Review: Skin & Quicksand (inDance/Buddies In Bad Times)

Choreographer Hari Krishnan presents Skin & Quicksand, a provocative dance performance in Toronto

In dance, as in poetry, I assume that every choice has meaning. In a novel or a musical, I might chalk certain things up to “that’s pretty,” but the more complex and nuanced a form, the more I expect that everything I see has a purpose, and my job is to understand it. This is how I found myself — at midnight, after a two-part dance performance at Buddies in Bad Times in which nine very athletic men leapt and danced about for an hour wearing outfits ranging from very little to almost nothing — researching mudras, the vocabulary of hand gestures employed in classical Indian dance.

Skin & Quicksand are both dances made by Hari Krishnan, an Indo-Canadian choreographer and as accomplished a homoeroticist as I’ve seen in recent memory. With a lot of skin on display and specifically queer themes, the Buddies audience may have come for the nearly-naked boys, but there was more than that to enjoy. I’ll be honest, of the pieces, Quicksand was my strong favorite. I liked Skin enough, and certainly all of the dancers acquitted themselves admirably, but it didn’t stir me nearly as much as Quicksand did, even considering the extended, and very appealing, naked shower dancing by an admirably robust Gerry King. It seemed a bit more like a series of interesting snapshots than a coherent piece — more installation than anything else. At the end of Skin, Toronto dance power-couple Jelani and Sze-Yang Ade Lam were revealed in the audience, wrapped in a fervent embrace, and showered with actual rose petals, which I wanted to adore but couldn’t quite make a case for in my head, I’m afraid, even if it was nice to look at.

Quicksand, however, really satisfied me. Perhaps because it was layered with so many vocabularies of movement — from the aforementioned mudras to ball culture to martial arts to other things that probably went right past me — and the individual and collective beats of creating and undoing. The dancers were each showcased to the best of their abilities individually, and then blended back with the group with notable fluidity.

I didn’t quite understand the choice to have the only two black cast members present the devotional image of Mother Theresa while the rest of the cast, mostly white, danced around them.

I also enjoyed the decision, during Quicksand, to have all of the dancers visible at all times, even if they were not dancing. It made for some really wonderful tableaux, including a moment I’m sure was unscripted but was among my favorites:  seasoned dancer Gerry King sitting stretched out on the floor, perfectly still sharing a stray shaft of light with the very young and vigorous Matt Owen as he bounced very slightly along with the music. It seemed to perfectly echo the neverending cycle of emotion that Quicksand showcases, and it added to the volumes that Quicksand already speaks.


Photo by Miles Brokenshire

One thought on “Review: Skin & Quicksand (inDance/Buddies In Bad Times)”

  1. Dear Mr. Bergman,

    Thank you so much for attending the performance of SKIN and Quicksand. My dancers and I are grateful and appreciate your encouraging, positive support of what we created and shared with audience members like yourself.

    My intention with SKIN is to create a commissioned full-length work based on my academic research on “queering the dancing body”. What you saw is loosely the first chapter of what is meant to be an installation work of vignettes/milestones/snapshots that are seemingly common in a North American gay man’s life journey, from a South Asian gay man’s perspective.

    The title SKIN is an amalgamated reference to skin-flix, one’s personal skin tone, interior/exterior psyche, 1950’s physique culture pictorials, the clashing and complementing of the east/west matrix etc.

    Underlying SKIN is a subtext of palpable voyeurism, existing as an indulgent guilty pleasure on the part of the performers and the audience as they ‘walk’ from one vignette to another in the installation. (Given the possible stage configuration options at Buddies, we decided to ‘stitch’ together the three vignettes in a ‘triangle’- referencing the pink triangle emblem of the queer community).

    I am toying with two ideas, the obvious “instant visual gratification” on display and the second, subverting the former by asking deeper questions about “ seeing “, “being seen” and the prejudice that informs both perspectives. (Incidentally that premise was inspired by the Sanskrit word ‘Darshan’ which means the grace of ‘divine vision’ and the blessings that accompany it. In this case Apollo, Narcissus and Eros!)

    In the Apollo vignette, the undercurrents of race impact the question of negotiating who gets to be the dominant partner in the tryst at the beach. (I was thrilled you picked up on the mudras/gestures as I have peppered this duet with the gesture for ‘kisses’ that the dancers pull out of the air and from the pebbles on the beach etc and ‘plant’ on each other).

    Narcissus forces us to confront the queer community’s life long obsession with youth, beauty and the consequences of not accepting the fact that time and life will eventually ravage both. One must love oneself, as is, before we expect another to.

    I have personally never seen Jelani and Sze Yang kiss in public in the many years I have know them, despite the fact that they are a long- term married couple. I was curious as to why, since I’ve seen many straight couples do the same. That motivated me to create and stage Eros the way I did. When a gay couple lip-locks in public, does it ‘inconvenience’ the audience? Are they embarrassed? Are they proud? Amused? Amazed? Scared? Are they angry/offended? Is it awkward that they are now part of the performance, ambushed in stage lighting, with the performers now watching their reaction? Why?

    As you can see, I can’t indulge in an extensive artistic statement or synopsis in a program book. I often leave doors and windows open for the audience to look in and process their own take on what they see inside my work.

    I would love to meet with you in person over coffee and get to know you better as you get to know my work and me. How may I get in touch with you?

    Thanks again.

    Hari and the artists at inDANCE

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