I remember walking by dance studios when I attended a small performing arts college and being awestruck by how dancers move their bodies. You are either blessed with the ability to move in a certain way or not–a fact that that was always a point of frustration in my musical theater education. There have been a lot of documentaries and narrative features about the lives of dancers, but Aleksandr M. Vinogradov captures a shocking intimacy in his documentary Bare. You’ve never seen a dance film like this before.
Belgian choreographer Thierry Smits is up-front during the audition process of his newest project, Anima Ardens, about creating a piece with 11 fully nude male performers. A lot of the guys don’t bat an eye when Smits gives them this information because they are just eager to express themselves. Towards the end of the film, Smits is seen doing an on-camera interview where he states, “Our body is the last territory of absolute freedom.”
American audiences may automatically object to naked men contorting themselves on stage and crawling over one another. There is something built into our psyche that places nudity immediately alongside sexuality, but there is nothing sexual about Smits’ newest creation. Make no mistakes, these 11 dancers bare everything for almost the majority of the entire doc, but the comradery between them is, at most, playful. As many people already know, men will flaunt whatever they have, but these dancers tend to giggle more than they entice when they spend time between rehearsals.
Instead of interviewing the dancers in a talking heads style, Vinogradov wisely invites us to be a voyeur of the artistic process. We almost have an advanced tickets to take a look behind-the-scenes. There are many quiet shots of a completely bare space that reminds us that we are witnessing the creation of something wholly new and original. Smits gives his dancers many exercises to challenge how they move their bodies and how they feel piled on to one another (there is a scene where he encourages the guys to be animalistic and ugly that reminded me of the disturbingly joyous crowd watching the sacrifice burning in Ari Aster’s Midsommar).
From the honesty of the audition process to the jitters of the opening performance, Bare asserts an honesty that we rarely see in performing arts documentaries. By having the men nude for most of the film, you can set that aside and focus on the art. We aren’t used to seeing men naked like this and if we do glimpse the masculine form it’s something dangerous or taboo and Bare throws that out the window.
You may blush but your mind is ultimately what is stimulated.