I sneak past the female bouncer wearing a glittering dick-shaped brooch and enter what appears to be the final hours of a neon-painted frat party. I negotiate my way through mountains of Solo cup trash and under the industrial plastic curtains obscuring the entrance to what appears to be the derelict warehouse confines of a gay ménage-à-many.
This is only a prelude to “KINK HAÜS,” an experimental work created by and starring performance artist Gunnar Montana with an ensemble of six buff dancers that made me feel both muscularly inadequate, uncomfortable, and thoroughly seduced.
But that’s probably underselling how ridiculous an evening “KINK HAÜS” is. The show has a soft beginning with what appears to be a creepy man-baby hanging out in the rafters. Meanwhile, a jumpsuited janitor cleans up various bits of trash cluttering the stage. Based on the show’s title, I assume he’s going to strip and he totally does, revealing a glittery drop-waist dress and two high-heel pumps.
Voilà: a fashion show. The ensemble enters dressed for RuPaul’s Drag Race. The category is “Interstellar Halloween Inside Your Older Cousin’s Lava Lamp.” Everybody is here: an astronaut from the worst corner of an eighties disco club, something pink and furry resembling a cat but may also be a demonic furby. And then, is that Pope John Paul II?
At this point, I may have blacked out so I don’t really remember how the next act begins. All I know is that neon gym equipment was carted onto the stage as the ripped dancers pretended to struggle with five-pound weights. But not to fear. This number’s central performer, Avi Borouchoff, slowly relinquishes his remaining clothes in favor of body oil. Not sure if this helps gain traction on the bench press but it’s definitely amusing to watch. Weightlifting doesn’t last for long because the free weight rack also includes a couple massive dildos. (In case the reader couldn’t tell, this number examines the “gym bunny” stereotype-kink of gay men who really love to exercise.) Stunned, it’s probably at this moment that I noticed across the stage from me a mother bopping along to the music with her politely observant tweenage daughter. Oh, to grow up in the East Village having seen it all — from every angle.
Next come two dancers snorting a literal pyramid of cocaine. Not sure if drug use is necessarily a kink, but conceptual inconsistencies are hardly a concern when two dancers (Jessica Daley and Frank Leone) are wildly flinging themselves across the stage like ping-pong balls across a tabletop. Like two animaniacs on a hyped-up bender, Daley and Leone tear through their faux-apartment leaving a pile of clothes strewn across the floor.
Enter dancer Dylan Krepp, listening to an instructional audio tape on how to be gay as he sorts through the women’s clothing he wants to wear. Running through some fast and (very) loose definitions of what it means to be gay, trans, and a drag queen, the audio guide soon ends with Krepp lip-syncing for his life to a perennial favorite, Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero.” (But let’s be honest, Shrek did it best.) The choreography here is glorious, triumphant even, with almost the entire cast rushing on stage to support Krepp’s coquettish performance — everyone except one dancer who has gone backstage to change into his gay-bashing uniform.
And thus, the most problematic number of “KINK HAÜS” begins with Montana stomping Krepp to the ground as a sign reading “FAGGOT” blasts the audience with light from above. Sympathetically, I imagine this moment is supposed to remind viewers of the harsh reality facing queer people outside this utopian performance, but it casts an upsetting vibe across the entire second half of the work. Cue a pas de deux athletic number that has both Montana and Borouchoff playing “straight” men trying to control their homosexual urges, alternating between kisses and punches. And while the dance was borderline virtuosic in its strength, skill, and passion, the fetishism of violence here feels less like a kink and more like a call for psychoanalysis when juxtaposed with the predominantly jubilant numbers in “KINK HAÜS.”
Yet all is forgiven and forgotten as the show transitions to some of its slower, sexier numbers. Stephi Lyneice slithers onto the scene with two man-dogs leashed to her wrist. They’re spectacularly well-trained dogs, so naturally Lyneice strips for them by removing the upper portions of her outfit. Another oil dance! Lying down onto a slicked-up wooden floor, she spins her naked body across its square perimeter for what felt like five minutes but could have easily been twenty — it was entrancing.
For such a wild show, “KINK HAÜS” ends on a surprisingly melancholy note. The ensemble dances by themselves alongside mannequins before they freeze into place, leaving Leone to perform an emotional lyrical solo number with a generous amount of floor work. It’s tragic, isolating choreography — and then the lights come up. The bouncer announces the show is over and that everyone must leave. I left the theater, confused if also titillated from what I had just witnessed.
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