writers on dancing


Faun From Morning To Midnight

Haunting Douglas
Spacific Films, New Zealand, 2004
Washington, DC 14th International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
Jewish Community Center
Washington, DC, USA
Sunday, October 17, 2004

By George Jackson
copyright © 2004 by George Jackson

Dancers die twice according to Douglas Wright, once when they stop dancing and then at the end of their life on earth. People in America will remember Mr. Wright as the short, solid, hunky Paul Taylor dancer with the blond ringlets and Nijinsky features. He could be a volcano on stage, exploding and then flowing lava-like across the terrain. In Britain, audiences saw his dancing and choreography with DV-8. He is best known in his homeland where the Royal New Zealand Ballet cast him as Petrouchka in Fokine's choreography, yet his principal association is with Limbs, the modern dance troupe. Mr. Wright is the focus of this compelling film which he thinks of as biographical, autobiographical fiction rather than as a documentary; Ronnie Scheib directed.

The narrative follows Mr. Wright from childhood and adolescence through his dancing days to the illness (AIDS) that saps his strength today. Throughout, he has an impish appearance that on stage (and perhaps during extreme emotional states in life) transformed into an extraordinary intensity, akin to the urges that drive a faun. Much of his choreography for himself shows facets of this passion. He grew up in conflict with his father and most of his peers because he loathed what interested them—football. He wanted to dance and got away with it because he called it gymnastics. Homosexuality he discovered early. Drugs and alcohol came a little later, and so did depressive episodes and wild outbursts. His dancing, though, became incredibly strong and, especially while performing for Mr. Taylor, quite disciplined. The Taylor company had been looking for a male dancer, 5 foot and 8 inches tall. There was a sizeable competition at the audition. The famous choreographer kept his eye on Mr. Wright but pointed out he wasn't 5'8". Mr. Wright replied that his dancing was that tall, and got the job. After some seasons he felt himself becoming too much a Taylor dancer and wanted to explore his own potential. His discovery of his illness following his return to New Zealand is related in an understated way.

The film shows no complete role he danced and no total work he choreographed. The excerpts are potent, and leave one wanting to see more. Perhaps the most poignant solo is the last one Mr. Wright danced, during which he kept urging his body to do it just one more time. I suspect that one need not know the circumstances to sense the willpower that stretches the musculature and angles the joints in this piece. It is the nature of film to protract time, and especially documentaries provide little to buffer the rapid pace of the passage through life.
Volume 2, No. 39
October 18, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by George Jackson


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last updated on October 4, 2004