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Our biggest regret at this year’s Sydney Festival? Not getting naked

Emma Joyce

Sydney Dance Company’s Nude Live at the Art Gallery of New South Wales was, without doubt, one of the most anticipated shows of this year’s Sydney Festival. Who wouldn’t want to see supremely fit and graceful dancers in the buff? However, the experience of walking through the Gallery while six naked dancers sat, knelt and glided around the space was a whole lot less titillating that we imagined. And that’s not a bad thing.

In some ways, Nude Live was confronting; one of the first nude body parts we encountered was a male dancer’s arsehole, for example. He was perched on a plinth with his head between his knees. We didn’t know where to look. But Nude Live was also funny: in a group performance one of the dancers rested his penis on the bench in such a playful way it provoked laughter from most of the people in the room.

What was surprising about this series of sequences was how simultaneously vulnerable and empowering the dancers were within the spaces they occupied.

Dancers from Nude Live

Photograph: Pedro Greig

It was a more sober and contemplative experience than we would have imagined, which is probably because we felt like voyeurs – in a cheerless way.

Nude Live was a non-linear work, which meant that each audience member could experience different performances depending on which room they were standing in at any one time during the show. This also gave room for intimate encounters with dancers. There was eye-to-eye contact, there was touch (instigated by the performer, of course) and there was participation.  

But something was missing. What a difference it would’ve made if the nudity on show reflected the nudity celebrated in the artworks hanging on the walls. How empowering would it have been to celebrate difference – in age, body shape, skin colour, scars, tattoos, pubic hair…

Which is why our biggest regret of this year’s Sydney Festival is not joining the few nights of Nude Live in which the audience also stripped bare. It would have taken the experience from voyeuristic to immersive, from meditative to celebratory. After all, our favourite nudes in the exhibition were those that had fat rolls, crooked features, hairy feet and sagging breasts. That’s the kind of nudity we’re conditioned to turn away from, and what better way to protest the ‘perfect nude’ images that are presented to us every day though advertising and beauty magazines, than to strip away all that anxiety and throw ourselves in the deep end – fully immersing ourselves in the art.

Don’t live with regret! Make the most of these Sydney Festival events before they’re gone.

Want to feel the thrill of public nudity? See our guide to Sydney’s nudist beaches and sign up for the next Sydney Skinny nudist swim.

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