There’s a sort of irony that the Sex in the City movie is topping box-office numbers as I compose this review. The gang’s (or some would say clique’s) obsession with finding love and designer labels while always striving to look their best rings true with cultural expectations. A different, more honest take on women’s culture, body images and clothing — or lack thereof — lies in the foreground of Cleveland-based MegLouise Dance’s Nearly Nude.
They might not break new ideological ground, but the topics at hand — that is, some of the fresh and fun ways they’re presented — matter more here. There is a straightforward simplicity about the works that invites the audience into their world of women.
During the majority of the 40-minute collection of five pieces, the performers wear little if any makeup, and their costumes consist primarily of flesh-colored bras and full-cut panties. An exception is “Slips,” where they wear vintage white ones, that once-required female garment whose heyday has passed. Arm-in-arm, side-by-side in a line, the cast of six women shifts awkwardly and stiffly across the stage like mannequins. Their short unison exhales punctuate the silence. Moody music from Philip Glass begins as they separate but remain mostly in formations. Some break rank now and then, reaching outward as they struggle to move forward, then turn back on themselves. In the end, they rejoin the conformity and perhaps safety of the women’s line. Issues concerning self-esteem and self-determination arise.
I expect most women can readily relate to the ritual of “Skinny Jeans,” the show’s opener. For the uninitiated, the title refers to that pair of jeans you can barely squeeze into or hope that one day you’ll be able to fit into again. A half-dozen pairs of discarded jeans litter the stage from the start. Clad in their aforementioned skivvies, the women crouch and crawl like a pack of felines before each skulks cautiously toward her own pair of jeans. Jeans are lifted in worship or disdain before the women tug and jump to fit themselves into them. Scrutiny, then ambitious, animated moves follow. The elation doesn’t last long: cringes, frowns, then it’s “Get these off!” The jeans are thrown into a pile, destined for a place besides the laundry room. I imagined women in the audience nodding their heads at the familiar scenario, but I’d be curious as to what the men think about this one.
Also on the program are “The Clique,” featuring some fashion accessories and follow-the-leader motifs, and “Barbie Girl,” followed by the partly self-explanatory “Stripped” that displays some ballet-referencing choreography.
The wanna-be fun-loving “Barbie Girl” feels a bit predictable and nets out somewhere between mildly comedic and slightly kinky, what with the trio’s attire: short, flippy clear plastic skirts and matching crop tops with pink trim paired with clear Lucite platform mules. (Because this is Nearly Nude, they wear the nude undies beneath.) I can’t decide whether taking this someplace more sinister or just hamming it up more might have increased its effectiveness.
It opens with a young girl playing with (you guessed it) three naked Barbie dolls. She later “plays” with the real live dolls. Their stiff arms bent at the elbows and robotic ticks brought the staple ballet character of Coppelia to mind. Music from London Gay Men’s Chorus and other bubblegum Pop tunes bring a fun, peppy touch. A lyric sample: “I’m a Barbie girl/In a Barbie world/Dressed in plastic/It’s fantastic.” Indeed.
It’s worth mentioning that this production doesn’t focus on technical moves and high-energy dancing. The concepts carry more weight than the dancing itself, which is not always as inspired. But here, the risks often work and feel natural, the way the performers have the guts to put their figures on display in skimpy costumes to show what everyday women, who don’t all have typical dancers’ bodies, look like underneath the artifices of makeup, fashion and pretense. In other words, the six women of MegLouise Dance are keeping it real.
— Julie Mullins