Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Alberto Denis: On becoming GoGo Gadget

Alberto Denis...or should we say GoGo Gadget?
(photo by Mike Dennis)

Alberto Denis: On becoming GoGo Gadget

interviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
About two or more years ago, I thought I was all but done dancing for anyone but myself...I'd considered that perhaps the dance world, for the most part, was done with me. – Alberto Denis
Ah, but all that was before GoGo Gadget!

On the second annniversary of GoGo Gadget’s boylesk debut, dancer Alberto Denis–now starring in Third Rail Projects’ acclaimed Then She Fell--recalls his liberating transformation into this sexy-nerdy character.

Alberto Denis
(photo by Gustavo Monroy)

Yaa Asantewaa: When you arrived at the idea that you were done with dance--or, perhaps, it was done with you--you eventually turned to burlesque.  What drew you to the burlesque movement?

Denis: Over the years, I rarely engaged in solo choreography and was pleased to learn that I might in fact have something to say. That my work was well received enough to warrant frequent remounting of the work was a surprise to me. XXXV spoke to my experience of time and moments in my life, my journey from infancy to the age I was then--35. While it was fleetingly rewarding to create work on my own, it wasn't what I'd envisioned for my dance career. I was left questioning what, if anything, lay ahead of me.

My struggles with body image are, somewhat unfortunately, inexorably linked to a very natural desire to build a loving, passionate relationship. I'd spent the past several years as a bachelor and continued to find that, in searching for a partner, I focused more and more on my body image. I believe this to be primarily driven by societal norms as well as behaviors within the various communities to which I belong--my identity as a gay male and as a self-proclaimed geek.

I wanted to make a new work, which I'm finally embarking upon now. I wanted to explore my struggle with body image and the concept of attraction. At the time, doing research on bulimia and anorexia, while valuable, was a bit too depressing. I decided to take a look at the resurgent burlesque community and do positive research on a field that celebrates the female form regardless of societal norms.

I went to a performance called Meaner, Harder, Leather which introduced me to the concept that men also participate in burlesque, in what is casually called boylesk. Over several months, I continued to attend performances and befriended a very prominent performer--Chris "Go-Go" Harder–and attended his five-weekend burlesque course.

In that setting, I fully let down my guard, embarking on the long journey of accepting and occasionally celebrating my sexually attractive body. Even thinking those words is still difficult; I'd like to believe that I'm attractive to at least a few. But GoGo Gadget, unlike Alberto, is overly confident, assured, sexual and provocative. I'm so grateful for him, as I truly believe he's directly responsible for my personal growth as a dancer/actor, and he contributes to my process with Third Rail Projects.

GoGo Gadget in action
(photo by Gustavo Monroy)

Yaa Asantewaa: Where did you see Meaner, Harder, Leather? How extensive is the male participation in the contemporary burlesque movement relative to female dancers?

Denis: Meaner, Harder, Leather ran for what I believe to be a little over a year at what was then the Vig 27 Lounge on 27th Street between Park and Lexington. In the few years I've been exposed to the burlesque community, I've seen the ratio of male-to-female participants spike significantly, in no short part due to Chris’s workshops. When I began there were perhaps half a dozen or so regularly performing men, whereas now--just from the performances I've been able to see--I've seen closer to twenty-five to thirty male performers engaging in boylesk on a regular basis.

Yaa Asantewaa: What helped you to let down your guard?  Let us in, a little, on the process of how you grew in self-acceptance.

Denis: I felt comfortable participating with a group as opposed to working as an individual, and also with Chris' very enthusiastic and well thought out process for leading the workshop. I'm still growing toward acceptance of what is physically attractive about me. It has been rewarding to rediscover my dancing ability within the context of a different community. To see it rewarded and celebrated has sparked a sense of "attractiveness" that I don't necessarily experience within the context of my dance community.

I believe that courage is also attractive, and I've had to learn to build my courage each time I build a new boylesk act and try it out, both to see if it works and the more basic fact that, by its conclusion, I become fully, physically exposed.

Also, for two years running, I've had an incredible collaborator in my gym trainer, Ray La Roca Grijalvo of SEEK FITNESS, who is genuinely invested in my success and achieving my physical goals. He and his wife have attended several of Gadget's performances. He's also developing relationships with many of my neighbors who also struggle with body image challenges.

Yaa Asantewaa: What’s behind the name GoGo Gadget?  How did this character develop?

Denis: GoGo Gadget references my own Peter Pan complex, directly linking the name to a cartoon from my childhood. Inspector Gadget, a cartoon character of the 1980s-90s, was very popular in my youth. He was often put in situations where he was ill-prepared to succeed, and yet he always prevailed. Gadget also references my love of all sorts of tech gadgetry. (I’ve been employed by a major technology company for the past several years.) Gadget's development is still very much in progress and grows with each performance and each new work.

Yaa Asantewaa: How do you go about bringing him out when it’s time for him to perform?

Denis: The best way to bring him out is through masks, makeup, costumes, music and glitter.  Lots and lots of glitter!  Oh and bubbles too!  Gadget loves candy, fun, sweating, dancing, cartoons, comic books, adventure heroes, men, and a few women too.  And most importantly, he absolutely loves getting naked and feels beautiful about his appearance.

Yaa Asantewaa: Does his personality influence you and help you in everyday life? Or is this something segregated to dance or, specifically, boylesk?

Denis: What a fantastic question! I continue to struggle to introduce his ever-forming personality within my everyday life. I can say that he continues to grow in boylesk, and now recently is certainly making his presence known within my dance identity.

Yaa Asantewaa: How does GoGo Gadget influence you as you prepare to perform in other dance work, including your work with the celebrated immersive theater troupe, Third Rail Projects?

Denis: I can say that Gadget has directly influenced my ability to take greater risks when developing another role. That courage I spoke of earlier is accessible to me outside of burlesque. My latest role creation draws a great deal from my nightlife experiences as Gadget, asking me to be sexually enticing to both men and women, an outrageous attention whore, physically provocative, as well as physically innovative. Gadget's regular activities on stage often explore these kinds of themes, and I'm drawing heavily on my experiences to create dance scores for my new role based on this kind of material.

Yaa Asantewaa: Would you recommend some training in boylesk to other male dancers? If so, why? What could they take away from it?

Denis: I believe if a male dancer wants to challenge both his perceptions of self- identity on stage as well as develop his choreographic skills, boylesk is an absolute must. It's a brilliant combination of dance and theater structured in a way that requires taking emotional as well as physical risks.

If you happen to be in Paris on October 5, you can see GoGo Gadget in action at The Lettingo Cabaret. New Yorkers, keep watch for news on the GoGo Gadget front for late fall.

Alberto Denis
(photo by Gustavo Monroy)

Currently a member of Third Rail Projects and featured in their production of Then She Fell, in 2008 Alberto Denis created [QuA²D] = The Queens Academy of Arts & Dance after leaving his position as Production Director/Producer for Dance New Amsterdam where he created the first ever staff infrastructure for their inaugural theater on Chambers Street in lower Manhattan, while co-curating their first three seasons of programming. Previously he created the Wight Room Dance Series presented at The Movement Salon near Union Square. Alberto Denis has toured the world (Dubai, Dublin, Barcelona, Bangkok, Taipei, Mexico City, Oslo and Prague and more) as a stage manager, audio engineer, assistant technical director and production electrician as well as a performer for many choreographers. He has performed for Arthur Aviles' Typical Theater for five years and in projects for Doug Elkins, Risa Jaroslow, Palissimo Dance Theater, Dixie Fun Dance Theater, ann and alexx make dances, Marta Renzi, Alexandra Beller, Michael Leleux, Heidi Latsky Dance, Lawrence Goldhuber, Luis Lara Malvacias, JoAnna Mendl Shaw’s Equus Projects and Mei Yin Ng’s Mei-Be Whatever. He was also a featured performer in the Whitney Museum's Christian Marclay: Festival performance of PrĂȘt-a'-Porter. His choreography has been produced at Dance Theater Workshop's Family Matters, Danspace Project’s Food For Thought, Dixon Place’s Body Blend and Moving Men, BAAD!’s Boogie Down Dance Series and Out Like That Festival and Kinetics Dance Theater, Baltimore MD. He has also served on the Dance Theater Workshop Curatorial Advisory Committee.

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