Brain J. Evans was just running. And yet he was doing so much more than running.
He began in a sweat suit, jogging, speaking frankly, “I know what you all are thinking, or at least I know what I’m thinking, not another durational piece.” The audience laughed loudly.
It’s important to know that this audience’s laughter was unlike other audience’s laughter, because this show was unlike other shows. This was Showing Out! a showcase featuring Contemporary Black Choreographers, curated by Seattle’s-beloved Dani Tirrell, in order to, as Dani stated, celebrate Blackness, Black people, and to bring Black ancestors who were enslaved on this land into the space. And so the laughter during Showing Out! takes on additional meaning. To cheer for amazing Black artists, sharing stories of their Black and queer identities, with dozens of other folks also cheering – it is the sound of white supremacy and anti-Black racism in the arts being dismantled, if only for a night. And it was beautiful.
Brain J. Evans piece encapsulated the feeling of Showing Out! – of being in community with chosen family to subvert oppressive norms. As Evans ran, the audience was with him every step of the way. Literally. Many audience members stood up to join Evans, jogging in place, huffing and puffing for air, through a full seven minute piece, a surefire signal that this was not just a dance show, but a space for solidarity.
As he ran, Evans acknowledged his “breaking of the 4th wall,” his own “meta-commentary,” and how he was “seemingly applauding his own brilliance.” Evans’ intellectualizing his own performance created a wonderful juxtaposition with his simple movement and his academic speak combined with self-referential humor made an accessible experience. His easy manner served as an “ice breaker,” distinctly broadening the audience’s relationship with him and his piece. It is no coincidence that Evans inspired audience members to get out of their seat and run with him; it spoke directly to the complexity of the relationship between artist and viewer that Evans created.
As soon as Evans stopped talking, Crazy by Gnarles Barkley (an absolute crowd favorite, and very soulful choice) flooded the room, and part two of Evans’ genius began. Still running, Evans began peeling off layers of clothing. Underneath the sweat suit was a business suit. Underneath the business suit was a bejewelled black jumpsuit. Soon the jumpsuit swished open into a full cape and sexually suggestive harness.
Evan’s images were ripe with potential metaphors. Switching from sweats to suit could be challenging stereotypes that all Black men are athletes. Revealing a cape/harness combo could be adding complexity to typical notions of Black masculinity. Evans could be running from something, maybe self-doubt or systemic police brutality. Or he could be running towards something, like authenticity or liberation. In all, the piece was rich with meaning, and beautiful in execution.
The artists of Showing Out! were all masters of performing meaning, of transforming the room into a space heavy with purpose. Michael O’Neal Jr. performed to a spoken word recording around what masculinity means to him. His smooth style of movement, gliding around the floor, perfectly reinforced his message of gender fluidity, of not trying to fit yourself into the tight boxes of binaries. His dancing mirrored his language, masking his face with his hands as the spoken word condemned the mask inherent in masculinity.
The first piece of the night, Octavia, by Keelan Johnson, performed with Nikiya Dunmore and Randy Ford, also worked to subvert traditional masculinity through an all-to-quick look into the PNW kiki ballroom scene, of which Johnson works as a leader and educator. The dancers began sitting on three adjacent stools, cloaked in black, with large crow-like beaks, moving crisply to monologues by Octavia St. Laurent, an LGBTQ+ icon, trans woman, and AIDS educator. Shedding the capes, the dancers walked down invisible runways in white corsets, showing off expertise in voguing, waaking, hip hop, and burlesque. It became a straight-up party. One dancer closed out the piece, calling over the mic, “Welcome to Showing Out bitch!”
Saira Barbaric, a nonbinary Black queer creator, performed a solo exploring the rich history of Black folk beliefs and rituals, dancing to excerpts from texts examining African American Magic in the 19th century. They also incorporated a cane into their movement, using it to enhance their dancing, while also showcasing how beautiful accessibility in performance can be.
In further showcasing access-centered movement, Neve Kamilah Mazique-Bianco performed Öffnen. Moving gracefully in their wheelchair per usual, they expertly integrated the uniquely beautiful movement of their chair with their own body’s motion. Enlisting a particularly large round of cheers, they propelled each wheel forward with an exaggerated elongation of their arm, their hands jetting out with each push. Mazique-Bianco’s specific hand movements distinguished their piece, moving through air almost as gentle claws.
Kyle Bernbach and Gilbert Small II danced a more traditionally contemporary duet couched in a complex story of undoing and redoing. Small began by pulling up the duck tape that circled the edge of the dance floor, letting the sticky pops of the tape glue echo in the silent room. Soon the piece transitioned to synchronous dancing, coupled with impressive partnering, and a thoughtful mirroring of the piece’s beginning themes.
Closing the show was Markeith Wiley with i already did this. Mysteriously, Wiley began by sitting on a stool with a rose stem in hand. Slowly he opened his mouth, tension building, impressively exercising his jaw strength and range. As his lips opened wider, bright red rose petals flooded from his mouth, a beautiful and creepy image beginning a work exploring interactive relationships with the audience.
Lucky for Seattle, this rendition of Showing Out! was only phase one, a workshopping space where the artists sought feedback from the audience, actively examining out how their pieces landed. Phase two, performed on stage at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, will showcase the dancers’ final projects, and will be held January 17th and 18th. For more information, check out and follow Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas to stay up to date on Showing Out! and other events that foster awareness of and involvement in Black experiences.
Showing Out! (Part I) was on November 22nd and 23rd, 2019 at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.