Art, Nudity, and Porn: Zieroff’s Back Door Befuddles and Entertains

Trigger warning for descriptions of nudity and sex.

Under the pseudonym of Jasmine Zieroff, Brian Sanders presented The Back Door, a FringeArts dance-theater production in Philly.

There are two minute differences between Zieroff’s The Back Door and a grungy strip club.

First, the grungy strip club probably wasn’t repurposed from a southern Philly church.

Second, there probably aren’t rows of lawn chairs in most strip clubs.

Other than those differences, the $25 spent on Zieroff’s production might as well end up in the thong of a topless man or woman, depending on your preference. But since this was an avant-garde production, there must be some artistic nuances that I missed.

Upon arrival, a deceptively romantic line of electric candles along the church’s staircase welcomed the attendees, who range from middle-aged couples to hip college students. Attendants ushered us along a narrow path into a dark theater reverberating with upbeat techno and strobe lights. A light polyester material partitioned audience seating from the backstage, and three built men, clothed in only hardhats and thongs, scampered about on stage.

Shortly after, the show started.

The first segment presented a few understandable concepts. A robed leader herded the three men and allowed them to pick from one of three bikini-clad women. With the help of audience cheering, the three men chose a woman, who was then forced by the two other women onto her back. The robed man proceeded to insert his vintage microphone and stand, which also purposed as a flashlight, into her buttocks. Immediately, a black, eyeless infant appeared on the woman and frantically wailed.

Following this, the show slowly started to lose its grip on reality, though it remained impeccably choreographed. Each dancer and acrobat was in tune with his or her partner and inner passion for the piece.

Scenes that are still engraved in my mind include three women thrusting into the bent-over men, a mud pie demonstration involving sensually choreographed lovemaking on a table covered with chocolate syrup and gummy worms, and an extended metaphor for anal sex as the dancers climbed through a tubular, holey contraption that was strung up by chains. Interspersed between the scenes, servers came by with drinks and appetizers, but it was hard to swallow anything whilst witnessing an infant circumcision (of course, done on a plastic doll).

Despite the murkiness of most of the performance, a few scenes presented a clear-cut message. One such scene featured two men reclining on a table with their flies unzipped. Under the table, actors extended their arms through the flies to represent oversized members that beat rhythmically on drums. In walked a female with a gaping vagina, and the boners reacted violently by hitting the drums much harder. Meanwhile, the three aligned actors glanced at each other coolly, with their reproductive organs divulging their real reactions. The climax featured the woman pulling out a cigarette, lighting it, and giving her vagina a hefty puff. Visibly disconcerted, the penises returned to a flaccid state and walked away from the smoke. Perhaps this is an eroticized version of the anti-drug lessons with which our middle schools attempted to indoctrinate us.

The climax of the art show featured a cage fight, acrobatics, and laudable athleticism from all six actors. While inside the cage, two of the females fought ferociously with fists and towels, soaking each other in sweat and red, soapy water. What was probably intended as enticement for audience members who thoroughly enjoy lesbian action quickly upgraded into a full-fledged acrobatics show. As soon as they knocked the flimsy cage aside, the dancers bungeed off the theater overhead and gracefully swung from the balcony. The sounds of dancers lathered in soapy liquid slipping and sliding against each other sounded like something out of Dr. Seuss’ onomatopoeic wet dream. I guarantee, it was a sight to behold.

After an hour of soft-core porn, I sorely needed a bite of crisp, Philadelphian air. Is this art? Is this social commentary? Do I need to take a course on theater? I felt like a student in a high school literature class again—trying all too hard to connect meanings that weren’t there to the text. I did, however, believe that there was a theme of women empowerment. The female dancers sent a strong message: during intercourse, women need not be docile and men should not be afraid to be dominated.

On a gestalt level, I think the nonsensical nature of the whole act followed from the dissonance presented immediately when a child was born from anal sex. The gothic church windows also accentuated the devout nature of a human’s sex drive.

I will conclude by saying that I am still grasping for straws to find latent themes and messages embedded within the dances and interactions. Still, I loved the overdose of shock value and choreography. I left the show thoroughly entertained and extremely confused. I definitely recommend all to watch what Zieroff has in store for us next.

Featured image courtesy of Leon Chen/The Daily Gazette.


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