Review: Antonio Ramos and the Gangbangers in NEVERLAND

I went tonight to see my good friend (and current model for painting) Antonio Ramos and his Gangbangers dance performance entitled NEVERLAND at El Museo del Barrio in Spanish Harlem. It was fabulous and I’m going to tell you all my opinions about it now.

First, a little background information. As most of my friends know, I’ve been naked my whole life… under my clothes of course. But I also have a penchant for taking my clothes off often and often in public. Tony and I share SUNY Purchase as an alma mater as well, both graduated from there with degrees in dance performance and choreography where we learned how to formally (and informally) structure dances. 

In this day and age, it is very difficult to shock anyone. Tony’s full length work tonight was shocking. It was shocking in all the best ways, and it isn’t as if he woke up one morning and said “I’m going to SHOCK AMERICA!” No, it just came from all of the particular elements that make up Tony’s vision coming together and bursting out from the stage. It came from him remaining truthful to himself and staying completely unique, but then refining that untamed wildness into form and structure. 

This was a complete dance concert, with all the elements of a formal dance production, done on a proscenium stage in a nice theater. The choreography was well-structured with recognizable themes and variations. It had all the bones of an excellent piece of choreography that I expect from a Purchase grad, but then he steeped it in…well…himself! 

What came out was gorgeous, full of spirit, sass and heart, with the structure giving it the foundation underneath. The performers had crazy metallic wigs and entered down the aisles, taking ownership of the theater right off the bat. Later they had shiny heels and sparkly jewelry. They blew up condoms to use as fake boobs. They did solos, duets, trios, quartets that were in turns funny, moving, raw, silly, lovely and many other emotions. Tony spoke in a microphone and was a shining diva in the spotlight, serving as a narrator throughout and doing a sumptuous, delicious solo in the middle. The dancers wove in and out of each other, creating patterns on the floor. They hung from the edge of the stage and dropped into the orchestra pit. 

However, on top of all this wonderful stuff, for the entire evening-length piece, every single performer, all three men and two women, were completely, totally naked. As I said, I’m comfortable with nudity. Overly comfortable! I’m painting burlesque dancers right now for my show in New Orleans, and have performed burlesque for most of my adult life, and have performed naked in modern pieces, but to see this many modern dancers doing modern dance movements completely naked for the entire performance was amazing. 

In the talk back after the show, many people said that they stopped noticing the nudity at some point during the piece. Some of the performers felt that their nudity was a costume, some felt it was a defense. Personally, I noticed the nudity the whole time, and loved it the whole time. To see these beautiful human bodies in this natural state for so long, to see them in every position, and doing beautiful movements with them, and on top of that they were all voluptuous bodies and voluptuous movers, was transformative. 

I also saw the work from a painter’s perspective. I’m used to painting nudes who are sitting for long periods of time while I draw and paint them. In this dance, the nude painting models came to life and danced. It was breathtaking.

The ending took it all to an even greater height. Tony finished the piece with his four dancers bent over from the waist with their butts to the audience, starting upstage and walking their way very slowly with tiny steps downstage, then down the stairs and finally ending up right in front of the audience, IN the audience! It started out as slightly titillating, seeing all these full-on butts moving slowly, slightly and sensuously, but it soon became completely captivating. It became beautiful otherworldly beings who had only legs and butts, their bodies truncated from the hips up. When they finished right in front of our eyes, literally, it was very meditative. The juxtaposition was delicious, as if they were fabulous marble statues who had just come to life, danced around in a New York club with glitter and wildness, and then came back to stillness and repose.

Throughout the night, the dancers were entirely comfortable in their nudity, calmly confident the entire piece. It was a tour de force of performing and choreography and I’m sad that it was only produced for one night. I hope that some funding falls out of the bright blue sky for Antonio and his piece because it should be done again. I can see it in the Avignon festival, or the Edinburgh Festival. If any of my friends reading this have any connections with any festivals, please let Antonio (or me) know. Thank you Tony and all your Gangbangers, for baring your heart and soul and your butts. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and my bottom. The dancers were: Joey Kipp, Adele Loux-Turner, Antonio RamosSaúl Ulerio and Rebecca Wender. The incredible dramaturge was Charles Rice-González. Lighting design by Amanda K. Ringger, stage manager was Asami Morita. The costumes were expertly done by Mother Nature, who should receive an award for those costumes let me tell you!

PS. One more word about El Museo del Barrio, that place is rockin! I’m sad to say that this was my first time going there, but happy to say that I’ll definitely be back. Every Wednesday the museum is free and in the summers, they have an after hours party in the cafe. The resident DJ Les Carbonell was spinning amazing music, everyone from little (little) kids to grandparents and in between were dancing, there were good drinks to be had and the general atmosphere was incredibly friendly and fun. It really did feel like being in the barrio, not like some fancy museum party. I highly recommend it!