Metro Weekly

Haunting Douglas

Reel Affirmations 2004

Review by Randy Shulman

Rating: starstarstarstarstar (5 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!]
Sunday, 10/17/2004, 12:00 PM
Feature presentation, $9 at Cecile Goldman Theater at the DCJCC

“I’M LUCKY THAT I’ve been given more than my share of anger to transfer [to my art], and so I’ve worked with it.” That comment, made by Douglas Wright — a former principal with the Paul Taylor Dance Company and a renowned choreographer in his native New Zealand, where his vivid, daring, controversial work has made him something of a legend — is but one of many illuminating instances in Haunting Douglas, Leanne Pooley’s exceptional documentary about the artist’s life and work.

Haunting Douglas

Pooley packs an entire lifetime into 75 crisply-edited minutes, combining Wright’s own wry, off-the-cuff musings with readings from his autobiography, Ghost Dance, and stunning filmed moments culled from two decades of performance. To see Wright then — boyish and mischievous — and to see him now — gaunt and worn-down from HIV-positive fatigue — is a startling study in contrasts. “You don’t realize what a gift energy is until it’s taken away,” he says.

Wright is as cavalier about his sexually irresponsible days — “I was stupid,” he says of his promiscuity, “but I’m glad I did it” — as he is philosophical about how HIV reshaped his creative being. “A part of me was really self-destructive,” says Wright, who spent his years in the thrall of LSD and heroin, “and the diagnosis took over the burden of destruction. It was a peculiar joy.”

Wright, the man, is fascinating. But to watch the clips of Wright, the dancer and choreographer, is to be overtaken by awe. The fluidity, the grace, the athleticism, the ingenuity with which he approaches his work puts you in a state of rapture. Even those who can’t tolerate the notion of modern dance will be dazzled by the beauty, the sheer creative impact, the emotional richness of the dance on display in Haunting Douglas. And after it’s over, you have a sense of this man who, unlike the rest of us, has never been bound by the laws of gravity.

Haunting Douglas
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Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.