trevlynschimmel

Brian Sanders JUNK’s Carried Away takes you there

robinsonfatscher
photo credit: Ted Lieverman

by Lewis J. Whittington for The Dance Journal

With sweaty atmospherics of the gay leather dance clubs of the 80s complete with a locker door to a back room are depicted Brian Sanders JUNK Fringe show “Carried Away” the first part of his dance memoir and meditation on the how his life was impacted in the late 80’s during the worst of the AIDS epidemic when before the life saving drugs were available era when HIV/AIDS was epidemic in NY’s gay community.  He delves into his experiences as a 19-year old, a sexually active gay man coming out in the perilous years before effective AIDS drugs became available. Sanders is a 30 year survivor, many remember his HIV+ tattoo on his bicep which he wore and otherwise naked for a City Paper cover 20 years ago.   Now, he depicts his personal journey conquering fear, shedding stigma and remembering those who were lost.

Carried Away is a movement mosaic of a harrowing and liberating time; it is Sanders testament of survival and one of the danciest pieces he’s ever choreographed.   In fact, Sanders acrobatic choreography is actually a bit lumbering in Carried Away, perhaps because the dance sequence are more front and center compared with many of his shows.  His imagery is inspired in part by the hyper gay male eroticism and GLBTQ iconography from this era, particularly the gay male eroticism of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.  That milieu hurtles out in the opening sequence with the JUNK men- Theodore Fatscher, Tommy Schimmel, William Robinson and Matthew Emig- splayed out in iron chairs, leather pants, with their bare torsos undulating to a club track before they vault into handstands, releve off the chair back or drops to hedonistic Cossack lunges. These ain’t your grandmother’s Chippendales.

With ‘More, More, More’ (how do you like it) Emig flops around on a soft porno photo shoot, then hooks up with various guys and ends up in a romantic and sexually acrobatic coupling with Tommy Schimmel on a circular bed.  Even as the plague hovers over every aspect of his life, Emig’s character uses sex to forget, even as his fantasies are shattered. The mood further darkens as Schimmel lay sick and is eventually wheeled out on a stretcher and Emig is off in the corner escaping in anonymous sex.

This startlingly frank scene is followed by the strings of Donna Summers’ legendary ‘MacArthur Park’ as Kelly Trevlyn and Julia Higdon twirl into the arena and the ensemble starts to Hustle, that much mocked disco dance from the 70s that Sanders morphs to  fireworks layouts and lifts.  This piece is part of Sanders flyby of the innocence sex and drug – induced gay club dancing, which as an 80’s club kid, he recognized then as beautiful expressions of gay liberation.  Later during ‘Do You Want to Funk’ Sylvester’s defiant anthem for the dancers clutched in a tight chorus line ala Fosse, not with kid, but with rubber gloves alluding to the age of safe-sex- they break out with some tight balletic moves with saber leg battlements and turns.

In a series of solos, Sanders evokes his existential search to keep the body moving as it is under attack from within and without.  Schimmel partners a heavyweight punching bag, symbolic of hetero masculinity, but floats around it and hurls himself at it and eventually dangles upside down on it.  During the solo to ‘Shame’ Bill Robinson is in a smoldering survival statement, his torso oscillation and hypnotic arm geometry so fluid and imbued with such powerful grace.  Fatscher marches forward, backward and even tumbles on a treadmill rolling around the stage.  Among the other striking acrobatic sequences have Emig and Schimmel are suspended in a metal frame that spins them during Bowie’s Heroes and the ethereal last tableaux, an aerial ballet with the dancers in Samurai skirts, in harnesses tumbling en l’ air.

Detailed production design with brick and metal grungy afterhours club atmospherics by Pedro Silva and the apparatus like a sprung bed, slam wall and girder mounts- by John Howell, all enhanced by the sculpting shadows cast by lighting designer Alyssandra Docherty who casts the noirish Mapplethorpe aesthetic.  The sexual imagery frank, beyond any lewdness and not pulling any punches in its intent, there is pathos and eloquence.

Carried Away
Brian Sanders’ JUNK
Now through September 24th
JUNK, 2040 Christian St.,Philadelphia
INFO & TICKETS: http://fringearts.com/event/carried-away-6/

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