A picture shows Belarus’ singer Ivan, whose real name is Alexander Ivanov, posing for pictures. —AFP photos- A picture shows Belarus’ singer Ivan, whose real name is Alexander Ivanov, posing for pictures. —AFP photos-

Belarusian singer Ivan plans to take next month's Eurovision Song Contest by storm-performing completely naked with a wolf at his side. But his plan may prove too much even for a show known as an annual celebration of weirdness, held this year in Stockholm in May. The act by the lanky 21-year-old with a mane of reddish blond hair was dreamt up by Viktor Drobysh, a well-known Russian producer with a strong Eurovision track record. "It's undoubtedly an experience, a great experience," Ivan, whose real name is Alexander Ivanov, told AFP in an interview at Drobysh's Moscow studio.

"Especially as I have never performed on stage before in my birthday suit and with wild animals." The problem? It is not clear whether the act will be allowed to go ahead. Eurovision bans animals on stage. And while there is no rule on nudity, spokesman Paul Jordan told AFP this is "not appropriate" for a family show. Drobysh insists the performance is an artistic statement.

'Art, Not Porn'

"It's not about vulgarity or sex at all. "We want this to be art, not porn," he said, as the studio staff-with a bit of irony-tinkered with a future track by Ivan with the chorus, "I want sex, sex, sex." "I think the beauty that will be in our performance is comparable to that of Rodin's 'The Thinker'," Drobysh said, evoking the French artist's famous nude sculpture. "Can you imagine 'The Thinker' wearing jeans?" Eurovision, now in its 61st year, features acts ranging from the brilliant to the bizarre and pulls in a TV audience from around the world. Its finals are set for May 14.

Ivan will represent Belarus, a small ex-Soviet country not exactly known for its libertarian ways. It is sandwiched between the European Union and Russia, its chief ally. "The final version of the song will be confirmed later," chief spokeswoman for Belarus state television and radio company Svetlana Kraskovskaya told AFP. "What you see is one of the options," she said of a promo video of Ivan singing his contest entry, "Help You Fly", in which he appears naked with a trained shewolf named Shakira by his side.

Eurovision is known for its wacky outfits-from Finland's 2006 winner Lordi in their monster masks to Ukraine's 2007 drag queen contestant Verka Serduchka in her disco-mirrored headdress. But Ivan has been dubbed in some reports as possibly the songfest's weirdest contestant yet, something he takes as a compliment. He says he and Drobysh thought long about possible costumes, but ultimately decided on none at all, to show "nature and man are together". Working with a wolf brought another challenge. "The first rehearsals were very scary, but all the same we made friends," said Ivan, adding the sausages he fed her helped. "She liked my smell and started rubbing up against me."

Spirit of the times

Drobysh is pushing for the act. And as the man behind Russia's Buranovskiye Babushki, a choir of elderly ladies who won second place in 2012 when they charmed the audience with their mix of authentic peasant outfits and disco beat, he's made a name at Eurovision. He said the Belarusian state television company "is working on all the legal questions", although its spokeswoman told AFP that Drobysh himself is in charge of negotiations.

Eurovision "will take a decision" after seeing a "second-by-second outline of the routine," said Drobysh. He admitted there is a less exciting plan B for the performance, which he described as a "lite" version. Belarus has performed at Eurovision 12 times since 1994 and its best result was Dmitry Koldun's sixth place in 2007 with "Work Your Magic". Some online commentators in Belarus have expressed shock at the planned performance.

"That's a fine way to present Belarus, in the spirit of the times: with a bare arse," wrote one, hinting at the country's economic woes. "We kicked up a fuss about Conchita," wrote another, referring to bearded Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst who won in 2014, "but we are disgracing ourselves in front of the whole world".-AFP