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Juliana F. May’s revealing COMMENTARY=NOT THING returns for American Realness festival (photo by Alex Escalante)

Juliana F. May’s revealing COMMENTARY=NOT THING returns for American Realness festival (photo by Alex Escalante)

Abrons Arts Center Playhouse
466 Grand St. at Pitt St.
Through January 13, $20

For the American Realness festival, Juliana F. May and her MAYDANCE company are restaging Commentary=not thing, a daring, intimate hour-long piece that debuted at New York Live Arts in February 2013. In certain ways a follow-up to February 2011’s Gutter Gate, Commentary=not thing explores interpersonal communication through speech and the body and, like Gutter Gate, features a bold dose of nudity. With the audience sitting in three rows on two sides of the stage at the Abrons Arts Center Playhouse — get there early if it matters whether you sit on a chair, a stool, or on the floor — Benjamin Asriel, Tanya Epstein, and Kayvon Pourazar enter fully clothed and proceed to walk and run around the space with a heavy concentration of spinning and arm movement. They occasionally make guttural noises or shout out snippets of text that are repeated by Epstein and Pourazar, the former demanding to know what’s happening because he shouts that the latter is his wife. (The spoken text, delivered at a variety of volumes and occasionally while breathing inward, is a collaboration between May and original dancers Asriel, Pourazar, and Maggie Thom.) Soon Asriel brings out some wooden tables and chairs — the only other objects on Brad Kisicki’s spare set are three speakers hanging at different levels from the ceiling — clothes come off, and Pourazar and Epstein continue to argue while Asriel coolly stays out of it. The piece then arrives at its centerpoint, a thrilling series of circles around the stage in which the dancers form an ever-changing chain, reaching out and touching the person in front of and behind them, then switching places like a very adult take on the childhood game of leapfrog. The moves, which involve, among other things, the cupping of the others’ genitals two at a time, are not as shocking or erotic as one might expect but rather feel natural as the dancers abstractly and repetitively explore the human body. Costumer Reid Bartelme’s contemporary clothing continues to come on and off as the dancers are joined by Chris Seeds’s electronic score. All three dancers give powerful performances; Asriel in particular seems to have become the go-to guy when it comes to nudity, as he has previously taken it all off for John Jasperse’s Fort Blossom Revisited at NYLA in 2012 as well as for Gutter Gate. With Commentary=not thing, May has created a piece that is not about nudity itself but more about everything that surrounds it — from such emotions as love, shame, and guilt to societal, religious, and performance taboos and the artistic expression of personal and individual freedom.

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