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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Bare ***

Director: Aleksandr M. Vinogradov

Country: Belgium

In this new documentary arriving in the UK through TLA Releasing, we become a fly on the wall to witness the creative process of renowned Belgian choreographer Thierry Smits as he auditions, casts and rehearses his new contemporary dance show, Anima Ardens. Eleven men will be performing the piece, but what is it that sets this show apart? All its dancers are naked throughout.

From the outset, Smits makes his auditionees aware that they must be comfortable both with performing and being recorded nude. After a few misgivings from some participants, it isn’t long before the eventual troupe have shed their clothes and their inhibitions. Initially, observing these men frolicking nude in a dance studio is actually quite funny as they use laddish humour to overcompensate for their discomfort, but as they settle into a new nude normality, a piece of art starts to form.

At times, we watch long dance sequences from a distance, seeing it exactly as it would appear on stage, while at others, edgy and sharp editing place the writhing nude bodies alongside bold typeface and images by Hieronymous Bosch. Artistry is absolutely what both director and choreographer are aiming toward, but there’s no doubt there is an intended eroticism here too. There is more than a little influence from Peter de Rome as the men huddle together in a circle, rotating as they alternate their levels. We see solos, synchronisation and stage pictures forming, the latter indeed looking like the animalistic paintings of hell-like humanity by Bosch.

Smits refers to this performance as “animal”. With nothing hidden, we see these performers solely as bodies; flesh without a person. And though the cast is pretty diverse, without their clothes these dancers are stripped of individuality to the point where they just seem like a pack of humans; a shoal that move together, or a flock that move as one.

For a film dripping with nudity from start to finish, this is very high-brow. The camera doesn’t shy away from the nudity and positively drinks the dancers’ masculinity, but – as I’m sure Smits would say – art exists to create a response and while for many this will be eroticism, for others it will be something more emotive. If you like dance, you will love this film. If you don’t, there’s still plenty to see…

UK Release: 28th June 2021 on DVD and On Demand, released by TLA Releasing


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