Bare – 11 naked men dancing
Filmmaker Aleksandr M. Vinogradov has turned his camera on the work of Thierry Smits – following the creation of his piece Anima Ardens.
The result is Bare – a documentary that takes us behind-the-scenes of the creative process of modern dance.
Anima Ardens (Burning Soul) is a piece for 11 male dancers – all performing completely nude.
The documentary enables us to observe the initial auditions, the selection of the company, and the rehearsal process – through until the premiere performance.
If you’re interested in dance or naked guys, this is a film that you’ll probably want to add to your watch-list.
Vinogradov’s observational approach works well in this context. The documentary enables us to feel as if we are almost sitting in the rehearsal room, watching the process unfold, eavesdropping on conversations.
We’re used to seeing naked male bodies, but it’s rare to be able to observe a group of naked men – men who are comfortable with their bodies and each other – focused on something other than sex or the act of being naked. In this instance, the focus is on dance and on movement.
There’s an obvious homo-social and homo-erotic context when filming a group of naked men – perhaps even more so here as all the dancers seem to be gay – but this is a film that isn’t prurient and doesn’t rely on eroticism to hold our attention.
Anima Ardens is exploring human rituals, and is a journey towards personal liberation. Male nudity is a tool to tackle taboos head on.
We caught up with Aleksandr Vinogradov for a behind-the-scenes look at the film.
What was the creative process that brought together the idea of making a documentary about the creation of Anima Ardens?
In 2012, I released a short documentary film – Five Steps of Butoh – which was about Japanese contemporary dance.
The work process was so inspiring – dance is such an amazing visual language.
That short film was well-received at festivals. It’s now available to watch online and has over 4 million views.
Dance also features in my short film, Under The Dress.
Dance has become an important instrument of telling stories in my films.
While I was searching for my graduation project, I met with Thierry Smits. He invited me to a performance of his work, Cocktails – I really liked the queerness, satire, and nudity. I suggested to Thierry that I could make a film about his choreography, but – at that time – he wasn’t working on anything that was suitable.
A year later, Thierry contacted me to let me know that he was planning to create something with 11 naked male dancers. I was very excited, so I rented myself some equipment and began filming the audition process.
At that stage, I didn’t imagine that it would result in a ‘making-of’ documentary. I was in the middle of working on my master’s thesis about male nudity in visual art – filming the creation of Anima Ardens seemed like a perfect opportunity to follow the production and get some material for my thesis.
Why was male nudity as a taboo a topic that you wanted to explore?
Nudity is still an issue in society.
For example, when I was taking a shower in the gym in Brussels – this was before lockdown – most men were wearing underwear while showering. Maybe they kept their underwear on because of religious reasons, or because they felt inhibited – I don’t know. In Russia, men are always naked in the shower. It was interesting to reflect on that.
That’s one of the reasons that I included the shower scene in the documentary.
My film is just an observation – it doesn’t provide answers. We need to find the answers ourselves.
There also seems to be a difference in the way that nudity is perceived in the US compared to Europe. My film, Bare, has had a really positive reaction in the US but it’s interesting to see that male nudity is a provocative topic in that country.
During the audition process, there’s a moment where the dancers ask if they could audition without being filmed – were you worried that the project might not work if the dancers were too aware of the camera?
When that situation with the dancers was happening, I really was upset. All the dancers had been informed about the project and had signed an additional release agreement about the filming.
A film like this only works if the people who are in the frame are comfortable with it.
Fortunately, for about 80 percent of the time, it was just me doing the filming, so that made it easier for me to become a fly on the wall.
Although the auditions and rehearsals are an overtly homosocial space, the observational style of filming minimises the homoeroticism of what we’re watching. Was that balance something that you were particularly aware of?
For me, it was interesting to see male nudity from different perspectives – not only as a gay gazing, but also as dancers see it themselves.
To be honest, I wasn’t consciously trying to avoid homoeroticism – the balance came out naturally.
You must have had a lot of footage to work with, did you have a clear narrative that you were building or was that something you had to find through the editing process?
Once I had all the footage, I wanted to work with a professional editor.
When you’ve done all the filming, and you know how difficult it was to get some of the footage, it’s always very difficult to kill your darlings.
But it was difficult to find an editor, and I eventually decided to edit everything myself. However, I wasn’t happy with the result.
The structure of the final version was improved a lot after I worked for several months on it with my assistant Joeri Verbesselt. Together, we found a storyline that connected to the development of the performance.
What do you hope that people feel when watching Bare?
In the final scene of the film, Thierry says – “Our body is the last territory of absolute freedom and it’s still bold to show nudity on stage. It’s not just erotic nudity or this is not obscene nudity. This is nudity, which is beautiful.”
If, by the end of the film, viewers are no longer paying attention to the nudity but are focused on the personalities, then my goal has been achieved.
What’s the appeal of naked men dancing?
Beyond the artistic merits of dance, there’s something kind of compelling about watching a naked man dance. When the body isn’t concealed or constricted by clothes, it is somehow more vulnerable – it’s a more intimate experience in every sense of the word.
Also, it’s interesting to watch how a man’s genitals respond during movement of the body.
Then, undoubtedly, there’s an erotic element to it. We’re used to seeing strippers dancing while taking their clothes off, we’re used to seeing go-go boys dancing without much on at all, but we don’t often get to see a naked man just moving his body for the joy of dancing.
Plus, it’s intriguing to think about what would happen if a guy got aroused while he was dancing, if he got hard – could you dance with an erection?