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Laying bare (and reshaping) society's attitudes

June 21, 2004|Sara Wolf | Special to The Times

Eric Kupers is a beautiful mover, as he demonstrated in the solo "illusive" at the Electric Lodge on Friday night. The co-director of San Francisco's Dandelion Dancetheater is also ample-bodied. Chunky. One might even say fat.

And, for this concert, which also featured the ensemble "Night Marsh," he was buck naked.

Neither of these factors prevented Kupers from executing fluid, continually morphing phrases of glides, lunges and spins that spilled over into gentle falls and rolls in the well-structured dance.

A long tradition of dancing au naturel exists. And since the women's and gay liberation movements of the 1960s and '70s and the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, the body has gained considerable political weight.

As a result, a diverse group of artists has used nudity to confront societal attitudes about race, gender, health, beauty and size.

In "illusive," Kupers challenged the tacit contract of live dance -- the pleasure of watching highly trained, uber-fit bodies -- with his easy grace, jiggling belly and all.

A buttoned-up April Taylor kibitzed on the sidelines, simultaneously pointing out Kupers' dancerly shortcomings, empathizing with the audience's potential shock or disgust, and slyly skewering its visual biases.

The sprawling "Night Marsh" provided an apolitical, utopian forum for bodily self-acceptance for the 14 performers of all sizes, colors, ages, sexualities and abilities who braved the spotlight in the buff for nearly an hour.

From the gorgeous opening image of softly curving backsides, it was evident that the three-year process that went into creating this work was time well spent. Kupers created memorable vignettes, from unabashedly intimate contact improvisational duets to a butt-wiggling chorus line and Jen Arnoth's silly breast-flapping solo.

Less successful was Kupers' attempt to stitch these together with a choppy short film that told of an Alice-like everywoman's (Debby Kajiyama) mythic journey of discovery, which ended with her dropping literally into the fleshy wonderland.

Likewise, sustaining a dramatic arc proved difficult, and Kupers' efforts grew labored. All of which could easily have been resolved with judicious editing, and none of which kept the work from being a liberating reminder of the simple beauty of the human figure, regardless of shape.

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