Whether it’s plastic surgery, personal trainers, or good old Oil of Olay, resistance to aesthetic mortality afflicts all stripes of the population. But in the obsessive race to stay young and beautiful, dancers and gay men are probably tied for first place. As a gay dancer, it’s a reality Gerry Trentham knows well.
“We don’t want to admit that no matter what kind of skin cream we use or how much we hit the gym, we’re all really in decay,” he says. “Growing older in both of these worlds, the cost of maintaining our youth on the overall environment and community becomes visible in a particular way.”
Trentham’s current solo show Experiment b takes this subject as its core. First presented as a 15-minute excerpt in 2013, the work was partly inspired by an elderly neighbour at the Buffalo home where he lives part-time with his partner. Beatrice (Bea to her friends) was not only a poet, biology teacher, dance enthusiast, and award-winning gardener. She was also something of a philosopher.
“There was this huge snowstorm that went through and destroyed dozens of trees,” Trentham says. “It was such a devastating moment for some people but I remember her looking out the window and saying, ‘Oh, that’s just nature getting a haircut.’ She really understood all of us as being part of a larger ecology and she didn’t expect to be different from the environment she lived in.”
Working primarily in the sprawling garden where Bea spent much of time, Trentham set out to create a piece, based on some of the issues his relationship with her raised. Touching on boyhood experiences, poetry contests, and horticulture, Experiment b continues his trademark dance-theatre style, employing words and movement in equal measure. Part of a longer series called Apology, the work examines how we might imagine our future regrets if we don’t make it to where we want to be by the time we die.
For Trentham, avoiding regret means focusing on the journey rather than the destination, particularly when it comes to his body. While he’s got a physique most 55 year olds would be jealous of, staying in shape has ceased to be a question of aesthetic beauty.
“As you get older you realize no matter how much you hit the gym, muscles don’t form the way they used to,” he says. “It becomes this uphill battle where you do twice the work for half the results, so it can’t be about the result anymore. For me, working out has become about creating a body that’s healthy. I’m never going to have the pecs of the abs or the ass I used to have. But if I can still move and not hurt myself, that’s something to feel good about.”