May 3, 2014

The Erik Bruhn Prize: Legacy of a Closeted Ballet Great

Erik Bruhn (1928-1986) was a renowned Danish dancer and choreographer. He began his career at the Royal Danish Ballet, but toured with the Joffrey, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet of London, and many other companies.  Although he was gay, he specialized in pas de deux, dancing with a female partner.

He retired from the dance in 1968 and became artistic director at the National Ballet of Canada.

He and fellow ballet artist Rudolph Nureyev became lovers in 1961, and stayed together for 25 years.  When he died, the world of ballet was still closeted, so instead of AIDS, his New York Times obituary says "lung cancer," and no relatives are mentioned.


He left an endowment for the Erik Bruhn Prize, to be awarded each year to two young dancers who “reflect such technical ability, artistic achievement and dedication as I endeavoured to bring to dance."

The competition is open to dancers aged 18-25 who are associated with one of the companies that Bruhn worked with.










Dancers must perform a classic male-female pas de deux, but they can also perform contemporary solo pieces.














Since the first competition in 1988, many prize winners have become superstars in the world of ballet, including Johan Kobborg (Royal Ballet); Friedemann Vogel (Stuttgart Ballet); Joseph Gorak (American Ballet Theater); and Robert Stephen (National Ballet of Canada, left).

Next year's competition will be held March 24, 2015, at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.

May 1, 2014

Superboy in West Hollywood

Seems like there's always a version of the Superman mythos on tv or in the theater.

One of the more obscure was Superboy (1988-92), a syndicated reboot that was, for obvious reasons, very popular in West Hollywood.

It sends the teenage Clark Kent to Schuster University (named after his creator), where he rooms with Daily Planet editor Perry White's son T. J. (James Calvert), moons over co-ed Lana Lang (Stacey Haiduk), and butts heads with villain-to-be Lex Luther (Sherman Howard).

23-year old stage actor John Haymes Newton was not quite as muscular as other Men of Steel, but he was handsome, and he could fill out a Superman costume better.

In fact, he's probably the biggest Superman of all time.

After the first season, Newton left the series.  He spent the 1990s capitalizing on his good looks and superlative physique, sometimes in missteps, such as the self-explanatory Desert Kickboxer (1992) and the tv schlock Models Inc (1994-95), but also in some blockbuster series like Melrose Place: he played Ryan McBride, younger brother of restaurant owner Kyle McBride (Rob Estes).

And in 2004-2005, he played the gay Jonathan Lithgow on Desperate Housewives.






Meanwhile, Superboy was retooled, becoming less gimmicky, more realistic, and the Boy of Steel was recast with bodybuilder and romance novel cover model Gerard Christopher.  Not as impressive beneath the belt, but considerably more muscular.

The series lasted another year before folding.











Since Superman, Christopher has done mostly soap operas.

No particular gay content in his work.  Boy Culture has an article about meeting him at a Hollywood Autograph Show, surrounded by gay fans asking him to sign revealing swimsuit photos.

The Surrealistic Nudes of Lembit Sarapuu



These photos by Triinu Jurves on the Noolegruppe blog for Estonian artists are entitled A Homage to Lembit Sarapuu.  There are several other photos of semi-nude men flexing their muscles in rustic settings.

I'm interested in any artist who inspires semi-nude male photographs.  But who is this Lembit Sarapuu?

The Estonian version of Wikipedia just states that he was born in 1930, he's won several awards, he's interested in surrealism, and he's married to a sculptor.

The surrealism is obvious: Euro Referendum in Estonia depicts two Western Europeans in 1950s garb trying to interview Estonia, depicted as a wild man, naked,  fully aroused.





Kalevipoeg and the King of the Underworld, depicts a muscular, naked Kalevipoeg encountering a talking anus.

An interview with Eve Kask doesn't reveal much more: he likes women, he is interested in myth and nature, and if he could choose to live in another time, he would be a Cro-Magnon painting on a cave wall.





Thus, his frequent use of male nudity may not be a deliberate attempt to evoke the homoerotic, but an evocation of the pre-civilized wild man.

His work is sometimes criticized as sexist, depicting women only as objects of male conquest, as in A Walk Through the Park.


Of course, that doesn't explain his many nude men standing alone, raging against the modern world.

See also: Kristjan Raud; Kalervo Palsa.

Apr 29, 2014

Butterflies are Free

The 1972 movie Butterflies are Free is about the hippie counterculture trying to break loose from establishment oppression.  In the form of a heterosexual romance, of course.

Blind guy Don Baker (Edward Albert Jr.) has been smothered by his domineering mother all his life.  He moves out, and makes her promise not to contact him for two months.  Meanwhile he begins a romance with free-spirit Jill (Goldie Hawn).






Mrs. Baker (Eileen Heckert) is upset about Don's new girlfriend, and advises Jill to break up with him.  But Jill wisely tells her to butt out, and Mrs. Baker finally realizes that all the younger generation wants is to be free.

The claustrophobic movie has three sets: Don's apartment, a mod shop, and a restaurant, and five speaking roles  (in addition to the main three, Paul Michael Glaser as Ralph, the director of the play Jill is in, and Michael Warren as Roy, the owner of the mod shop.






There is a gay reference, taken directly from the original 1969 play by Leonard Gersche (starring Keir Dullea and Eileen Heckart):

Jill is starring in a play about a woman with a gay husband -- he was an alcoholic in the book, but they changed it to gay to be "in."  She doesn't approve of the new visibility of gay people: "I always thought of them as kind of magical and mysterious -- the greatest secret society in the world. Now they're telling all the secrets and you find out they're just sad and mixed-up like everyone else."

She asks Don if he's gay, and when he says "no," mentions her friend Davis, a fashion designer who made the blouse she's wearing: "Actually, he made it for himself, but I talked him out of it."


The rather homophobic statements are accentuated by the gay symbolism.  A "smothering mother" at the time was thought to be a "cause" of gay identity, so Don's blindness becomes a stand-in for gay identity "cured" by heterosexual romance.

Modern versions of the play often avoid the gay references.  But sometimes they leave it in, along with 60s music, remembering that this was one of the first times the average moviegoer heard the word "gay" spoken aloud, symbolic "cure" or not.

By the way, the film and most stage versions also  feature Don in his underwear.

See also: Alice's Restaurant.

Apr 28, 2014

Spring 1975: The Estonian Wrestler Brothers


You're probably wondering why I spent semesters in Germany and Turkey, summers in France and Japan, and spent three years studying Italian Renaissance literature, yet keep returning to Estonian art, history, and culture.

There are only about 25,000 people of Estonian ancestry in the United States, as opposed to 1.2 million of Swedish ancestry.  But when I was growing up in Rock Island, Estonia appeared in my life nearly as often as Sweden, giving me an early impression that it was a "good place."


1. In 4th grade at Denkmann Elementary School, Bill's parents took us to a performance by the Estonian National Ballet at Augustana College. I don't remember the piece (this is from Modigliani, the Cursed Artist in the 2012-13 season).

2. Our 4th grade teacher considered Estonia part of Scandinavia for some reason, and told us Estonian folktales and the story of Kalevipoeg.











3. At a garage sale in 5th or 6th grade, I bought a book written in Finnish. I couldn't read it, of course -- the lady at sale told me that the title meant Come to Estonia-- but there were some nice pictures of Estonian houses, monuments, and the naked statue of Kalevipoeg by Kristjan Raud, plus some shirtless Estonian men (not this photo).


4. In 9th grade at Washington Junior High, I was playing the violin and coveting the position of first chair, when one day in the spring, a slim, sandy-haired 7th grader named George (top photo, left) appeared out of nowhere and easily won the audition.




A few weeks later, I entered a chess tournament, and George was my first opponent.  A 7th grader -- an easy win! I thought.  Nope, he trounced me in five moves!

It was annoying to be beaten in everything, but George was cute, and my boyfriend Dan was becoming more and more distant, so I thought of making "the switch."  I told George that I was on the wrestling team, and offered to show him some moves.  "I'll show you Estonian wrestling!" he offered.

It turned out to be Graeco-Roman wrestling.  He pinned me easily.  

George's parents were refugees from Communist Estonia.  His father worked in the factory, but he had been an athlete of some sort back home.  There was a picture of him and his muscular, shirtless teammates on the mantle (not this one).


George had a older brother, a 11th grader named Kristjan, who was just as accomplished.  One day all three of us practiced Estonian wrestling in their basement rec room.

We never became close friends, but I still have warm memories of two muscular bodies pressed against me.

(Photo from Alo Paistik, an Estonian artist living in Paris, whose Applied Art for a Gay Club is on display at gay clubs around Europe.)














5. At Augustana College, the professor who taught my first-year music class was Estonian (no doubt he was the one who arranged to have the Estonian National Ballet visit a few years before).  He gave me a B- on my paper on Peer Gynt.  He wore jeans to class -- a remarkable feat of daring for a professor in the 1970s, and one which offered proof of why Kristjan Raud always depicted his models nude.

See also: My Last Wrestling Match and My Breakup with Dan

Throb: How We Watched TV in West Hollywood

The 1980s were extremely homophobic.  If you could manage it, you took refuge in a gay neighborhood, and rarely spoke to a heterosexual.  You absolutely never came out to any heterosexual except your family. If they found out accidentally, you could expect, at best, a deer-in-the-headlights stare and a stumbling protest that "I'm...I'm...not gay."  Often much worse.

And you absolutely stayed away from mainstream media.  Newspapers were full of shrieking editorials about how "They're sick!!!!  They're disgusting!  Put them in concentration camps!"

Movies couldn't go five minutes without a homophobic slur.

TV was a little better, generally presenting a world where gay people did not exist.  Still, most programs were incessantly heterosexist, so it was best to keep the tv off.

So in high school and college, I watched 10-14 prime-time network tv shows regularly, but when I moved to West Hollywood, the number decreased to a non-heterosexist 4 or 5:  
21 Jump Street: Buddy-bonding among undercover cops, including Johnny Depp (left).
Night Court: Buddy-bonding among the denizens of a night court.

Head of the Class: Buddy-bonding among high school overachievers.
 The Golden Girls: Four heterosexual women live together and form an alternative family.
Kate & Allie: Two heterosexual women live together and form an alternative family.

But you had to be careful: even the most "gay friendly" could turn on you at any moment, with a limp-wristed hairdresser swishing in, or a character who has trouble "accepting" a visiting gay relative.

I don't remember any limp-wristed hairdressers or visiting gay relatives on the workplace comedy Throb (1986-88).  It starred Diana Canova of Soap as Sandy (right), the decidedly unhip newly-divorced 30-something who finds herself a fish-out-of-water in the young, ultra-cool, hipster office of a New Wave record company.

She was heir of Mary Richards of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and the precursor of the dozen or so women in workplace comedies of the 1990s, such as Caroline in the City and Just Shoot Me.  

Her coworkers included:

1. The boss,  diminuitive go-getter Zach (Jonathan Prince) channeling Michael J. Fox.  Today a writer and producer, Prince was at the height of a brief 1980s acting career: he played Johnny Depp's buddy in the sex comedy Private Resort and Clark Brandon's buddy on Mr. Merlin.

2.  Hip business manager Phil (Richard Cummings, Jr., later to star in Northern Exposure).

3.  Spaced-out former singer Blue, probably based on the Andy Warhol superstar Ultra Violet (Jane Leeves, who would go on to play psychic therapist/housekeeper Daphne on Frasier).





By the way, Sandy had a 12-year old son at home, played in the first season by future screen hunk Paul Walker, and then by Paul Walker lookalike Sean de Veritch.

I actually don't remember any particular episodes, just the jazzy theme song, some buddy-bonding moments between Sandy and Blue, and the very attractive Jonathan Prince.

But I remember watching, and finding it a moment of freedom from the "We hate you!!!!" of 1980s media.

You can see full episodes on youtube, in German.

Apr 27, 2014

A Season in Hell: Gay Poet Abandons His Art...and Men

When I was studying the symbolist movement at the University of Southern California, I thought that Charles Baudelaire was gay, because he named his book The Flowers of Evil, and because he was an outsider, looking in on Paris.

I read Arthur Rimbaud's Bateau ivre (1871) and Un Saison en Enfer (1873) -- mostly in English translation, as the French was impenetrable -- there was nothing particularly homoerotic about it.

But he was definitely gay.

He began his career at the age of 14, sending scandalous letters to established poets.  In 1871, at age 16, middle-aged poet Paul Verlaine invited him to visit, and they began a passionate but volatile affair.  For two years, they scandalized polite society by openly living together in Paris and London, drinking heavily, carousing in public, and writing scandalous poetry.  Finally, overcome with jealousy and despair, Verlaine shot Rimbaud, injuring him in the wrist.

Verlaine spent two years in prison on charges of sodomy, then returned to his poetic life and had more gay relationships before his death in 1891.

Rimbaud abandoned his art altogether.  He was not yet 20 years old.


He joined the army, worked in a stone quarry, and finally got a job as a coffee merchant in Yemen, where he died at age 37.

Why did he abandon his art?  He never gave an explanation, but his life has has inspired many writers, artists, and directors, even in the days before same-sex relationships could be openly discussed.  Mostly they portray the relationship as inherently evil and destructive to both poets.

There have been two major film versions:

Una stagione all'Inferno (A Season in Hell, 1970) starred Terence Stamp as Rimbaud (left) and Jean-Claude Brialy as Verlaine.  It interprets the abandoning of his art as renouncing the gay "vice," and gives him an African girlfriend to emphasize his heterosexual "redemption."




Total Eclipse (1995) starred Leonardo DiCaprio (top photo) as Rimbaud and David Thewlis as Verlaine. It takes the opposite tactic, emphasizing Verlaine's downfall as he is mesmerized by the young poet and descends into a "hell" of self-indulgent evil.  They both repent and convert to Catholicism.

And get girlfriends.

My friend Farshad claims to have dated DiCaprio while he was filming in Brussels.

See also: The Flowers of Evil and Garcia Lorca: the Homophobic Gay Poet and His Boyfriend


Not a Lot Goin' On: Corner Gas

My favorite tv program of all time is Corner Gas (2004-2009), a workplace comedy set in the fictional town of Dog River, Saskatchewan, where a new generation of young hipsters has taken the reins from their elders:

1. Sardonic slacker Brent Leroy (Brent Butt) has taken over the only gas station-convenience store in 60 km from his irascible father Oscar (Eric Peterson) and formidable mother Emma (Janet Wright).  He hires his man-child high school buddy Hank (Fred Ewaniuk) as a mechanic and the self-professed smartest person in town, Wanda (Nancy Robertson), as a cashier.

2. Lacey (Gabrielle Miller), a fish-out-of-water from big-city Toronto, has arrived to run Ruby's Cafe, left to her by her late aunt.

3. Naive by-the-books police constable Karen (Tara Spence-Nairn) has just graduated from the academy and moved to Dog River, where her partner is middle-aged Sergeant Davis (Lorne Cardinal).


 In spite of the theme song proclaiming that there is "not a lot goin' on," the regulars are very busy with comedy nights and talent shows, hockey and curling tournaments, bingo, book clubs, a 10K Fun Run, Brent's attempts to foster tourism, Lacey's attempts to modernize things, visiting relatives, visiting Canadian celebrities, practical jokes, pranks, and misunderstandings, plus the full round of holidays (except Christmas: it's always summer or fall).


Fred Ewaniuk (Hank) is the most attractive member of the cast, but he never takes his shirt off.  There is no beefcake.

No gay characters are identified.  There is a bit of homophobia in Hank, who worries that cafe's new frou-frou decor will turn him gay, but it is counterbalanced by the other characters' nonchalant acceptance of same-sex potential; for instance, everyone who goes on a fishing trip with Hank falls in love with him.

Besides, you don't need gay characters to be gay-friendly.  A lack of hetero-mania is just as good.

In most American sitcoms, every other line is about someone's hetero-horniness, every other episode involves someone's hetero-romantic conquest, and eventually all of the regulars are paired off  (think of Friends or How I Met Your Mother).  Not in Corner Gas.  Brent and Lacey briefly consider dating, but drop the idea and remain friends.  Five episodes total involve someone's hetero-romance.

Corner Gas is about a group of friends.


 No wonder, as the theme song says, "It's my happy place."  An episode of Corner Gas is a sure cure for depression.  Except for the last episode, in which Brent becomes a professional comedian and has to say goodbye.

Buy any of the seasons, and watch in any order; there are no character or premise changes.

See also: Trailer Park Boys