Bronx Artist Dances the Body, Identity
by Julie Johnson
think they can dance like a Puerto Rican?":
Aviles doesn't dance for shock-value, he said, and truths
in performance come out by taking risks. (photo by Tom
I dance in the nude if I fucking want to! It dont mean nothing,
said dancer Arthur Aviles, self-proclaimed faggot Puerto Rican
from the South Bronx, during his Monday night performance.
Aviles is another of a line of guest artists brought to Oberlin
as part of the Emerging Arts programs Maverick Artists/Visionary
performance began innocently enough: a gay man in a bright red velvety
dress swirling to classical music. Yet, as his twirls gained momentum,
the skirts flew higher and, sure enough, Aviles was dancing commando.
The dress quickly came off and Aviles performed the rest of the
dance in his birthday suit.
dancing in the nude art or shock-value? I dont think
that audiences get enough of it, Aviles said. And I
feel it is an important thing to do, particularly non-sexual dancing.
I think its difficult for audiences to watch the body nude
without thinking about sex. The question is, Why do it?
and I think, Why not?
Many in attendance were familiar with the risks involved in representatios
of the body, an innate element of dance, and were able to move beyond
the sexual connotations of nudity to the broader picture. I
feel our dance department and our community are more open and accepting,
said senior Julie Handelman.
found Aviles nudity distracting and uncomfortable. I
think people were a little bit surprised. There was a little bit
of laughter, sophomore Meagan Dunphy-Dally said.
Undoubtedly, Aviles went out on a limb to present the truth of his
roles as an artist, a dancer, a homosexual, a Puerto Rican, a New
Yorker, and a body.
Just as long as its a communicating relationship, thats
whats important to me. Whether we disagree or not is not so
important just as long as neither of us is hurting the other,
felt an affinity [to Aviles] because Im also a Puerto Rican
faggot dancer. It was great to see someone be This
is what I am! It was very visceral for me, sophomore
Bacilio Mendez said.
The piece contained multiple layers of rhythm from a sound system,
his breath and spoken word. His words and movements seemed to shift
between mirrors of the audience and expressions of himself. When
Aviles began telling anecdotes from his life story, it became clear
that he was dancing his identity.
A lot of the things he said reflected what the audience might
have been thinking or what people in his history had said to him.
Some of these things are insulting, but thats effective because
it helps the audience understand his experience, senior Loren
Aviles shouted fragmented phrases of insults, curses and personal
statements. Mixed with rigorous perpetual movement, both comical
and serious, these elements built upon a complexity of messages.
While parts of the piece flowed through variations in pace and emphasis,
overall the piece felt perforated by plateaus in rhythm and mood.
The structure was to introduce yourself, push the on
button, dance in a dress to three pieces of music, take the dress
off, dance nude in silence (which didnt work because I started
to speak) and then speak, just tap into the thing youre immediately
thinking about, tell a story about your life and then talk to the
audience. Its improvised to fill that up. You have to be willing
to say the wrong thing, said Aviles.
And to some audience members, Aviles did say the wrong things. Some
people were offended by his swearing, but I was not offended at
all, Groenendaal said, I thought it was a little bit
shocking, but not shock for shock-values sake.
Aviles present dance company, the Arthur Aviles Typical Theatre
(AATT), is in the South Bronx. Aviles said he intentionally chose
to move back to his community in order to get back in touch with
his culture. Having this kind of diverse dance company in
the South Bronx is very different than Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane
Dance Company having a diverse group in Manhattan, Aviles
said. Theres no community in Manhattan, thats
not what its about. Youve got a dance company, they
go out there and they produce works with diverse people inside and
then they go on whereas mine is creating a very diverse dance community
in a particular community.
In a largely conservative and macho community, Aviles
dance company has faced a few obstacles.
There was one time our landlady came over and she was making
sure that we knew that in the community board meeting they were
talking about us in ways that were very difficult for us to take.
They know who we are. They know we are gay, that we are progressive.
When theyre in the meetings from the underground its
trying to igure out how do we deal with this scary little problem,
which is what we are to them, of course we are, were trying
to change the world, basically, Aviles said. And that
could be scary. We had to connect with the board meetings and state
who we are and what we do and that were not going to go away.
But having his dance company in the South Bronx hasnt created
only opposition. The conservative ones dont come, and
the ones who find it strange come. The ones who are enlightened
by it come, Aviles said.
The ones who are excited by it come, and those two categories
not necessarily meaning that they like it. But theres interest,
which is good enough for me because Im learning a lot.
I love the body. I like moving, twisting and muscle and fat,
cause I got it, I got it all and I think its just a