'Let me have men about me that are fat," Caesar said, and Lawrence Goldhuber has finally supplied them.
For "Julius Caesar Superstar," director-choreographer Goldhuber borrows from history - the Roman Senate and the red-baiting U.S. Senate of the 1950s; the ancient Roman baths and the American gay bathhouses of the late '70s; and from films and literature, as various as Dante's "Inferno" and "The Wiz." The result is a surreal, alternately creepy and sexy dance-theater piece about power, paranoia and sacrifice and the shapes they take in our minds and the world.
A heavyweight Senate
One of the shapes they take in "Julius Caesar Superstar" is of a chorus of eight senators, each of whom weighs at least 300 pounds - or, if not, is stuffed into a fat suit. In fashioning the sweeping togas for these bulky men and women to reel and raise their fists, costume designer Liz Prince ran out of fabric three times.
"The striking imagery of eight big people dancing, I assume we've never seen before," Goldhuber says.
At a recent rehearsal, the chorus members admitted that they didn't expect to be dancing so much. "I haven't shook my booty since the '70s," said a graying Eric Booth.
At 6 feet and 350 pounds, Goldhuber has always specialized in girth. In 1985, the lanky dancer-choreographer Bill T. Jones hired Goldhuber, then an actor with no formal dance training, because Jones wanted "someone who made him feel small," he says. Goldhuber's presence in the company ended up rearranging audiences' thinking about what a dancer could look like.
In the independent career Goldhuber embarked on in 1996, he has played up his size and taken on every imaginable fat stereotype. He has swathed himself in a fat suit and performed with dancer Heidi Latsky, barely 100 pounds and 5 feet tall. He has dressed as a baby in diapers. For a solo outing at P.S. 122 last year, he invented Barry Goldhubris, man of outsized ego.
Critics have played along, freely designating him "extremely hefty," "unapologetically bulky," "of Falstaffian proportions," "tubby," "mountainous" and "vast." They have also noted, with evident astonishment, that he dances "like an angel."
Asked about his subversive strategy, the native New Yorker says he doesn't have one. "I suppose I'm just harping on the feature that makes me unique in modern dance," he muses. "It's hard enough to stand out in dance - a highly populated and competitive field."
But "Julius Caesar Superstar" is sneaky, like Goldhuber's other work. It introduces stereotypes only to have them grow complicated.
At the start, the eight senators are "a bastion of power," Goldhuber says, "like on a golf course." Except in this case, it's a bathhouse. (He easily cops to the show's gay subtext.) In one scene, the men recline behind a scrim in skimpy towels while Geoff Gersh's inventive score conjures the bath's heat and drip. Four hunks in flimsy white miniskirts pose as Roman statues.