When we flip on the TV, we have the ability to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, celebrate Call Me by Your Name and Moonlight, we see Laverne Cox as a trans woman in Orange is the New Black. We can watch men, women, and non-gender conforming individuals publicly come out on any social media platform. Seattle specifically has a rich history in advocating for the inclusion and equal treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace, housing agreements, health insurance, and has long been a mecca for LGBTQ+ communities on the West Coast. Yet the fight for equality still has a long road ahead and San Francisco-based choreographer Sean Dorsey’s, THE MISSING GENERATION, reminds us of how much work we still need to do. A co-presentation between Velocity Dance Center and Three Dollar Bill Cinema’s Translations: Seattle Transgender Film Festival, THE MISSING GENERATION takes the audience carefully and thoughtfully through a loving exposé of the thrills and terror of LGBTQ+ experiences in 1980-1990.
The evening is divided into three distinct sections: experiences in hiding one’s identity and sexuality, freedom in relationships and embodying the true self, and heartbreak in isolation and the devastation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Accompanied by recorded storytelling from survivors of the epidemic, solos and duets contrast the personal stories with a detached formalistic dance language. The text of the sound score adds a layer of complexity which highlights the movement, voice adding context to dance and vice versa. Private moments, like the survivor who’s first experience touching another man is through a hole in a gas station bathroom wall, is interpreted on stage by two people unable to embrace or witness one another, even as they are close enough to do so.The performers, without directly portraying those who experienced these secret moments, paid homage to them with these simple interpretations. Each cast member lifts one another often, touches each other’s backs and guides their limbs through difficult and precarious moves. Inside these gentle moments, the audience has time to develop empathy for everyone involved.
Once comfortable in this land of text and paired back movement, Brian Fisher steps forward to a mic. For the first time tonight, we, the audience, are spoken to. Fisher introduces the freedom felt in living openly, in relationships and embodying the true self. Presenting a sensual a character who rolls his eyes, throws shade, and laughs, he is instantly relatable. When he laughs, we laugh. Unknown to us at the time, Dorsey is creating as many opportunities as he can to get us in the corners of each player; each voice and cast member are letting us in. We experience their highs and lows and begin to root for them. An empathetic link is formed.
Like any great storyteller, Dorsey’s skill becomes apparent when we’re caught off guard, and suddenly there are stories of a mystery illness is spreading within the community like wildfire. Dorsey seems to have intentionally crafted a work that in a small way mimics the experience of this generation’s loss, as the caring movements from before, lifts and gentle touch, are repeated but with new meaning now. The quality of the performance transcends the choreography, featuring beautiful moments of stillness that connect to an emotional language of absence.
Each cast member has the challenging task to represent a scene from an actual life, and each display a clear dedication to authentically portray the essence of an emotionally driven idea so we can connect a little closer. ArVejon Jones is a particularly powerful mover, with ease he can pirouette two perfect revolutions while inside a heavily emotive story and immediately jump into a bit where he and the cast comedically single out Fisher as the oldest on stage. Fisher, a similarly powerful individual, has a distinctly personable performance. He is lifted and fully supported by his fellow cast members with the same great care with which they attend the stories of the survivors. Nol Simonse performs a solo that evokes his own experiences of keeping a part of himself hidden. Sean Dorsey uses his own tender touch and guidance to move the narrative along, while continuing to encourage empathy in himself. All of these independently paint each performer with an excellent understanding of their own movement and technical precision. Together they create a landscape of nuanced relationships, allowing the text to inform the audience’s perspective.
In a program note from Sean Dorsey, it is clarified that this work is, “a love letter to a forgotten generation of survivors… I want us to turn and look at you now.” Through the eyes of Sean Dorsey the audience is guided through his experience of learning from survivors, not from show and tell, but from empathy. The entire cast walks into gut-wrenching heartbreak and comes out with hope. -Liz Houlton
THE MISSING GENERATION is co-presented by Velocity Dance Center and Three Dollar Bill Cinema’s Translations: Seattle Transgender Film Festival, running May 3-12, info: www.translationsfilmfest.org