A Little More “Nuditity” Please

by Brian on November 28, 2005

in Only in Israel

Archie Bunker, the protagonist of the massively popular 1970s TV sitcom “All in the Family”
used to decry the increasing amounts of “nuditity” in the world that
always seemed out of synch with his less than open-minded views.
I kept thinking about this classic malapropism as Jody and I attended a performance of the Pilobolus dance troupe where there was more than enough “nuditity” on parade to shock even Meathead, Archie’s liberal hipster son-in-law.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” as Jerry Seinfeld would say some twenty years later in an equally popular sitcom.
We of course knew that a Piloblus performance was not for the modesty-inclined. The troupe, founded in 1971 at Dartmouth College, has long emphasized the pleasures of the dancing flesh.
But the advertisements in the Friday print edition of the Jerusalem Post showed the dancers in rainbow-colored skintight leotards, as did Pilobolus website’s home page. Jody had seen the group perform nearly twenty years ago at Hebrew University
and was keen to relive what had been an inspirational evening. I
figured there’d probably be some adaptation of the show’s dress code to
cater to local mores.
So when the curtain opened at the Jerusalem Theater
a few weeks ago and the four men and two women comprising the troupe
appeared not in leotards, but clad only in loin cloths and (for the
women) bikini tops, I was a little surprised.
But hey, I’m a modern guy, I can deal with a little “nuditity,” right?
I was more worried about some of the other members of the audience. In
particular, a religious-garbed couple in the row in front of us – he
with a large knitted kippa, she in a tasteful wig – as well as our
fourteen-year-old son Amir’s religious school principal who was sitting with his wife two rows in back.
In addition to the skimpy wardrobe, a Pilobolus show is defiantly
erotic. The dancers contort themselves into pretzelated shapes that
defy our conventions of what the human body is capable of. The repeated
pairing of flesh upon flesh without the mediation of substantial
amounts of fabric can’t avoid but conveying overt sexuality, even in
one dance, for example, that clearly seemed to me to depict two insects
in battle.
Set to rhythmic drums and world music from the likes of Brian Eno and The Talking Heads,
the dancers of Pilobolus are at once exuberant and graceful; it is a
feast for the eyes. After awhile, awareness of clothing (or lack
thereof) faded away; it seemed natural. Like, why would dancers ever
want to be encumbered by something as bulky as a leotard in the first
After a short intermission, we settled back into our seats to enjoy the second act. But what was that…was she? Were they…oh my…
The women had dispensed with their bikinis and now were completely
topless. I squirmed a bit uncomfortably in my seat, feeling that
somehow my feelings must be representative of the wig wearer in the
front row and Amir’s principal behind me.
Oh yes, did I mention we were seated in the second row?
Then I heard nervous giggles. I looked around. There were children in
the audience. Who brings their pre-teens to an R-rated dance
Which got me wondering: was this appropriate? Was the nudity really
necessary…in Jerusalem in particular? Would the Pilobolus performance
create unnecessary friction, I wondered? Would word get out and lead to
black-clad boycotts outside the theater the following night? Maybe the
Chief Rabbis would go so far as to shut down the second performance?
And: would it have been so hard to leave those bikini tops on for just a few more minutes?
Yet, despite the nudity being so decidedly in your face, so to speak,
no one got up to leave. People seemed to be truly enjoying themselves.
When the final number launched – an Esther Williams-esque slip
and sliding acrobatic skinny dip on a wonderfully water-flooded stage –
the audience was on its feet cheering and clapping. Las Vegas had
arrived in the Holy City and Elvis had not left the building.
And it occurred to me that rather than worrying that Pilobolus might
prove incendiary, I should be applauding the fact that Jerusalem can
support events like this and that people come out in large numbers to
attend (the shows were completely sold out).
For Jerusalem, despite its reputation for moving increasingly towards
ultra-orthodoxy, is still quite the cross-cultural and
post-denominational melting pot. Maybe more so than ever. And that’s a
good thing. For Jerusalem…and for the entire Jewish people.
And so I joined in the fun, swaying to the music as the dancers
splished and splashed their way through several curtain calls. Because
underneath our clothes, we’re all the same, right? What could be a
better rallying point for Jewish unity!

Hey Arch, bring me some more of that there “nuditity.”

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