I’ve been hearing about Meg Foley’s “queer parenting” piece for over a year now. The Velocity production workshopped in Seattle last summer, and this weekend Blood Baby was finally born. Of course it’s not just a “queer parenting” piece, but a “quadriptych exploring the intersectional experiences of gender performance, queerness, parenthood, sexuality, and belonging.” The parenting aspect, however, stands out as being a less common topic for performance, and also bears more weight in this review, namely because I decided to bring my 3-year-old with me to the show.
Carpet Womb was one of five events under the Blood Baby umbrella, which also included other performances, a touch library, video and sound installations, and a “queer parenting convening.” Several of the events took place in Volunteer Park, including Carpet Womb, which clearly derives its name from the loose enclosure housing the performance. Gray mesh and twisting clouds of iridescent plastic surround a nest of soft shag rugs and fluffy off-white pillows. Dancers are already in motion as we enter, suspended as flies trapped in amber, pushing against invisible resistance. In contrast my child slides around on his belly, enjoying the tactile nature of the soft floor, then jumping up and down yelling “3, 2, 1 blastoff,” before settling in the lap of a friend who just happens to be at the show.
Two dancers near us are gripped in a twisting embrace on the ground. Clasping and reaching, arms and legs snaking around to grip ever tighter, toes curling, the image could be an almost literal depiction of lovemaking. But it could also be the kind of highly involved intimacy of the parent/child relationship—the intertwined nature of self that is when one person begins inside another.
This is the first of many times where images reference both sexuality and that practicalities of child rearing. Not is a way that is creepy, of course, but in a way that reflects a biological reality. When dancers open their mouths wide, tongues lolling, it’s both sexual and it’s the baby’s mouth searching for the nipple. Later, a pile of dancers emerge into a momentary scene of spreading legs and reaching under and over. It could be an orgy or it could be the delivery room, doctors and attendants assisting the birth. Foley recognizes and displays the holistic nature of our bodies—reproduction and the reproductive act are not separate processes.
The rhythm of the show seems to alternate between dancers bopping to disco-tinged beats and slow moving durational moments (Labor contractions anyone? Or maybe I’m taking this metaphor a bit too far…) At one point the dancers leave the enclosure, twisting themselves in a long strip of the gray mesh until each is encased in their own connected cocoon. Fans of The Very Hungry Caterpillar can guess what happens next, and as the dancers emerge they don flowing garments of brightly colored organza, returning to the tent transformed.
It is here that there is admittedly some gaps in my capacity to review the show. A three year old is too wild to be contained by any womb, of course, and we must stealth-roll under the edge of the enclosure to pick up leaves and hit things with sticks and loudly read the letters off the sewer grate. From a distance I can see the dancers pile on each other, forming sedimentary layers that shift and ooze over time.
We return for the final section, in which the dancers line the rugs up to make a catwalk stretching out of the “womb” and into the park. They strut and flaunt and present queer embodied joy, each in their own way. They are messy, confident, alive, together. I’m left wondering when I’ll get to that experience of parenting, or of queerness for that matter. Carpet Womb seems to be saying that the process is slow—geologic, and that the work is integration. The transformation is understanding how things are not separate, but overlapping.
A dance review is always describing the intersection of your own life and a performance, but when wrangling a toddler, your experience is slightly less what the performance is giving and more your own business. Beyond the imagery, my experience inside Carpet Womb reflected my life as a parent. I was highly distracted and I missed a lot. I was grateful for my friend who engaged him so I could have a moment to experience art. Grateful he could experience art. I enjoyed the outdoors and rolling around on the ground. I got kicked in the face.
Afterwords I asked my son what he thought. He didn’t like the parts “when they were sleeping,” which tracks, because he is philosophically opposed to sleeping of all kinds. His favorite part? “When they turned into butterflies.”
Blood Baby by Meg Foley (Philadelphia) ran September 1-4, 2023 included events Carpet Womb, Communion, Touch Library, Queer Parenting Convening, and Primordial, which was a video/sound installation by visual artist (and Foley’s co-parent) Carmichael Jones. Casts included dancers from across the country, including several based in Seattle. For more information, visit https://velocitydancecenter.org/events/blood-baby/ and http://www.megfoley.org/.