Sex and religious ritual, naked dancers and a good dose of blood -“ they are the ingredients you might expect from a choreographer called Javier de Frutos.
It may be an Anglo clich?hat a gay Venezuelan delights in this sort of stuff, but Javier does come from a continent and culture which knows how to astonish audiences with images of excess.
It’s something to do with that Latin American experience of Spanish Catholicism and a church which has had 2,000 years to perfect its seductive rituals.
Javier is no good Catholic boy but he’s plundered the church of his childhood for the images in his applauded work Milagros -“ it’s from a Spanish word for religious miracles and offerings.
This and a more recent dance, The Celebrated Soubrette, are in a triple bill which the Royal New Zealand Ballet opens in Sydney on 9 June.
Milagros describes the fate of the chosen one, a virgin, reluctantly submitting to her sacrifice in a pagan ritual to replenish the harvest.
She knows it’s all nonsense and fights against her fate. The work is peopled with men and women whose floating white costumes make them look like ghosts of Tennessee Williams’s Southern belles, figures consumed by memory and decay.
For Javier an even stronger inspiration than the American playwright is the music for Milagros.
This is the fourth dance work he has choreographed to Stravinsky’s iconic music, The Rite Of Spring.
His career and his life have grown through experiencing The Rite himself.
For this fourth time he’s returned to a rare piano roll recording, a rapid and slightly unreal metallic rendering which strips the music back to its basics.
In the first two works he danced solo to Stravinsky’s whole score, in the second directly confronting the audience on why he had to be this sacrificial virgin for the spring rite.
The blood and nudity soon followed in other dances.
Transatlantic was based on his experiences in New York, and in Grass he had blood-smeared dancers pursue a self-destructive eroticism inspired by the story and music of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.
One writer said of Grass that the dancers almost seemed to be screwing each other to death.
I no longer have any sense of shame, Javier says.
As a choreographer I have to give performers that sense of responsibility to be true to the moment, to give them that sense of theatre grandeur. In this time of so much minimalism and deconstruction, I go for excess.
Javier de Frutos grew up Catholic and gay in Caracas but left to spend his first years as a dancer in those supposed centres of culture, New York and London.
Latin America was a fascinating place to grow up and I had a very good education. I appreciate it now much more than when I was there. I didn’t express my sexuality though in Venezuela. My coming out was really under Thatcher in Britain -“ which wasn’t much better.
In London Javier eventually established his own dance company as well as his reputation for lots of nudity and blood.
By the late 1990s he had worked through that and also had had enough of the demands of running a company. He turned to the theatre and for two years immersed himself in the life and work of Tennessee Williams.
He made pilgrimages to the American gay playwright’s favourite retreats around Rome, Key West and New Orleans.
And he became obsessed with the poetic yearnings of Williams’s heroines, of women like Blanche pining not for realism but magic.
The feeling of ageing is very present in Tennessee and god knows it is very present in the life of a dancer, Javier says.
I’ve always thought I choreograph better for women than men. I feel connected to that fear of fading which for women in the ballet world is very strong.
An ageing showgirl from the nightlife of Las Vegas takes centre stage in the second Frutos work in the NZ Ballet triple bill.
The Celebrated Soubrette was again inspired by a Tennessee Williams play and is set to the music of his favourite contemporary composer Michael Daugherty in a kind of orchestral homage to Liberace.
As for dancing, Javier de Frutos accepted his own fading and retired a few years ago. Now at 42 he’s accepting choreographic jobs with companies around the world and working to pay off a London mortgage with his boyfriend, a British anthropologist.
The pain of dancing is a bitch but the nervousness is bigger, he says. The younger person has enough adrenalin to get through that stuff. My adrenalin now is only enough to get me through the jet lag.
Javier won’t be here for his Sydney season but in Nuremberg working on a new commission, again using the music of Daugherty but this time taking a political theme from the life of J. Edgar Hoover.
Then back in London he and the boyfriend are thinking of getting married under the new British reforms. But it won’t be a Catholic wedding.
The Royal New Zealand Ballet triple bill A Million Kisses To My Skin -“ including Javier de Frutos’s Milagros and The Celebrated Soubrette -“ opens at Sydney Theatre, Millers Point, on 9 June.