Sean Dorsey is hailed as the nation’s first acclaimed transgender choreographer. His company, Sean Dorsey Dance is celebrating its 15th anniversary season this year and his newest work, Boys in Trouble, is currently touring internationally with stops in 20 cities, including Velocity Dance Center this past weekend.
Central to Boys in Trouble are real, intimate conversations. Dorsey spent 2 years talking and moving with queers who identify somewhere on the spectrum of masculinity. It’s clear these broader conversations were seeded between him and his collaborators, fellow performers and friends Brian Fisher, Arvéjon Jones, Nol Simonse, and Will Woodward. Pieces of them are littered throughout the work in live and recorded form.
Boys in Trouble takes these personal narratives and displays them, warts and all. It talks in circles, the way I do when discussing whiteness and gender expression with my friends around the dinner table, coming to conclusions that inevitably break down only to be rebuilt with slightly different nuances. Making statements that at first seem radical and are later revealed to actually be right in line with the status quo, finally stumbling across some new piece of understanding that unlocks a piece of heart and humanity that was forced out somewhere along the way.
Sectioned into 20 smaller works, one topic comes up and weaves awkwardly into the next without resolution. The result is a work that is scattered, but the goal isn’t to find answers. The performers are constantly questioning one another and the audience. The kind of questions outsiders ask of each other to make sure they’re not alone. Do you ever feel exhausted performing masculinity? Do you feel despondent? Sometimes they’re uttered like an over-caffeinated infomercial actor who got the wrong script. Other times with a sincerely bashful curiosity. Instead of answers, the goal of the work is to be seen in your complexity by those you love.
A powerful, tender example is a duet between Arvéjon Jones and Will Woodward entitled Sweet Time. The dance is accompanied by a recorded interview with Jones. In it, he describes the sacredness of his relationships with and love for other Black men. His poetic prose names the comfort he feels in their company, the ease with which they are able to see him for who he truly is. As Woodward lifts his hand to caress the side of Jones’ face, Jones yields to the touch and they begin a playful back and forth, receding for a moment then advancing toward one another with intense longing. At home with one another, Woodward and Jones smile lovingly each time they make eye contact. The quality of their touch varies from firm support to gentle caress. Alternating, they lift one another before allowing each other to melt down into an embrace. The dance concludes with the same soft touch it began with. The gesture is palpable. My skin tingles, remembering how good it feels to be touched with such adoration.
In a section titled LET’S TALK ABOUT WHITENESS, Jones questions Dorsey about why they’ve spent so much time discussing toxic masculinity without addressing the role that white supremacy plays in upholding it. Dorsey agrees on the importance, and humorously they attempt a conversation that begins with Jones asking Dorsey why white people get so uptight about being called white people. From off stage, we hear a shriek each time Jones begins to utter the aforementioned term; His questioning quite literally halted by fragility. A few moments later, Nol Simonse slinks on stage innocently, but we all know he’s the one who’s been interjecting.
As the conversation between them continues, Simonse’ body tenses. His knees buckle and his face screws into a constipated expression. Dorsey and Jones are forced to turn their attention to him as he falls to the floor in a heap, his head resting on Jones’ knee. Dorsey suggests they take a moment to check in with Simonse to make sure he’s okay. Jones just rolls his eyes. It’s not the first time he’s had to silence himself to deal with a white person’s hurt feelings.
It’s inevitable that we will fail in conversations around race, sexuality, and gender identity. Inevitable that our efforts to make sense of these things will be frustrating to say the least. It doesn’t mean we don’t try. Boys in Trouble does not provide a pretty, wrapped-up-in-a-bow conclusion to the questions it poses. Instead, it suggests you keep the conversation going, fill in the gaps with your story, and keep asking more questions.