Thursday, June 27, 2013

Antonio Ramos and the Gang Bangers present "Neverland"

Of all the places to present a dance work that, from start to finish, features performers cavorting naked: A little theater in El Museo del Barrio, its walls sweetly decorated with scenes out of fairy tales!

Neverland--the result of Antonio Ramos's year-long residency at the museum--also seems, as a title, packed with provocation. Peter Pan and Michael Jackson zip through the mind.

Ramos's dancers--sometimes wearing wigs of glistening, fluttering Mylar or other minor trinkets and accessories--repeatedly, and repetitively, spill through the aisles or over the equally-bare stage, pumping and prancing around to lengthy dance tunes. Neverland has that certain in-your-face quality--literally: eventually, you do find yourself mooned by a quartet of dancers for what seems like hours--and a feeling of an outrageous and inescapable drug-trip version of a Broadway show. And unlike some nudity in contemporary dance, there's absolutely no attempt to tamp down the sexiness of the human body. Here, sexiness is often the point (and to that I would add, just sheer beauty and style and, sometimes in Ramos himself, a kind of ancient classical heroism). 

This work is clever as hell. Inspired by a magazine story about a homeless lesbian finding hardship and community in New York City--and, by extension, Ramos's own story of moving to this city without a job or a friend--Neverland's tawdriness easily and irreversibly slides into glamour, ritual elevation and radical badass-itude. It reminds us that dancers are the artists who profoundly unnerve and rock the system by putting their bodies front and center all the time, even when fully clothed. So, when they're unclothed (and foregrounding sexuality) in a society with serious issues about the body and embodiment, they're making revolution. 

"Let your whole body talk," sings RuPaul in a song on Neverland's soundtrack.
These dancers demonstrate that, no matter the context or circumstances, we can express ourselves with creative energy and pride.

So, hats off--if nothing else, for the moment--to Ramos and Joey Kipp, Adele Loux-Turner, Saúl Ulerio and Rebecca Wender--for braving this hour+ work and to Amanda K. Ringger for gloriously lighting it. And, while I'm at it, a tip of the hat to Charles Rice-Gonzalez for giving us, for once, the clearest, most helpful answer to that perennial question: "Okay, so, what the heck does a dancemaker's dramaturge do?" This one has done a very good job.

For more information on El Museo del Barrio's exhibitions and programs, click here.

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