In 1948, Alfred Hitchcock created the film Rope - a version of a play inspired by the Leopold-Loeb murder of 1924, in which Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb killed 14-year-old Bobby Franks in an attempt to commit the “perfect crime” and in doing so prove their intellectual superiority. The resulting film was not particularly well-received, and was kept out of release for nearly three decades; Alfred Hitchcock himself called his film Rope “an experiment that didn’t work out.”
Choreographer Brendan Drake, however, was intensely inspired by this film. The resulting piece, Rope, is an evening length dance piece inspired by Hitchcock’s experimental film, and was performed August 18-23 at HERE arts Center. Drake’s work explores the homoerotic underpinnings of Hitchcock’s film, comments on the villainization of gay men in film and popular culture, and explores these influences in modern-day gay culture.
The piece begins with Adam Gauzza framed by a single spotlight against the back wall. He slowly bursts into cackling laughter, the audience brought along on his hysterical ride until his laughter abruptly changes into gut-wrenching sobs. This semi-Shakespearean foreshadowing shows us the dramatic structure of the piece that is carried throughout: hilarious moments that put us at ease until suddenly they reveal the utter tragedy and discomfort lying underneath the humor.
The opening gives way to a series of comical interactions; Calvin Tsang enters through the stage door and struts, arms up and hips swinging, between Gauzza and Zachary Denison, interrupting their unrealized flirtation; Denison and Tsang engage in hyper-stylized grinding in perfect time with the repetitive sounds of gunshots, Gauzza and Quentin Burley slow dancing through it all.
Highlights of the piece included a writhing, self-conscious floorwork series with allusions to masturbation and a remarkable duet to Mozart’s Batti, batti, o bel Masetto, performed by Burley and Denison. Drake’s subtle, intricate gesture wove seamlessly with powerful, testosterone-driven physicality, all the while maintaining subtly charged, apprehensive eroticism. Quentin Burley gave a particularly standout performance, with an astonishingly honest blend of trepidation and curiosity.
Throughout the work the men exhaust themselves, fall to the floor heaving, and awkwardly cuddle each other on the floor. Re-contextualized, innuendo-driven excerpts from the film version of Rope accompany the dancers’ movements, along with sweeping cinematic soundtracks, white noise, and suggestive sound effects, aptly mixed by sound designer Myles Avery. Intentions are muddled; we are unsure whether the men onstage are caring friends, scorned lovers, or flat out enemies. Archetypes are explored and established without ever stepping into cliché.
As the piece and the characters within it disintegrate, the inner insanity of each individual is revealed. Tsang, in an impossibly held penché, pummels his fists into the ground; Burley sits center stage, slapping the ground; Gauzza opens his arms and slaps them onto his torso, while Denison frantically, and unsuccessfully, tries to push his arms away, only to see them return every time. These disintegrations are ironically coupled with a swelling, hyper-dramatic soundtrack.
“Brandon, how did you feel?” We hear, as Denison and Burley slow dance together. “Well, I don’t remember feeling much of anything... until his body went limp.” Burley snaps Denison’s neck, who falls limply to the ground. “And then… I felt… tremendously exhilarated!”
If art is a reflection of contemporary culture, Rope is a fun-house mirror. Drake’s sassy, yet inspired commentary forces us to see the darker side of our cultural behaviors, and to consider that our image, though distorted, is not so far from the truth.