It’s June…the month of weddings for those who are legally allowed to do so…and also the month when Reiter’s Block becomes just a little bit gayer.
Our first Pride Month post features dancer-choreographer John Ollom, director of Prismatic Productions and Ollom Movement Art. Their new production, “M.U.D. (Men Under Dirt)”, fuses dance, music, and video to enact a man’s journey to spiritual wholeness. Through passionate struggle, the lead character discovers how to integrate the male and female elements within himself and embrace his sexuality. The work owes much to Jungian ideas of male and female archetypes and the shadow self.
We enjoyed a performance of “M.U.D.” at the Soulforce Anti-Heterosexism Conference last fall. (We got the R-rated version, undies on.) The gay entertainment blog Jed Central has posted a good review of the production that just closed in New York, plus an exclusive interview with John. I found these remarks especially insightful:
Jed Ryan: You have mentioned that gay male love, as opposed to gay male sexuality, is vastly under-explored in theater, cinema, etc. Why is that?
John Ollom: You asked me about love between men as a concept that is not portrayed in current film, dance or theatre. Our current society is so afraid to see love between men. It is getting comfortable seeing men fuck and fight and be objects of sexual desire, but to see men desiring each other’s touch and love is truly radical. That is why this work is so important. Look at “Brokeback Mountain” for example. I know homosexual men who hated that movie. There is so much internalized homophobia and self hatred, that only one scene shows them fucking. You do not see any love or tenderness or joy in their life. You only see pain and suffering. This is 2010. Have we not progressed since the films and theatre works in the 80’s when so many men tragically lost their lives to AIDS? Can we not see men loving each other and having no shame in this part of their life?
I have had two experiences in my career as a choreographer with an Artistic Director from a company (that will remain unnamed here) and a composer at a university. They were both terrified that I was showing men in love on stage. They begged me to “hide” or abstract my work. I refused. This caused my work to be cut from one venue. This was done by homosexual men. One of these men later wrote me and thanked me for showing me that he was a “homophobic” homosexual. I don’t think that shame and self hatred have to be a part of our collective experience. I think with HONESTY this work can reveal the male condition. This work can comment on how we as men are conditioned in this current society. I have had to look into other cultures that have revered the male-to-male relationship as a rite of passage to honor the phallus, the male comradery, but the male intimacy is still something that can only lie in the “shadows”. That is why “M.U.D.” is truly revolutionary. I think man to man love is truly the “shadow” of the film, theatre and dance industry. Men are insecure about their penis size, their lust for other men, their desire to love or be loved by men, regardless of sexual orientation. Audience feedback has also revealed that they highly appreciated my awareness in not being binary in the sexual expression of my bisexual character. There was an ambiguity and complexity to love and sex that was not oversimplified into “gay” or “straight” manifestations of one dimensional characters. Different types of love, lust and rage were shown on a spectrum of a complex human being.
I think John’s right that male-to-male intimacy and vulnerability are even more taboo, in our culture, than the actual sex. This probably comes from the culturally conditioned misconception that emotion is a weakness rather than a source of authenticity and power. The job of expressing emotion is outsourced to women, who are perceived as having less to lose because we’re not supposed to be dominant anyhow.
As an artist, I struggle to overcome that conditioning. Particularly in my fiction about gay men, I worry “do they sound too much like women?” when they express love instead of just sex. But everyone (not just men, or gay men) will be more free when those taboos are challenged.
Local readers take note: John will be teaching a movement workshop at Smith College in Northampton on August 7-14.