Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Gay, human and very much alive

Dance piece embraces role of gay men in ballet

"It's a work about personal identity and a celebration of sexuality," says choreographer Hari Krishnan. Credit: Andrew Ribner
I blame Mikhail Baryshnikov. Before that hunky dish of Russian manliness leapt onto the scene back in the ’70s, people were perfectly happy to quietly accept that most male ballet dancers would rather prance off into the sunset with Romeo instead of Juliet. But then Misha started butching it up all over New York, fucking every female starlet imaginable, and ballet turned into yet another sport where the manly man reigned supreme.   
Effeminate grace turned into stoic athleticism, and the image of the graceful gay dancer became a cliché to be avoided and ridiculed. That’s why I’m so excited about a new contemporary dance production called Quicksand, by loud-out-and-proud choreographer Hari Krishnan.
The piece (sharing a double bill with Nine, another of Krishnan’s creations) wholly embraces the role of gay men in ballet and positively revels in its exploration of homo sensuality, discovery and intimacy. 
“It’s a work about personal identity and a celebration of sexuality,” says Krishnan. “I based it on archetypal emotions like anger, fear and compassion and used these as a metaphor to explore the emotional landscapes of gay male identity.”
Krishnan generously credits his team of 20 dancers in helping to create a rich palette of poofters that ranges from the wonderfully femme to butchy, swaggering bad boys. But no matter what the characterization, it’s still all about men loving men.
“Often dance is a very female-oriented form, so it was important for me to showcase the gay male in all its strength and vulnerability and tenderness,” Krishnan says. “The dancers are all so different, with a variety of specialized skills. We have martial artists, flamboyant drag personalities, hip hop and even some Japanese classic dance. They all have gifts that they bring to their own personalized solos.”
Ben Landsberg, one of the dancers featured in Quicksand, is a sassy and sexy fireplug who relishes the opportunity to work with such a receptive choreographer. 
“Hari is a beautifully modest soul,” Landsberg says. “He values collaboration so much and works with us to discover where the movement’s emotions are coming from in our own lives. It becomes so personal and feels so genuine.”
Also sharing the stage is Matt Owen, a lithe young dancer who appreciates Krishnan’s relaxed but dedicated work ethic.
“I always look forward to my rehearsals with Hari,” Owen says. “He strikes that perfect balance in that you can really enjoy the process while pulling out some very deep emotions. He creates such a supportive net of humour and caring that we’re more able to be very real in our interpretations. He makes us feel safe.”
It’s an environment carefully maintained by Krishnan, who feels that personal experiences – both his own and those of his dancers – are integral to Quicksand’s authentic portrayal of the lives of gay men.
“It’s taken me many years to feel the kind of confidence necessary to embrace these themes,” Krishnan says. “Like so many of us, I’ve been hassled, abused and threatened in a variety of different scenarios. That’s why I’m so grateful to Toronto for instilling this sense of pride and courage and joy in being gay and human and alive.”

The Deets:

Quicksand and Nine
Thurs, April 12, to Sat, April 14
Fleck Dance Theatre
207 Queen’s Quay W