Teasing the strip. An attempt at surfacing.

auteur: writer/choreographer Martin Nachbar

Prologue

When Neneh Cherry did a cover version of “I want you under my skin”, the video showed a dancer all dressed in black latex, dancing in between two massive, black loudspeakers. The dancer’s sex remained invisible. It went through an exotic dancing routine with a chair, following the heavy, rhythmic bass coming out of the loudspeakers on either side. The totally dressed and hairless dancer got under my skin each time I watched the video. But nothing of the dance seemed more than skin deep. The dancer represented a black version of the mannequin, no holes to enter its body. What had happened? Had I been touched by the mere fact of a surface touching the surface of my retina? How real can a body become? What does it mean to strip and come undone?

The Real Thing

A naked figure spread out in front of me, exposed to the scrutiny of my gaze. The shape is pleasing. The colours are wonderful. When she starts, her graceful movements mesmerize me and my gaze travels with her through space. The touch of her feet on the ground seems weightless. Her long hair follows the movements of her head with slight delay, while her skin keeps changing colours in the ever-changing lights. Her breasts seem firm. Her hips look soft. Her belly is the centre of her dance. Before she leaves stage, she unzips her skin-coloured costume, revealing her true nature. Now a dressed man, she exits and I am left alone, lone, one, ne, e, . Ssence.

A strip suggests that the act of undressing and thus revealing skin gets the onlooker closer to the essence of the strippers being. The nakedness at the end of the show seems to tell us more than the dressed state of the stripper at the beginning. But then there is the tease. When I tease you, I do so by not giving “it all”, by concealing something, and something, and something… Teasing means that behind this one there is yet another appearance, and another, and other, and…

Striptease then is the revealing of appearance after appearance, never ever getting to any essence except for the essence of appearance itself. In striptease-shows genitalia are seldom revealed, and even if they were, they would become just another appearance (Annie Sprinkle, in her performance, shows even her uterine orifice, and when I saw it, it didn’t tell me anything more essential than her naked breasts had done before in her tit ballet). So, what is the attraction of striptease? How does this desire to get deeper work?

(I say) I believe that the desire to get deeper or to have you under my skin is in fact not the wish to understand something or someone more deeply, but on the contrary it is the hope that under this layer and on the next one, we will still not understand and still have this desire to go deeper. We cast a closer look, hoping that we will be able to still have one more. A deep look into your eyes will tell me nothing more than that there is you, looking back at me and into my eyes, or rather: onto the surface of the retina that appears black at the iris. We want to stay on the surface all the time (by which I don’t mean that we want to stay safely superficial. By staying on the surface I mean that there is no such thing as the essence of something, only appearances to our perception), and we hope that the surface is endless.

In the case of the striptease, the technique is not so much one of undressing, but rather one of concealing. There is always something we have not seen yet. And when the stripper is naked, he or she continues to dance. This dancing, after Roland Barthes, veils the stripper like a robe. There is not one single moment in which the onlooker could say, “Now I have seen it. That was it, the very nakedness I have always wanted to see.” This moment is not even desired. When people go into a striptease bar, they do so in order to never get “it”, but instead to be mesmerized by never-ending acts of concealing. In this sense, striptease is a non-show, not showing any essence except for the essence of appearance itself.

Epilogue

What then makes intensity? Is there such a thing as glowing skin or bodies that are intense? When does a body become so real that its appearance becomes a total surface?

(I say eye says) I believe that bodies become intense when they are no more than a glowing skin. When everything appears on the surface of a body, this body radiates meaning that can be perceived by someone else’s gaze. Dealing with the fact that there is always more to be shown, striptease is nothing more than a non-show that tries to render bodies intense by dancing in the tension between appearance and the desire for more of “it”.

When a dancer says, “I am going to dance for you”, he or she will surely not get naked in the sense of showing you the essence of his or her being. Rather, a body will become intense, concealing always the next layer. And the next, and the next, and the… .

© Martin Nachbar (2003)