Quelle horreur! Paris divided by theatrical obsession with nudity

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The Independent Online

In the city which claims to have invented the striptease, undressing on stage is nothing new. But in Paris these days theatrical nudity is everywhere - except where you might expect to find it.

In the city which claims to have invented the striptease, undressing on stage is nothing new. But in Paris these days theatrical nudity is everywhere ­ except where you might expect to find it.

The once-naughty Folies Bergère cabaret theatre languishes in the doldrums, reduced to putting on children's plays at Christmas. In the meantime, you can hardly go to a serious play or dance spectacle without being confronted with naked bodies. A festival of mini-performances starting this week includes a Portuguese modern-dance show called Mistermissmissmister.

The audience sit on settees. Male and female "dancers" stand naked in front of them. And that is, more or less, it.

Even the Comédie-Française ­ equivalent to the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company rolled into one ­ has just finished a run of a much-praised modern play in which an actor and actress spend long periods naked on stage.

In the western suburbs, at the Théatre des Amandiers in Nanterre, one of the most talented and praised actresses on the French stage, Valérie Dréville, is appearing naked in a modern re-telling of the myth of Medea ­ Médée-Matériau.

At the Théatre de la Porte-Sainte-Martin in central Paris, male actors appear naked for part of an American play about the effect of Aids on the body ( Love! Valour! Compassion! by Terence McNally).

Theatrical nakedness is now so common that anyone who wants to shock an audience ­ like the Belgian choreographer Jan Fabre ­ is obliged to go further.

In Fabre's case, much, much further.

There was a brief flurry of disgust in some French newspapers ­ praise in others ­ when Fabre's dance show, The Crying Body, was performed this winter in one of the most cherished Parisian theatres, the Théatre de la Ville-Sarah Bernhardt.

In this spectacle, three female dancers urinate on stage facing the audience; male and female actors masturbate and an actor appears to drink a bottle of urine.

Forty people walked out on the first night, but most of the rest of the audience ­ including the French Culture Minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres ­ stayed to give the show a standing ovation.

The centre-right newspaper Le Figaro said the show was "outrageous, decadent and humiliating ... a degrading spectacle which has nothing to offer but its vulgarity".

The centre-left Le Monde said, admiringly, that The Crying Body "reminds us outrageously of who we are. It carves up hypocritical appearances and leaves on stage the bloodless wrappings of the clichés that bolt society together ..."

The fact that several of these creations are foreign ­ Belgian, American or Portuguese ­ is a reminder that theatrical nudity and outrage is now becoming commonplace in the West.

The newspaper Le Parisien pointed out, however, that the Paris stage currently offers nudity for all artistic tastes: "intellectual", like Médée-Matériau; bourgeois-bohemian or "bobo", like Love! Valour! Compassion!; and deliberately "provocative", like The Crying Body.

The actor Alexandre Pavloff, a member of the Comédie-Française rep company, told Le Parisien that he had to be convinced of the artistic need of his nude scenes in the recent successful run of Le Début de L'A on the capital's most prestigious stage.

"For another play I had said no but in this play [nudity] was coherent. It made sense.

"We used to hide our bodies but they are part of us and we cannot exclude them from art.

"We talk openly about eroticism nowadays, everyone, not just actors or dancers. As we reveal our bodies, we reveal our souls."

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