Gunnar Montana’s intoxicating ‘BATH HOUSE’ gets extended run

Gunnar Montana
Gunnar Montana’s ‘BATH HOUSE’ will play an extended run until Nov. 12.
Garrett Matthew

If you’re not really sure what to expect walking into Gunnar Montana’s latest showcase, ‘BATH HOUSE,’ keep that spirit of surprise. Because what you end up seeing is a journey of lights, music, sexuality, passion and so much more than you could ever imagine—and luckily, the show has just announced an extension.

Montana is known around the city as a local choreographer and performance artist, and also a Fringe Festival favorite. With his latest artistic venture—which calls The Latvian Society of Philadelphia home—the show touches on a few different spiritual subjects while exploring sensuality, community, and the bath house culture. And audiences are along for the neon-clad and steamy ride.

Gunnar Montana
Gunnar Montana.Joe McFetridge

Montana, who always is a force to be reckoned with on stage, is joined by an impressive line-up of performers. Local creatives involved in the show include Jessica Daley, Frank Leone, Desirée Naval, Danielle Currica, and Nikolai McKenzie—plus there’s also an appearance from award-winning burlesque entertainer Mika Romantic, who some may recognize from Montana’s previous performance, ‘Motel Montana.’

The experience begins as soon as you walk into the third floor of The Latvian Society. The building itself holds its own atmosphere, but the room where the performance takes place is quite spectacular. And it transports you somewhere entirely different. The music that plays, the water that is incorporated on stage (more on that later) and the distinct smell and aura are all something you have to see firsthand.

Then the show starts.

‘BATH HOUSE’ utilizes the talent of its performers to explore fluidity, and more so, the masculinity in women and the femininity of men. It becomes apparent from the start with the performers delving into the ideology that society’s definition of femininity can be explored with society’s definition of masculine physiques, and vice versa. But, as always, it’s done with incredible athleticism and detailed choreography that somehow seems so free, even with the precise timing.

The show keeps the energy high by utilizing different performers at different times for certain talents. You’ll see duets of strength and beauty being performed in dance exercises. You’ll see a solo being performed under a shower that magically flows down in the middle of the stage. There’s also a free-floating bath that appears in the middle of the room with choreography that is nothing short of absolutely impressive.

Gunnar Montana
Garrett Matthew

But ‘BATH HOUSE’ is meant to be more than just an entertaining ride. It’s also meant to be a safe haven for a celebration of queerness. As Montana says in a statement, “Right now, members of the LGBTQ+ community walk around feeling damned for existing because of politics. ‘BATH HOUSE’ is a vibe, but so much more. It’s a sanctuary where everyone can be allowed to exist and desire. Everyone is welcome here.”

That sanctuary also plays on inspiration from Turkish, Arabic, and Lebanese cultures, and that’s seen through the set, music,
and performances. Bath houses in other cultures are seen as a place where the community can convene. And perhaps with everyone stripped down, it offers a true chance to get to know people on a deeper level than with the guard of being in the outside world. And in Montana’s eyes, there’s something electric about that.

This particular production is a bit different than some of the local choreographer’s past works. Instead of being the center star of the production, lead artistic director Montana has more of an ensemble feel for ‘BATH HOUSE,’ and it offers a chance for every single performer to shine—whether it be in a nun exploring boundaries, a sensual work of movement, or even a bout of extreme athleticism being shown utilizing props on stage. And it’s quite easy to say there are no dull moments.

However, as in previous productions, Montana is hands-on, from pre-production to the finished product. The stamp of the creative’s work seems to be effervescent with passion and freedom. Even though the EDM-laden track drives most of the movement—and it’s this writer’s hope that the soundtrack is somewhere on Spotify—the total awe of the experience is the wild liberty that is shown on stage. It’s intoxicating and motivating in ways to strip away everything you think and just be there, be present and be who you are.

And that seems to be the point underneath it all.

Gunnar Montana
Garrett Matthew

Originally, ‘BATH HOUSE’ premiered as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and was set to run through Oct. 30. However, with this ambitious work selling out practically every night it plays, Montana made the announcement the show would extend with additional shows to wrap on Nov. 12, becoming the producer, director, and choreographer’s longest-running production.

So now there’s ample opportunity to capture the sheer alluring passion of the showcase, and your future self will thank you.

‘BATH HOUSE’ runs at The Latvian Society of Philadelphia (531 N. 7th St.) now through Nov. 12, every Thursday to Sunday at 8 p.m. An industry night has also been added on Monday, Nov. 7. All tickets start at $45 and can be
purchased online at VIP packages are also available.