Eric Dunlap, choreographer of Forward, pushes Alwin Nikolais’s style into a kinky realm in Gion: the Sense of Skin (House of Candles, through November 22). Collaborator Holly Daggers drenches the cramped space with techno-ambient sound and an environment of saturated reds and blacks that frame Dunlap’s extended line, fancy leg rotations, and elastic torso into a theater of seduction.
The specific story behind this s/m fairy tale is murky. Based partially on the adult comics of Michael Manning, episodes form a pastiche of energy exchanges and power metaphors within (heterosexual) sadomasochistic intimacy. Dunlap and Daggers don’t depict any salacious acts, but use costuming and props to suggest an erotic arena, making the experience more Sacher-Masoch than Krafft-Ebing.
Sara Plumer, dancing the central dominatrix role, gets closest to Dunlap’s own fluidity and nuance. She is flanked by two impish acolytes, Andrea Lieske and Galina Dorodnova. Into their sphere of influence are thrown two male figures who alternately struggle against and submit to their will, then fight among themselves for top position.
Who are these guys? One, played by Tim Kasper, starts stumbling and hapless after a long night, and is then abducted into a violent ballroom dance with his seductress, to gin-soaked jazz. The other, danced by Dunlap, is first seen in a cool solo wearing a satanic-looking goat-faced gas mask, cloven hooves, and illuminated wing stumps (a fallen angel?). Unmasked, Dunlap’s long hair and beard create a Christ-like vibe that complicates his later exertions.
Dunlap’s phrases often suffer from the limitations of the space, but a fitting claustrophobia results as the two men are lured into their mistress’s fetishistic world. A trio for the women midway through seems a meandering tangent, and the wordless narrative muddle sometimes clunks, but the final effect generates pleasure, which has become increasingly taboo since Giuliani’s crackdown on prurience.