Peep Show In Central Park

Saturday night I went to Central Park’s Summer Stage to see Israeli choreographer Nimrod Freed’s PEEPDANCE, performed by his new company, Tami Dance Company. The peep-show aspect ended up going along well with the little theme of my weekend, since I’d stayed up till all hours of the morning the night before finishing Charles Bock’s excellent BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN, a dark novel about the underside of “the fabulous Las Vegas.”

Anyway, I loved this show!

They had about six different tents / boxes/ cages — whatever you want to call them — set up on the west side of the field, each housing one dancer apiece, one cage — the most popular one — a couple, male and female. All dancers were clothed, dancing mainly modern-style dance but some more social dance, making various poses, some acting, a couple breaking the fourth wall and engaging with the “audience” — meaning, the sets of eyes looking in on them, but there was of course no actual stripping, unless you consider the shedding of an outer jacket or a monk-type figure taking off and on his hood or a a woman off and on her mask to be such.

But it really made you think about the voyeuristic nature of dance, how dance can be a kind of strip-tease just in its emphasis on the body, the voyeuristic nature of voyeurism in general, and the gendered aspect of all this. In an interview choreographer Freed said audience members would run back and forth between the various cages, but it didn’t matter; you got what you were supposed to get if you simply peered into one box, from various peepholes. After viewing the show twice (they ran it two times) and talking to people during and afterward, I disagree with him. I think what you get out of it depends on which box you look into, whether you look into more than one, and in which order.

I began with this box of the monk (although on looking at my pictures, he looks a bit grim-reaperish; and, now that I look at the picture, those peep holes kind of look like bullet holes, though I didn’t notice that during the performance). He was moving slowly, deliberately, kind of hauntingly, taking on and off his hood, albeit without really letting you see his head. I thought this was interesting, but was curious what was in the other cages, so moved on.

Second cage was a woman making various modern dance moves, contorting here, expanding there. I moved on to another to see a slightly more agitated woman thrashing about, at one point donning a mask. Another box held a woman moving more gracefully, another an older woman doing the same.

One thing I noticed about myself was, when I started peeking in on the first woman, I felt kind of ashamed, like this is perverted. Is this what it feels like to be a man at a real peep show, I wondered. Do they even get embarrassed by what they’re doing? I backed away from my peephole and looked at other people peering through the holes. One woman standing next to me caught my eye and gave a nervous laugh; maybe she felt the same way.

Anyway, by far my two favorite boxes, and the two I kept coming back to were one containing a young woman, speaking Russian, whose dance was the most performance-art-y, and one containing the couple.

Both of these kind of told a little story with their movement, there was variety in their performance. When I first peered in at the couple, they were flirting, or she was trying to flirt with him rather. Later, they fought, later they cuddled lovingly, at one point there was almost an S&M quality, as she hurled herself at his feet, he nearly stepping on her. At one point, she carried him like a baby. He was shirtless, wearing a black faux leather skort, she a black dance top and short bottoms.

What was interesting to me was when he began to play to the audience, making eye contact with the various peeping eyes.

He was very confrontational with people, and it really unnerved me. I backed away when his gaze caught mine. It was then I realized how freakish other people eyeballs peering through those holes looked. All eyes began kind of darting back and forth at each other, seeming to think the same thing, worried this guy was going to come after us. There was a kind of bonding of peepers. The woman in the box with him tried to keep him at bay, but he wouldn’t have it. He sneered at the eyeballs, clawed at us, thrashed himself into one sides, making the whole wobbly box sway precipitously.

At one point, he even began climbing over the side. I ran away!

A woman who arrived late saw all the people standing at the couple’s tent, and walked over. The first thing she saw when she peeped in was him throwing his waist right into the side she was on, near her peep-hole. She backed away quickly, frightened. “I don’t think I like this!” she said to me. I told her not to worry, and to go look in some of the others; they weren’t so nuts!

What was interesting to me though was that he was the only dancer / ‘stripper’ to be so confrontational, to get so angry at the peepers. In fact the only other person to break the fourth wall and acknowledge our presence was the Russian woman.

But she wasn’t confrontational, and definitely not angry; instead she was by turns submissive, playful, humiliated. Here she is pointing jokingly out at a viewer. When someone stuck their camera lens through their peephole to photograph her, she puckered up and posed, then began laughing, at first cracking herself up, then her laugh turning into a cry, a wail, like she was a poor imprisoned animal. She threw herself on the ground, only to get up, brush herself off, and dance.

Then, she walked around the perimeter of her cage, asking in Russian for money, “Pojalsta, pojalsta, dollar,” she’d cry out, holding up a finger. At one point someone gave her one. She thanked him, put it in her mouth, and chewed.

She took it out and tried to give it back to the man who gave it to her, who wouldn’t take it. No one would. No one wanted a chewed spit-laden dollar bill! I thought how hilarious it would be if a real stripper did such a thing.

Then she tried to do what she considered a “sexy dance” — though she was so innocent, it, pretty hilariously, wasn’t strip-tease-like at all. She kept talking throughout, in Russian, which I didn’t understand, but, from the tone of her voice and the questioning look on her face, it seemed like she was asking us if we liked what we saw.

I just found it interesting that the man, the only man (besides the monk guy), was the only one who kind of violently acted out against being “peeped on.”

It was a great turnout. Here they all are onstage for a bow.

I met up with Evan there, who took some great photos and posted her own thoughts here. Also, the Winger’s Deborah Friedes wrote about seeing the show in Israel, here.

5 Comments

  1. Wow, interesting! Just by reading your review, it sort of revealed my need to know what the choreographer’s purpose was. I found myself wondering what the dancers were told to do – were they told to interact with the peepers, or not, or does it even matter what the choreographer MEANT to do? Is the final result all that matters, and each audience member’s personal interpretation of it?

    Sounds fascinating. I think I would have run away too if the guy crawled over the wall. Or moved to a safe distance so I could watch. :)

  2. Sounds like you had quite the experience at “PeepDance” – what great descriptions and pictures!

  3. Thanks Deborah!

    Jolene, I’m not sure how much the choreographer actually told each dancer what to do, if he actually choreographed what went on in each box, or if he just constructed the overall idea. He couldn’t have had a whole lot of control over all of the Russian woman’s actions since someone gave her a dollar that I don’t think she expected. (In the first show, no one gave her a bill; it was only in the second one that someone gave in to her pleadings). He said in an interview that his idea for the project came from the feeling of being attacked by flies in Israel in the summer, and initially his dancers were supposed to make similar motions, as if they were fighting off flies. But eventually, it obviously went far beyond that. What’s interesting is that different spectators had such different interpretations. Evan thought of how the feeling of being caged and under surveillance reflected what it meant to be Israeli, which I hadn’t even considered. But she’s totally right. She also thought that Freed was trying to get us to think about how we view dance, by breaking up our gaze into little peepholes, each giving us a different perspective depending on where the dancer was in the box. We both couldn’t stop saying how though-provoking this was!

  4. Awesome review Tonya!
    I feel a bit like I’ve been there now. :)

  5. Thanks Gracia 😀 Good to hear from you again!

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