Photo 1: The Poster for “M.U.D.”
Photos 2-6: Scenes from “M.U.D.”
Photos 7-12: Scenes from the film “Karpos and Kamalos”
“M.U.D.“: (“Men Under Dirt”)
Naked Male-to-Male Emotions, on Stage.
“M.U.D.“ (“Men Under Dirt”) is the new multi-dimensional performance piece by Prismatic Productions and Ollom Movement Art. The provocative new show was conceived, directed, and choreographed by Dancer/Choreographer/Professor of Ballet John Ollom. The sold-out production incorporates music, drama, dance, and even video (the short homoerotic film “Karpos and Kalamos“). “M.U.D.“ is a delight for the eyes, ears, and– as the audience soon learns– our other senses as well, some of which the attendees of this show (including this reviewer!) may not have tapped into yet. No doubt, many theater aficionados would be intrigued by the show’s promotional artwork, with its promises of male nudity. Indeed, “M.U.D.“ is simmering with sexuality, and will satisfy admirers of the male beauty in all its glory– made more impressive by the athletic talents and dynamic movements of the attractive cast. However, the more provocative aspects of the piece– intimacy between men — come through to the audience as much as the visual delights of the well-toned male bodies. As creator John Ollom has pointed out, the main theme of “M.U.D.“ is man-to-man love (as opposed to gay male sexuality alone), which still sadly remains under-explored in the world of theater.
The story begins in a way that can only be described as “the choreography of life”. Through Ollom’s vision, the opening Movement, “A Man of War”, makes the viewer realize that even ordinary, day-to-day life is something of a dance: a continuum, rich with fluidity. (We speculate that life as we know it could possibly be more graceful if we could just learn to see things Ollom’s way!) Set to music that conveys a million feelings without a single lyric, we look in on what appears to be an unhappy relationship. There’s a sad man, known only as “The Man/Kalamos” (played by Ollom), sitting at a table with his head in his hands. A wordless, equally forlorn-looking woman (“The Wife/Divine Feminine”, played by the amazing Janet Aisawa) enters. Things don’t stay “ordinary” for very long: The story goes from reality to fantasy as another character, a handsome man known as “The Lover” (Paul Hays), enters and proceeds to arouse some suppressed desires in The Man. We soon get the idea that our main protagonist may be dealing with repressed sexuality, and that those feelings are about to explode. They do. The audience is also introduced to The Internal Voice (“The Divine Masculine”, played to perfection by Douglas Allen), something of a angelic yet tough character who approvingly watches the two men and offers some philosophical insights as well. What happens next is a elaborate and seductive mating dance of sorts between The Man and The Lover– an expression of primal and carnal desires mixed with the quest for an emotional connection. Just when we start to think that The Wife will remain silent throughout the entire piece, she “comes to life“ in a big way, engaging in her own dramatic show of strength of wills against The Man. It’s at this time we get to see some of “M.U.D.”’s most astonishing, eye-popping choreography. In Movement 2, The Lover temporarily leaves the scenario, and another character, “The Shadow Self” (Preston Burger)– complete with a seriously toned physique, a Caravaggio painting-inspired head of hair, and covered with mud– is “birthed” by The Man. “M.U.D.“ climaxes with four of the dancers engaging in an expertly executed sequence that can best be described as a Clash of the Titanesque personalities. It’s not difficult to understand why this final Movement was named “Integration”.
“M.U.D.“ is far, far more than a performance piece about one man consummating his sexual desires. More complicated emotions are in place: possibly including jealousy, dominance, and passionate desire alongside equally passionate anger. The show is bolstered by the acting and dancing talents of all four characters, as well as some innovative, highly impressive dance sequences– particularly a sequence involving the three male actors Ollom, Allen, and Burger. The legendary Leslie/Lohman Gallery proved to be a well-chosen location for “M.U.D.“ The actors’ performance space is surrounded by the Gallery’s unparalleled display of erotic male artwork. It really boosts the show’s feverish eroticism, but also magnified the essence of “M.U.D.”: The show is genuinely a piece of erotic, romantic artwork come to life. And, as with any painting displayed on a wall, many different meanings can be interpreted from John Ollom‘s newest creation.
John Ollom gave an exclusive interview to Jed Ryan about “M.U.D.” and his upcoming creative endeavors:
JR: Hi John. Congratulations on the success of “M.U.D.” (“Men Under Dirt”). That must be exciting that the show sold out its run!
JO: We are excited that all three nights sold out at the Leslie/Lohman Gallery. We were most excited to see new faces seeing this innovative work. This tour of “M.U.D.” has been amazing for the Ollom Movement Art company. We started at C.W. Post campus of Long Island University when the Director of the Tilles Center saw A Man of War performed at an Honors Conference. He invited us to his arts festival. We were then asked to perform “M.U.D.”) at the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Film Festival where there they built us a stage to perform in front of the movie screen. We were the first dance theatre company ever brought to that festival in their history. After that performance, we were invited to a National Conference organized by Soulforce in West Palm Beach, Florida. The film “Karpos and Kalamos” was also selected for the New FilmMakers Festival here in New York City. Now we have our sold out run in the Leslie/Lohman Gallery in SOHO and next week we travel to Easton Mountain Retreat Center. It has been wonderful seeing new people’s reactions to the work. Prismatic Productions, Inc. and Ollom Dance Theatre/Ollom Movement Art have had faithful fans since our beginning in 2003, but it is always nice to see new faces seeing our work.
JR: There are some very spiritual and metaphysical aspects to “M.U.D.” Is the show based in part on any mythology, or classic literature, or perhaps your own spiritual beliefs?
JO: “M.U.D.” is a very spiritual work. It is based on the revelation of the “shadow self” from Jungian psychology. The “shadow” is anything within ourselves that we deny or are not honest about. It can be anything for people; it can be lust, rage, anger, prejudice, insecurity, anything that lies in our “shadow”. To be honest about this revelation makes many people uncomfortable as Movement 2 is intended to do. It shows the psyche of my character breaking open to reveal chaos and panic. It has been a joy to me for reviewers and audiences members that have seen that this work is more than a homosexual desire, it has do with intimacy between men. This deals with father and son relationships as well as all relationships between men. Cock competition and curiosity exists between all men regardless of sexual orientation. The impetus for the choreography was based on my looking into my own father’s psyche. His alcoholism and his athletic desires and his desires to be naked in locker rooms amidst other men gave me much material to analyze.
I also took the divine masculine and divine feminine within myself to become natural characters in my psyche fighting for domination. I have done much research on the goddess from my past work “Anatomy of Woman” at the Clark Theatre in Lincoln Center in 2006. This divine essence within all MEN and women has been denied in current cultures due to dominant Judaeo-Christian thought, Muslim and other religious paradigms. I wanted to reveal divine forces that had been cut out of society’s awareness.
Cernunnos, “the horned one”, was my basis of research into my cock, balls, perineum and sphincter. His divine celebration in his desire to spread his seed influenced my unapologetic male lust and sexual desire. It could be seen as counter to the goddess but also a force that eventually finds balance within me as I revere my masculine and feminine sides and embrace my shadow to be my deepest love. The god Shiva can also be an equivalent male reference in the Hindu paradigm. The film “Karpos and Kalamos” was based on my research into the ancient Greek love story between these two men Karpos and Kalamos. This calamus reed is also a phallic reference that Walt Whitman eludes to in his codified and secretive display of homosexual love. There are also countless symbolic images within the choreography that are too many to list here.
JR: What was the most challenging aspect about bringing “M.U.D.” to the stage?
JO: The most challenging aspect about bringing the show to the stage was the personal insight it brought to me as a person. I found how much pain and suffering my alcoholic father has in real life. I have not seen my biological family since 1998 and to go into this character gave me great insight into the alcoholic mind. It gave me compassion that I never had towards alcoholics. For my performance to be affective, I could not judge the character that I played. I had to go to very dark places, and in that fear I found some beauty. I also have to thank Preston Burger, my “shadow”, for his amazing courage in his ability to go to dark places with me. He is truly an artist with me as well Janet Aisawa, Douglas Allen and Paul Hays and their trust in me to go to some very dark places. We all came out “changed beings”!
JR: Did any of the cast have any inhibitions about appearing au naturel?
JO: The cast never had any reservations about being naked. I never ask my company members to do anything that I would not do myself. I have done nude work myself also. The challenge was not the physical nudity in this piece, it is the “emotional nudity”. I had many actors and dancers audition for me that were intimidated by the “emotional nudity”. To clarify even more, I never had nudity or body issues with my European students as much as I did with my American students.
JR: You know and I know that male nudity is a big draw for gay male theater audiences. Do you ever feel that the nudity in the show may overpower some of the other, more deep elements of the piece?
JO: The nudity in this show is very specific to this work. I use nudity for very specific reasons in my art work. In no way is it superfluous. In John Ollom’s “The Journey” (2004) at the Clark Theatre Lincoln Center, I had a priest who was a closeted homosexual. He killed himself in despair and was covered into the bright light of the next world as two naked men came out walking nude, holding each others hand with the Lord’s Prayer written on their naked bodies. Their nudity was a reflection of their lack of shame. In my work “Anatomy of Woman” (2006) at the Clark Theatre Lincoln Center, there was no nudity. In my work “Love Stories”, there was nudity in the beginning as men discussed Greek philosophy as we discussed love stories between men from ancient Greece. This nudity was to show the Greek aesthetic of how the body is beautiful. Consequently, I use nudity for very specific reasons.
In “M.U.D.”, my “shadow” (Preston Burger) comes out of my cock, balls, perineum and sphincter. That is where he originates in my body and he has no boundaries and no shame. His body is covered in mud to imply that this area of our body is “bad”. “If you deny any party of your body, you are denying a part of your psyche” Sylvia Brinton Perera, author of “Descent to the Goddess” and a Jungian analyst. This quote inspired me to analyze my own cock, balls, perineum and anus in a choreographic work that would reveal to the audience a part of myself that had been hidden from society. It is a celebration of our shadow; all guilt and shame is thrown away from a current penis-phobic society that we live in now. The “divine masculine” character Douglas Allen rips off his clothes as the Cernunnos character possesses his body and his sexual and animalistic lust take over his body. I have actually received feedback from the audience that the nudity is necessary and really makes sense in the character development as the central premise of the piece is HONESTY. Shame is being torn away within “M.U.D.”.
JR: You have mentioned that gay male love, as opposed to gay male sexuality, is vastly under-explored in theater, cinema, etc. Why is that?
JO: 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.
JR: I have always had enormous respect for dancers– especially the athletic aspect of it. In the past you’ve commented about how age should never be a barrier to men or women that want to explore the art of dance. Given our culture’s obsession with age, where do we stand on that now? Perhaps put another way, Is there an age limit to anyone who wants to become a dancer?
JO: In my company Ollom Movement Art and Ollom Dance Theatre, I actually prefer “older” dancers because they have more life experience to bring to the work. My BFA is in Ballet and ballet has a lot to offer people technically; but it can also hurt many people with its elitist paradigm of anorexia encouraged by George Balanchine and New York City Ballet and its ageist belief that people are done at 35. I disagree.
There was a documentary done on my class by Annette Cyr, an art professor at San Diego University. The film is called “Late Bloomers”. It interviews students of all ages in my class. One of my students is an 84 year old man; he has perfect splits. He has been dancing since 32. He has no pain in his body and loves to dance. I know people at 82 that are sitting in nursing homes waiting to die. Dance has fed his spirit and his body.
I love working with “non-traditional” dancers. I actually started my methodology Internal Landscapes© because so many traditional dancers in ballet, modern dance and also actors were “over trained.” They had difficulty being “authentic” and real. I helped them find their true humanity on stage via this methodology. Some actors and dancers had forgotten that the years and years of training is supposed to be a TOOL to create art that moves people. It has to have an emotional resonance in each movement and I have found some AMAZING “non-traditional” company members in my company that have created authentic art in “M.U.D.” Look at Paul Hays, Janet Aisawa and Douglas Allen. Could you not be more moved by these artists? Ask them their age (I will not reveal that here), but I have great respect for them as artists in my company. I have also found people seeking me out for my classes and workshops due to my unique belief in this area of my training philosophy.
JR: As an true expert in your field, what are your secrets for staying in such great shape to be able to do what you do?
JO: As far as keeping in shape, I teach my ballet class based on correct anatomical placement. Not cranking turnout from the ankle, knee or acetabulum. I do this class five times a week at McBurney Y on 14th St. I also teach at CUNY Hostos and CUNY In the Heights on Saturdays. More information can be found on our website http://www.prismaticproductions.com.
The Ollom Floor Series© has helped many of my students to increase flexibility and increase abdominal strength and erector spinae strength. This methodology has been created after me teaching for 10 years and seeing many injuries and pains in my students. This Ollom Floor Series© has helped many students, especially men with lower back pain in their quadratus lumborum. Plans are in the works to create a DVD and training program for this methodology.
Consequently, my technique class and my Ollom Floor Series© has been my regiment for over five years now. For the internal emotional work, I lead Internal Landscapes© workshops and classes to lead people into exploring their psyche in the dance of movement art.
JR: What’s in store next for Ollom Movement Art and Prismatic Productions?
JO: Ollom Movement Art is traveling to Easton Mountain on Wednesday, June 2nd. I will be leading a workshop in Internal Landscapes© to help students create their own movement art. The company will perform “M.U.D.” on Saturday June 5th. More information can be found at http://www.eastonmountain.com. Sunfire, our documentarian, is also working to complete a documentary about the creation of “M.U.D.” From August 7-14th, I will be teaching the 8th Annual Ollom Movement Art Summer Intensive at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The syllabus is at http://www.prismaticproductions.com under “Summer Intensive”. I will be teaching there along with the Ollom Movement Art company members and our exceptional faculty: Karen Brown and Deborah Massell, Ph.D. In September, I will be the Artist in Residence at Eastern Michigan University. I will be setting a new choreographic work on their dance department while teaching their students.
We are exploring new performances of Ollom Movement Art for the Fall 2010. Please visit http://www.prismaticproductions.com to see any information about future performance locations. From February through March 2011 I have been invited to be the guest artist at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, where I will be working on a new production for 2011. This is all in addition to our regular classes.
JR: Thanks, John! And congratulations again!
For more information, email the company at MayIHelpYou@PrismaticProductions.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or call the company at (212) 592-0103.