Jordi Cortes is big in body and presence. I suspect he wouldn’t mind if I referred to him as an exceptionally warm, friendly slab of human jamon, especially as in his not-quite-a-solo In Heaven (which nabbed the Saturday night slot in Juncture at Northern Ballet’s Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre) he compared himself to literal – and even thoroughbred – ham. He’s a fleshy, meaty and in some ways quite succulent man, and he knows it. As a creature of the stage he also (and rather generously) hogs the limelight. And in this show he even dons a rubber pig mask as if to underline the above points.
The piece is about, among other things, the performer’s ego. Solos, even not-quite ones like this, are by their nature trading on the idea that the person onstage believes he or she is fascinating and watchable enough for us to want to invest time in them. We indulge them in their self-indulgence. Although the latter hyphenate is often construed in the negative, I don’t necessarily think of it as such. I don’t mind indulging someone else’s self-indulgence as long as there’s something honest and genuine in what they do – an air of authenticity, I guess, that somehow puts me on their side. Call me an angel (an oblique titular reference to Cortes’ show that I just can’t resist) or maybe an overly tolerant fool, but at In Heaven I was largely on Jordi’s side.
He manages his own welcome, ambling into the auditorium in long coat, aqua t-shirt with the words THE END emblazoned on it and a cap and encourages us to take pictures of him. He passes out business cards (the handwritten details very scribbly) and autographed pictures. He also solicits our applause in advance as his incentive – a way, to use his words, to push him onstage. How can we refuse?
Cortes may be ‘older, fatter, balder’ than he once was, but he’s still an affably naughty charmer. Once onstage he tosses carnations to us. Unzipping his fly, he reaches in and does the same with a handily extracted pair of knickers. And another THE END t-shirt, and the cap (which he first used briefly as a soft begging bowl). Having showered us with these gifts he then kisses the stage once and his own arms several times. Stout and powerful, he’s a mimetically precise mover with a certain liquid strength; you can see the training embedded in his aged but still capable body. The performer-to-audience gambles he’s engineered apparently having paid off, he mimes gambling and championship fight gestures.
Cortes sporadically uses text, only at the end revealing that this Juncture gig marked the first time he’d performed In Heaven in English. What he says is at least in part about himself and the act of performing, with allusions to the bargain struck between us and him. The phrases I jotted down include ‘ready for a new memory’ and ‘the blind world of desire.’ He speaks of the scents of sweat and flowers, and flesh and blood and semen. About now is when he strips down to red tights, bare-chested but donning black heels and the pig mask. He’s pig sex incarnate, displaying himself via a series of flaunting struts and poses or sashaying jerks and collapses. Then, minus the mask, some audience participation ensues – a couple of brief sing-alongs, or our finger-snapping, hand-clapping, foot-stomping percussion and shouts as he sings an untranslated Spanish protest song. He bends himself into origami poses above one of the several gilded, waving Asian kitties dotting the stage (all but one planted like footlights). He shifts about near the back wall, accompanied by a recorded instrumental of Home on the Range and more than a dozen projected close-ups of a human eye. Downstage left he morphs in circles to the delicately warped vocals of Sparklehorse’s ironically melancholy, measured It’s a Wonderful Life, passing from a fragment of a Nazi salute to a suggestion of Rodin’s Thinker among other physical references.
In Heaven is, I suspect, a highly calculated improvisation of a sort. Most of Cortes’ props and costumes are distributed upon or near two tree-like poles either side of centrestage. He speaks of being taught that ‘the floor is your friend,’ a cue to tumble and loll about on it or, twice, to run and slide across it on his ample belly. He is on the one hand somewhat self-deprecating and on the other shamelessly self-promoting, auctioning himself to the highest bidder after telling us we all want more – including of him. ‘I’m highly sustainable,’ Cortes extols his own virtues, ‘and I can be recycled.’ The audience was less than forthcoming, although one brave soul – let’s call her, as he does, Fuzzy Water – eventually shouted out an offer of a thousand pounds. I’m not quite sure exactly what drew Juncture ’14 curator Wendy Houstoun to join Cortes onstage but there she was, the duo (who are long-time colleagues and pals) indulging in a literally staggering, obviously unrehearsed duet to Fred Astaire’s rendition of Cheek to Cheek. Dan (Watson, an ace performer) and Marianne (a dancer as well, I reckon) joined them for the re-creation of remembered dance moves from a shared performance past, including high-kick marching and falling down as if knocked out by one’s own prodigious leg. Most of this was good-humoured, affectionate, shambolic larking about, reminding me in its deliberate lack of planning or discipline of how even the best of actors can sometimes benefit from having a script. (That’s more of an observation than me grousing.)
In the show’s final segments Cortes donned a wolf mask, dancing to a sickly swoony treatment of The Dying Swan. Physically he referenced Nijinsky’s Faune but mainly he roved and rolled about the stage, more of a big pussycat than faux feral beast. He appropriated a bit of footage from the great The Night of the Hunter (the only film Charles Laughton directed, and a bona fide Gothic dream-like classic), playing it on the back wall and also borrowing from the film the hymn Leaning as sung by Robert Mitchum (delivering one of the screen’s most unforgettably charismatic portrayals of psychotic evil). Cortes’ rendition was thoughtfully suspenseful but minus the source’s danger. Lassoing the mike he’d been using round his neck, Cortes danced with a sculptural shrunken head that seemed to have been modelled upon his own noggin, placing it on fist or foot as he silently communed with it. ‘Is there a shrink in the house?’ he asked, or a lawyer or plumber or magician or priest, explaining his reasons for seeking each.
Ridding himself of all clothing save for red, thong-like briefs he got David Toole (another ace dancer, seated next to Watson in the front row) to zip him up like a sausage into a waist-length glowing green top. That, heels and earrings were the final costume. I’m not sure exactly when the green top was shed, but I do recall Cortes wearing sunglasses while splayed on the floor centrestage as Sid Vicious’ almost comfortingly excoriating My Way played itself out. As a finale Cortes doffed all clothing and retreated upstage against the back wall, facing it so that his bare flesh became a screen upon which his film self slowly stripped down to the full-frontal altogether. Arse-backwards he thus displayed both cock (via film) and bottom (for real), multiple virtual arms stroking his own layered flesh. It was a visually striking close to a performance that was agreeably and sometimes also refreshingly all over the place. Telling us he no longer understands or subscribes to the common pretence of performers dashing on and off to sustain their reward, Cortes stayed put and basked, naturally, in our applause.