film is trying to show.
The dance sequences are beautifully shot, fluid, and a contrast to a blank backdrop. The white walls stand out from the stage. The close-ups of skin reinforce a vulnerability as if the film is trying to reinforce masculinity rather than separate men from gendered traits.
The penis is on screen constantly, moving independently of the dancer’s body, almost like its own character. Even the most sex-positive viewer may struggle to engage with a film that so heavily draws the eye here and that stops challenging how long we can look at the exposed body.