Sixteen Naked Estonians

Inta Balode

On “more than naked” by Doris Uhlich at Vaba Lava in Tallinn

The article was first published on October 14, 2015 on

Yes, of course, I was paying attention to the body parts that are not usually exposed so much. And I did compare bodies and I found bigger and fatter ones more interesting than thin ones. In a way. Because the shaking technique or fat-technique did not look so impressive on skinny guys and girls. I found skinny bodies more interesting because of their efforts to make her flesh look as mobile as the one of the bigger collegues. In general I liked all people on stage and they did not look naked, i.e., they did not look like doing something super special provocative and in a large group. They were there, they had fun, and did some dance class exercises, some nice massages, some disco dancing, some skin sound playful exploring and other stuff under the DJ sound by choreographer Doris Uhlich (her performance started the Vaba Lava 2015-16 season by the curators Madli Pesti and Thomas Frank). And it came to my mind that regular folk dance group in Latvia and Estonia would have 16 dancers. Well, 8 males and 8 females ideally, but as the gender balance is so-so in our part of the world – 4 men and 12 women looked very realistic.

more than naked_vaba laba

Photo: Siim Vahur

Yes, the choreographer seemed to have power status behind the DJ table – both because she is the one who “plays them” and also because she looked dressed. But it turned out that silver jacket and boots I see are the only things she has on, so her lower chakras were connected to sixteen naked Estonians all the time. And during her solo she removed the jacket as well and did a nice dance. Is a word nice dance offending within contemporary dance context? Not in this piece. It was a nice dance piece.

No, not at all. Despite unusually big number of people for a Baltic dance productions and almost 100 % nudity it was not one of those intense, deep into bones and flesh getting works. The ones who say “life is too hard anyway I don’t want to see this is theater”, would not have reasons to complain while watching this work. Nice, sweet, easy, fun – kind of incredible for sixteen different exposed bodies. Could it be that the folk dance group number builds this is nice society big enough to set the rules and make audience to just go with them and stop thinking – oh, God, they are naked?!

Yes, of course, I am jealous Estonians have this nice black box venue Vaba Lava (or “Open Space” if translated into English) next to several other black boxes they have for long time as opposed to Latvians who doesn’t have any proper contemporary theater space. May be we are spending too much money on costumes and set design?

Yes, of course, it is impossible to write a proper review when there is nothing to grab on. No costumes, no decoration, nothing to talk about if there is not much to say about “plain body”. Ok, maybe music, but not so much to say – DJ’s set including some dance music, some harder beat, something from classics, some silence and bodies’ sound track. And those “neutral bodies”. Could it be right that this performance was very close to the impossible neutral body? Even if on purpose they were so different body types, so different level of tan, different training in dance technique. Neutral because all were valid to be on stage and perform celebrating body dances. Neutral because there was no pressure of competition, because everybody who came to audition got to perform. Neutral because there is no teasing with surprises – they knew they will be naked, audience knew they will be naked, so this is not about naked. It is about more. What more? That naked is no big deal, that it can easily be no big deal thing.

Of course, I enjoyed, the funny slamming, slashing, pushing part, where the naked bodies touch while making sound which may be we hear time to time during sex but at those moments it is not really so fine to have fun and laugh. So those were nice moments to have this soundscape in funny context. Not possible if dressed.

Of course, I was thinking a lot about how it would be if they would not be naked. Thinking about structure of the piece, about movement material. Thinking that this is also no big deal. If not naked, no big deal?

Of course, I would recognize some of the dancers on the street but with much more effort than the dressed ones where head and face is the naked part to distinguish one person from another. In this case I would recognize people from the bodies. Their heads were not cut off, their heads were part of their bodies and that felt good. “Shake your body, body, body, vibration, body is brain” – those were some of the very few words pronounced by Doris. Uhlich. Vibration is lately very popular in some body work methods and dance classes as well. I tried some of the shakings I saw when I got home. Felt good and felt different as it looks. I was doubting the physiotherapeutic effect of breast shaking, but I was wrong, it does some nice muscle work in the chest area. Shaking gluteus maximus was pure pleasure.

more than naked_4

Photo: Siim Vahur

Of course, I did not come alone. This was a group experience.

“You will not believe what kind of performance I watched yesterday”, said my mom to her neighbors who show up in our house quite often. “17 completely naked people were dancing for more than hour. For half an hour it was very interesting, there were also bigger girls and guy, everything was shaking and jumping when they danced. But once I had examined all of them, it got boring. Music went up to this wild and loud beat when they were doing dances of primitive people, this is when I got worried about my heart arrhythmia. ”

Me: “Mom, it was not primitive people’s dance but club dance.”

Mom: “Ah, ok, if you say so.”


P.S. This article is inspired by The Writing Movement Network bringing and holding together dance writers and dance people from Baltic and Nordic countries. The Writing Movement Network is supported by The Nordic-Baltic Mobility Programme for Culture Short-term network scheme.

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