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Director: Aleksandr M. Vinogradov (Belgium). Year of Release: 2021

Bare is a documentary about Belgian choreographer Thierry Smits’s production of a modern dance show starring 11 naked men. We follow Smits and his team from the first auditions, consisting of a series of a rounds where Smits is forced to reluctantly tell the auditioning dancers that he’s sorry, but they’re not going to make the final team. Someone remarks that it’s all like a series of the X-Factor.

We experience the 11 months from the initial auditions to the show’s premiere. The dancers have a disproportionate amount of facial hair, a reasonable number of piercings, and appear to be largely, maybe entirely, gay. Tonight’s film was shown as part of the Kino International’s MonGay weekly film night, which has a fairly broad remit as to what constitutes a gay film. In this case, although there are certainly a lot of gay people involved, it is not really about gayness as such.

We get a glimpse of the individual dancers, but we don’t really get to know any of them. In one scene, a couple of days before the premiere, one of the dancers pulls a muscle and lies prone, watching the others dancing on. It is slightly moving, but there is no real follow up. The next day, all 11 are dancing again, so we can assume he’s recovered, but we hear no more about his injury.

Other scenes remind me why it is a long time since I’ve chosen to be in the company of a group of men. There is a literal dick swinging contest, where the various dancers roll their pelvises and wobble their bits, sometimes stopping to tell the others that they’re doing it all wrong. There is a later scene filmed from outside a shower of boys just being boys (just to remind us, that there’s nothing more boring than boys at play with no-one around to tell them to just stop it).

There is no doubt that the process is all very interesting, but that doesn’t stop you from asking what the point of the show is. Smits made a statement which must have been in the press release, as it appears in more than one review, but not in the film. The show is apparently a statement about a world which is “overrun by right-wing and neoliberal” ideals.

Now, I’m prepared to go with this a certain amount. Yes we do live in the world where the only “acceptable” nudity is that of women (and only certain women at that). Yes, as Smits says to a television reporter in the film, the nudity that we see in his show is neither exploitative nor erotic. He goes on to say that it is beautiful, which it certainly is to part of the audience. It doesn’t do that much for me, but ultimately this is a piece of art and not a beauty show.

And here’s where we come to my problem – which may just belong to me alone, I’m not sure. Of all the art forms, I find dance the most difficult to relate to. You can say that a dance show is “about” all sorts of things, but I find it hard to comprehend. Is this show “about” neoliberalism? Well, maybe, if you say so, but for better or worse, all I see is a load of men with their kit off moving around a stage.

I don’t think I’m the only one. At times, the dancers ask Smits what exactly it is that they’re supposed to be doing. Is there a structure or a story in the production? And if it is, what is it? At one stage, Smits asks them to move towards a certain dancer, but why? Is this character development or just because it looks good?

There are a couple of scenes towards the beginning of the film which you will either find delightful or a sign that this is no serious art form (and I must admit that I had tendencies towards the latter feeling). The dancers are asked to re-enact giving birth, or to show that they are vulnerable – they can be weak, disabled, or whatever. Now, there may be good reasons for this, but Smits remains taciturn, so it all just feels like a bit of poncing around for no real reason.

For the rest of it, well if the performance itself was making any important statement, well I’m afraid it passed me by, This is not to say that it’s artistically invalid, just that it’s easier to appreciate the beauty of a dance performance than to be affected by what it’s trying to say, It is what it is, although even here there is little development so it is best taken in small doses,

There’s one more problem that I have (though again, this may just be me). At the beginning of rehearsals, we see dancers just doing my thing. If the rehearsals mean anything, they must regulate the dancers into making specific actions. But is this really an improvement? Isn’t this just ridding an act of joy of any spontaneity or feeling?

I guess its in Bare’s favour that it asks us such questions. Personally, I found it mildly interesting and a bit frustrating. For someone who actually likes dance, it could be much more.

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