The Living Canvas | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Living Canvas 

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The Living Canvas, New Millennium Theatre Company. Give photographer Pete Guither credit. He's figured out how to get coverage in a town that neglects visual art: pretend it's performance. Guither's photos, which use naked bodies as backdrops on which images are projected (including traffic signs, the flag, and parts of a dollar bill), open the show and they literalize a good question: what do we project onto nudity? But the subsequent live action--a dozen naked people onstage posing and undulating, as projected images appear on their skin--answers meretriciously. Coeducational nakedness is not Edenic innocence to those of us living after the Fall. Naked people don't go around touching each other chastely, because genitals are displayed to signal availability for sex, thereby assuring the propagation of the species. Nakedness can be asexual, but it rarely is in people with such flawless figures. And who challenges conventional constructions of the body by making sure every woman in the group sports a neatly barbered pubis?

The company gambols through a portentous narrative that combines old-hat nonconformism ("I refuse to be ashamed") with New Age invocations. Music is static and repetitive, though it's credited to everyone from Samuel Barber to Pink Floyd. And when anything dynamic plays, like the Commodores' "Brick House," we're compelled to notice the extent to which "dynamic" means "involving sexual suggestion," undermining the evening's point. There's an occasional entertaining bit, as when the company "wears" a Timex ad while miming clockwork, but the movement (credited to Mark Hackman) isn't actually dance: it's more like hair tossing for a photo shoot. Guither's pictures are worth serious attention. He should give them the respect they deserve by presenting them, instead of the process by which they're produced.

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