This poem is constructed around an erotic scenario between two recurring characters in Sondheim’s writing: Nikuko “a Russian ballet dancer” and Dr. Leopold Konninger. From the loading frame in this Flash piece, we are provided a point of view as if we’re the computer and are about to enter Sondheim’s imagination, and the audio doesn’t set this up as a comforting prospect. The poem seems to be designed to disturb as images of fragmented, objectified human beings gaze at one from positions of powerlessness and empowerment. Nikuko herself is portrayed as a kind of geisha dominatrix, particularly when juxtaposed with Dr. Konninger’s post-coital supine body. Subsequent images of a pile of heads and body parts and phrases like “carnage and extasy” create an unsettling mix of death and “la petit mort.”
It seems like Sondheim and Smylie seek to keep the work tasteful and artistic through abstraction, design, scheduling of the presentation, and poetic language. Do they succeed in achieving a careful balance between shock and aesthetics?