No Glitter Allowed On-stageby Mike Stinavage
Antonio Ramos & the Gang bangers
Dixon Place | October 14, 2017
Many dear friends of Dorothy spilled into the main theater at Dixon Place to see Antonio Ramos and the Gangbangers (also friends of Dorothy) perform Almodóvar Dystopia. Early in the performance, the lady of the evening, Judy Garland, was remembered with an honorarium altar adorned with all things that she and friends undoubtedly enjoy—beach balls, wigs, shoes, a communal cardboard martini, a steam cleaner, hairspray, and blow-up pool animals, completed with a Pride flag. An oversized portrait of the late actress hung behind the altar, a halo projected above her head.
Almodóvar Dystopia was partially developed through an earlier iteration of the work. In early July, choreographer Antonio Ramos and dancer Sarah White-Ayón performed Almodóvar Dystopia Materials at Dixon Place’s HOT! Festival. The essence and thematic variables continued through to the recent show, and the additional five bodies on stage furthered the potency of the fully nude “Latinx-flavored ‘asstravaganza.’” Crucial to the July iteration, though left out of the recent showing, was the proclamation: “I’m not exotic, but I’m exhausted.”
Nude and crooning, Antonio Ramos primps his hair in the open stage wing. In this pre-performance ritual, Ramos pays no attention to the entering audience. He immediately imbues the space with what he calls his “Queer-Puerto-Rican Cha-Cha-Heels Shaman identity.” Tonight, the space would not adhere to conventional social and performance order/norms; the space only exists through the Gangbangers and for the purpose of the queer fête to come. Antonio and the Gangbangers are in total command. He is there, in the corner of the stage wing, capable of seeing the house fill through the mirror’s reflection as he tends to himself. And he stays there until dancers Alvaro Gonzalez Dupuy, Angie Pittman, Awilda Rodríguez Lora, Darrin Wright, Luke Miller, and Sarah White- Ayón make disparate and tangential entrances onto the stage. Soon thereafter, Antonio comes onto his hands and knees to become the matriarch and creator of the work; he gives birth to the props and performers through his anus. A truly symbolic and beautiful sight. Named after the acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, Dystopia speaks to these melodramatic, emotionally thrilling, and scrupulously crafted films that are dependent on social and cultural contexts. Ramos even delights the audience with a light mockery of the filmmaker’s Spanish dialect. In doing so, he demonstrates his interest in theories of colonialism, film, art, gender, and sexuality. The nuanced portrayal of these topics in both artists’ work creates a fruitful basis of comparison. And in common, they both are willing to present situations that many leave untouched.
Similar to films directed by Almodóvar, the direction and progression of Almodóvar Dystopia twists and de- velops into many unforeseen surprises and upsets. The dancers move to constantly changing music, disrupt of the fourth wall, oscillate between Spanish dialects,and display a spontaneous homage to the recent solar eclipse. The set design includes open wings that effectively decentralizes the audience’s attention: stage right wing used as a green screen camera recording zone; stage left used as a phony cocktail lounge. Increasing the scope of activity, video designer Alex Romania projects captured footage from the green screen wing onto the back wall. There is even a soliloquy by dancer Alavaro Gonzalez Dupuy’s in which he speaks about an accidental death of an acquaintance, an occurrence that seems completely unrelated to the concurrent performance. Bombastic energy and stimulation take precedence over coherency and logical progression.
Notably, choreographer and filmmaker depart from one another in their conceptualization of gender diversity, a topic of interest for Ramos. Whereas Ramos presents the audience with a queer and socially un- tethered gender expression, Almodóvar challenges a gay sensibility in film; “Gay people don’t always make gay art.” Moreover, Almodóvar told D.T. Max at the New Yorker that he compartmentalizes his films into his gay and heterosexual sides.1
Almodóvar Dystopia suggests revisions to gay and queer identity politics. The glamour of a conventional fully clad and done-up drag queen is disassembled into pieces: heels, wigs, dress/lingerie, glitter, and rhinestones. The relics of drag queens are strewn and scattered about. Never to be tucked or cleanly shaven, Ramos speaks to drag lifestyle, humor, pastime, performance, etc. For Antonio and the Gangbangers, glamour is nuanced; glamour is separate from beauty, refinement, and elegance. Any potential sexual eroticism is, too, a relic. The dancers’ infrequent represen- tations of seduction are done so in parody.
Through performing in the nude, the seven dancers establish the naked body as a base on which gender identities and expressions are formed. At no point do the performers cover their genitals. Ramos and the Gangbangers encourage the audience to suspend assumptions about gender and, instead, celebrate the lines and shapes of a nude body. Deconstructing the wholeness of a done-up drag queen, a trans- gression-of-gender-norms and a symbol-of-hyper- bolized-femininity. Deconstruction into naked utopic play.
Though some parts of the performance might make Judy blush or cringe, Ramos’s Almodóvar Dystopia goes beyond definitions and explanations of identity politics. Instead, he chooses to submerge the spectators in the wonderfully exciting and feral energy that he and the Gangbangers create. Dorothy Gale is caught in a queer tornado.
- Max, D.T. “The Evolution of Pedro Almodóvar.” New Yorker, December 5, 2016.
MIKE STINAVAGE is a writer and reader of modern history and art. He focuses his daily efforts on gardening, garbage sorting, and making performance/compost