Good Nude vs. Bad Nude

Washed-up TV actress Linda Gray drops her clothes as Mrs. Robinson on the U.S. tour of Broadway comedy The Graduate, including her 12-day run last December at the Aronoff Center, and no administrato

Feb 18, 2004 at 2:06 pm

Washed-up TV actress Linda Gray drops her clothes as Mrs. Robinson on the U.S. tour of Broadway comedy The Graduate, including her 12-day run last December at the Aronoff Center, and no administrators at downtown's performing arts facility bats an eye. Which is fine and fair.

This highbrow striptease — a winking gesture to the middle-aged, middlebrow, Scotch-sipping, suburban men who accompany their wives to Broadway touring shows in Cincinnati and other cities — has become The Graduate's key sales tool since Kathleen Turner bared all for the play's early runs in London and Manhattan.

If a nude Gray is good enough for Graduate audiences in Pittsburgh and Columbus, why should Cincinnati husbands in attendance miss out on the Playboy wink? A bare Gray is good, decent, straight-arrow nude. You'd have to be some sort of pervert to find something wrong with her showing off her fit body as part of a Broadway tour.

Adjacent to the mammoth Procter & Gamble Hall is the intimate Jarson-Kaplan Theater, home to the Contemporary Dance Theater (CDT), longtime presenter of modern dance and performance to Cincinnati. Here the rules regarding nude performers are drastically changed.

Nude dances in a visiting dance company's repertoire are outlawed from the Jarson-Kaplan stage. It doesn't matter if CDT Artistic & Executive Director Jefferson James informs patrons beforehand that the show contains mature content, limits ticket sales to adults 18 and older or cancels the lobby bar selling alcoholic beverages.

Nude dancers, more often male than female, are outlawed as a violation of policies of the Cincinnati Arts Association (CAA), managers of the Aronoff Center as well as Music and Memorial halls in Over-the-Rhine.

Here's the score on Aronoff Center lunacy. A bare Linda Gray is a good nude. If a dancer from the Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Dance Company were to perform the piece "Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin," that's considered a bad nude.

Policies are determined in Aronoff Center offices, but the debate belongs to the ticket-buying public. It's up to audiences to decipher the difference between good and bad nudes.

Certainly the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company is higher art than Gray's onstage vamping in The Graduate. Maybe it's a penis problem, meaning that Aronoff officials have no problems with female nudes but draw the line at swinging dicks.

Nudity wasn't an issue at the Feb. 7 performance by the Sean Curran Co. In fact, many dance companies contain no nude dances in their repertory.

For Curran, who's performed with Bill T. Jones before creating his own company five years ago, it's an artistic decision. For James, who programs the CDT season, chooses the companies and approves the repertory, her decisions are dictated by CAA policy.

Under a Big Brother arrangement that would be laughable if it weren't true, James is forced to request a particular piece from visiting companies that contains no nudity or, as in the case of the Jane Comfort Co. a few years ago, require the dancers to cover up.

It's a week after the Sean Curran performances, and James sits in her cluttered office in a back room at the College Hill Town Hall. The room is cold due to lack of heat, and James makes do with numerous space heaters.

Asked why Linda Gray can drop her clothes in the Procter & Gamble Hall but most visiting dancers remain covered, James answers diplomatically.

"Everybody is dealing with it in an artistic and mature way," she says. "It hasn't been an issue, and I don't think it's a big deal for our audiences because they're still seeing beautiful dances."

Yet, she admits, if there is a problem, it's over the possibility that CAA administrators are practicing a double standard.

Speaking from his Aronoff Center office, CAA President and General Manager Stephen Loftin says only one standard is in place regarding nudity.

"It's not an issue with us," he says. "It's an issue only in relation to our liquor license."

I'll drink to that, whatever it means.