If Looks Could Kill

Oscar Wilde's only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, is about an exceptionally handsome and increasingly dissolute young man whose portrait mysteriously reveals all of the marks of his sins. Gray never ages and his looks never fade, but the painting of his serene visage deteriorates at an alarming rate. In the end, Gray's vanity gets the best of him in a most brutal manner--beauty, after all, can't last forever.

Still, well over a century after the book's publication, people will do almost anything for a permanent pass to the fountain of youth. On such TV shows as Extreme Makeover and The Swan, plastic surgery is presented as the key to happiness in all aspects of life. For choreographer Gerry Girouard, however, the seemingly eternal human quest for perfection has definite drawbacks. "What happens to your conscience or your soul if you change things on the outside to look more beautiful, but inside you still know who you once were?" he muses during a recent interview at a south Minneapolis coffee shop. "It's all about secrets and changing yourself not to make a connection but to conform."

Drawing on Wilde, reality TV, and Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, Girouard has created his latest work, The Cult of Dorian Gray, which premieres this weekend at the Red Eye Theater. The piece takes place in a corporate jungle where the employees are nothing if not vicious, judging one another by their appearances, stopping at nothing to become the "Masters of the Universe" celebrated by the 1980s protagonists of Wolfe's novel. They challenge one another through Girouard's athletic choreography, literally climbing the walls to demonstrate who's really on top, cartwheeling through the space (while catching briefcases), and using capoeira, the seamless Brazilian martial art form, to stage their epic battles.

A new composition by Neverwas/ Christopher Cunningham drives the action, and Liz Josheff's video reflects Wilde's influence. The performers appear onscreen as bloated, bruised, and distorted figures, just as in Dorian Gray's portrait. The tango also plays an important role. According to Girouard, the provocative Argentinean dance form has its roots in knife fighting stances, making it the perfect movement for a power play. "Tango is one of the few dances where people are pushing in on each other," he notes. "But I gave up the traditional male/female roles of lead and follow. Here, everyone is striving for dominance."

 
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