Unlike in the United States, Germany, and France, modern dance never flourished in Spain. That, however, does not mean that it doesn’t exist. On May 25, at Madrid’s El Huerto Espacio Escénico, modern dancer and choreographer Manuel Badás presented his one-man show Sebastián. The French-trained artist skillfully connects Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom with gay culture’s punishment of the body in its quest for physical perfection. Though it was not touched upon, gay men began pumping iron and obsessing about their abdominal muscles in increasing numbers with the AIDS crisis. Looking physically invulnerable, and sexy, was the community’s defense in the face of so many deaths.
In Sebastián, Badás creates a montage of stereotypical homosexual images: the drag queen with his five-inch heels, the cover model in white underwear, and the regular guy pouring over glossy male magazines, whose pages are riddled with advertisements for beauty pills and creams. Again and again, Badás transformed back into the martyr Sebastian. His stomach contracted as though struck by an arrow. His arms fluttered behind his back, like he was manacled and he was sprouting wings. He swirled across the floor, as though transcending rough terrain. Throughout, the music ricocheted between the past and present: from baroque hymns to classic American rock and jazz. Biblical quotes about Sebastian’s martyrdom were projected and Badás’ dancing became increasingly kinetic. In the last section, a recording of Billy Holiday singing Strange Fruit was heard. The young, lithe Badás lined up his glossy magazines in the shape of a cross. He tilted his body over a chair, becoming a strangely suspended fruit, one that has been martyred by today’s media-saturated forces.