Tuesday, December 4, 2007

High-Minded Homoerotica

During my youth, I spent many an hour hanging around local newsstands ogling first generation beefcake magazines like Muscleboy, Young Adonis and Tomorrow's Man. Although such magazines now seem remarkably tame (especially when compared to the penetrating performance art of today's pulchritudinous porno pictorials) these publications could instantly set my young man's fancy into overdrive. As my erotic fantasies grew more sexually sophisticated and, on certain choice occasions, more bizarrely musclebound, I discovered that what turned me on even more than specific sexual acts were the ideas, the imagination and the power which lay behind them. The distancing of homoerotic images from the palm of my hand to the nether regions of my mind catapulted me into an amazingly lush landscape of rich sexual fantasies.

Today, I'm still hopelessly lost in that never never land of erotic reverie. And, perhaps that may serve to explain why, as an adult, I've never found video porn very stimulating. If I prefer to read erotic fiction, it's because video porn leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. Predetermined images are assigned to the viewer so that all the creative energy in the experience is taken from his hands. In the final analysis, video porn may prove to be as deadly as MTV simply because it never gives the viewer a chance to ask that crucial question: "What if?"

These days many gay men are being forced to use their imaginations, some more than ever before. The demand for safe sex has prompted one phone-sex advertiser to suggest that "the ear is the most sensual organ in your body." Where does one draw the line between the repression of one's soul and the full flowering of one's imagination? I'd prefer to invoke the age-old adage which insists that a human mind is a terrible thing to waste.


When a friend recently asked me if, perhaps, I didn't think that the sixth row orchestra seats I had been given by a regional ballet company were too close to the stage, I readily confessed that such seats afforded me the delightful opportunity to indulge myself in an evening of aesthetic crotch-watching. This is not to suggest that I didn't pay attention to the rest of what was happening onstage. Let's just say that, for one brief shining moment, such close positioning became an intensely pleasurable perk of the profession.

Speaking of dance, while attending a recent program by the Houston Ballet I was struck by a noticeable difference in the bodies of its male dancers from what audiences in San Francisco have begun to take for granted. The male corps of the Houston Ballet must be a full head taller than most of San Francisco Ballet's men. As a result, their long legs (particularly as highlighted in Choo San Goh's Variaciones Concertantes) project the sweaty athleticism of ancient gladiators rather than the artful precision of modern ballet boys. Without meaning to insult such superb SFB stalwarts as Andre Reyes and Julian Montaner, there's a great deal to be said for the towering torso and rippling musculature of a tall dancer.

While Variaciones Concertantes (which was set to some exquisite music by Alberto Ginastera) offered plenty of visual stimulation, the lyrical ecstasy of Ben Stevenson's choreography for Three Preludes by Serge Rachmaninoff proved to be the high point of the evening. Although I occasionally had to struggle to banish images of the Trocadero Ballet's Yes, Virginia, Another Piano Ballet from my mind, Stevenson's work was cleanly choreographed and his ideas simply stated. Three Preludes was beautifully danced by Janie Parker and Edward Warburton and, judging from this program (which featured the pas de deux from Don Quixote and John Cranko's the Lady and the Fool) as well as the company's rather impressive Sleeping Beauty production, the Houston Ballet strikes me as a company to be closely watched over the course of the next few years.


A strong thread of dance sensuality and homoerotica is woven throughout Benjamin Britten's last Opera, Death in Venice. Based on the novella by Thomas Mann, this important contemporary work received a new production from the Opera Company of Philadelphia last month with tenor William Lewis as the novelist, Gustav von Aschenbach. In an inspired piece of casting, the tenor's rugged masculine beauty added a more bittersweet touch to Aschenbach's final encounter with the barber than I've seen in most productions. Although certainly adequate, Allan Monk's portrayal of the novelist's seven nemeses never became quite evil enough to suit my tastes.

As everyone knows, Death in Venice is the only major work in the operatic repertoire to deal with an aging closet queen's obsessive babbling over the "beauty and perfection" of an androgynous Polish youth. John Payne's delicately danced Tadzio had the desired hypnotic-erotic effect on von Aschenbach's mind while Gray Veredon's direction and choreography kept the piece moving neatly toward its climax. Michael Korn's conducting beautifully captured the alienated lyricism of Britten's intensely percussive score.

While George Tsypin's unit set relied on the effects of various slide projections seen through a wall of angled vinyl strips, his four cages/cabanas quickly lost their novelty and became a tiresome scenic gimmick. However, one aspect of Death in Venice which became much more painful for me to deal with on this encounter was the refusal of the authorities (for fear of hurting their tourism industry) to acknowledge that Venice was caught in the grip of bubonic plague. Their evasiveness reminded me of the days, not so very long ago, when the owners of gay bars and bathhouses kept asking the gay press not to print so much news about AIDS because "it would be bad for business."

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This "Tales of Tessi Tura" column originally appeared in the Bay Area Reporter on January 15, 1987.

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