Everyone working to create a more humane world is what is keeping me going right now. The grief and fatigue is very real for me as I assume it is for you, too. The infographic “Callings and Roles for Collective Liberation” from social justice organization The Slow Factory motivated me to consider the contributions of performing artists in this moment of cultural upheaval. My (very Aquarius) brain began making practical and poetic connections with the movement towards our collective liberation and the event Co-Performance and Party: Show 6, featuring Michael Arellano, Stasia Coup, Lisa Kwak, Janu, kelly langeslay, Arinze Okammor, and Kiné Camara.
Attending an event like Show 6 shakes me out of pity and apathy. I feel energized when I see a group of dancemakers share their work. That evening I had conversations about toxic vs healthy masculinity, sexual harassment at dance clubs, queer mythologies, and drag as a radical practice of embodiment. And that was just me chatting with new and old friends during intermission and right after the show! I can only imagine the conversations that bubbled out through the community long after it was over.
Below I make connections to some of The Slow Factory’s “Callings and Roles for Liberation” (in bold) and my reflections of Show 6:
“ADVOCATE: Holds a cause or series of causes to heart and carries them to justice.”
Produced by Maya Tacon and Emma Lawes aka (co—), the organizers of this event have been advocating hard for the dance community this past year and since their inception in 2021. Their mission states they aim to highlight dancers new to Seattle and increase visibility for those not so new to the scene that may not be on our radar. This was the first time I attended the series and their mission was definitely in action. Many different niches of the Seattle dance scene were in attendance. I saw offerings from artists I had never seen before or didn’t know they were creating their own work. The dance performances were the highlight but the party vibe was in effect: the house was packed, the bar was busy (they ran out of wine before the end of the night) and DJ Calico served a casual dance club soundscape. Justice is a loaded term but these organizers are definitely doing their best to give these artists the production support they deserve.
“PROBLEM SOLVERS: engineers tangible solution to real life problems”
Shout out to the event production team. Tacon, Lawes, and additional crew members did all they could to make the unconventional shape of the gallery space tenable for a variety of pop ups. This team is determined to do what is needed to bring the artist’s vision to life or come as close to it as possible. They became spotlights and carried hand held lights around to make sure the artists were visible. There were prop elements and different facings for every work along with many quick change moments and the crew was on it with gusto. The producers guided our attention sometimes vocally, sometimes by example. They made pathways for dancers as needed making sure people were aware of blocking sightlines in the densely packed standing room only space with limited seating. Dance production crews are great examples of problem solving to support artists even with limited resources in spaces that aren’t set up to make things comfy for movement based artists.
“VISIONARY: receives downloads from the universe to guide people”
Arinze Okammor’s dancing was epic. What a mover. Okammor’s style blends character work and contemporary with vocal recordings and sci-fi flavor. Fave moment: gravity defying turn into a standing split while wearing sunglasses and lip syncing creating a character that could be AI, could be your mostly human best friend from a future in which we are all more likely to be somewhat computer generated. Okammor is new to Seattle and I’m glad this event brought the artist to my attention. I can’t wait to see more from this artist in his own work and/or collaborating with other performance makers in town.
“TROUBLE MAKER: isn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers”
Langeslay’s piece combined humor, embodiment, and audience interaction to create a queer campy adventure rife with pop culture references and overtly sexual innuendo (at one point the artist stuck a large pink dildo to the wall by its suction cup. At another a clump of fuzzy worms descended from the walkway above). The piece started with them in drag as a lesbian version of Cameron Diaz complete with long blond wig, mini skirt and retro movie clips projected behind them. They shed their Diaz skin, threw off their drag and before our very eyes changed into a Canadian tuxedo (aka all denim jeans and jacket) that brought out their short blue hairstyle. Favorite trouble maker moment: at the end of the piece they reclined on the floor in front of the projection screen sharing cheeky quotes from fake film critics, family and friends about the performance happening in front of us. During this onslaught of criticism they gradually recline arching their back keeping their face neutral. This deeply embodied drag king-like moment of stoicism and power in the face of judgment highlights the restrictive nature of binary expectations around gender and sex. Langeslay is making the best kind of trouble fucking with expectations around identity and the ways we judge ourselves and others.
“RESEARCHER: carries out academic, scientific, or investigative research”
My favorite moment from Arellano’s piece: the dancer crosses the entirety of the main floor of the gallery on a diagonal like a lizard caught in a slow motion whirlwind wearing a motorcycle helmet. This solo brought to mind the insidiousness of anonymity. This facelessness connected to the performance of masculinity in a way I haven’t considered before. I imagined him as an escapee from a crowd of people in helmets. These could be any helmets that imply events with probable violent outcomes: football helmets, military helmets and of course motorcycle helmets. At times physically spectacular and achingly graceful this sharing was also a bit like a chaotic artist talk. At one point he removed his helmet and addressed the audience as himself. The combination of dance and speech was a bit all over the map, investigating ideas about selfhood, shapeshifting and athleticism in dance. The hyper-masculine helmet and audio in contrast with the soft and non-gendered chameleon-like movement of the compact and powerful dancer had me mulling over ideas of masculinity and the performance of “man” on the spectrum of toxic to healing.
“COMMUNICATOR: tells stories and touches the souls [of many] people”
Kwak’s duet involved a dancer masked in a Medusa-like headpiece partnering with an unmasked individual. This made me think of the Medusa myth as sapphic for the first time. I imagined this was a courtship scene from Medusa’s early time with a romantic partner or “work wife.” This scene felt like a moment that had happened long before so called men realized a look from Medusa’s eyes would turn them to stone. In my opinion this is a reasonable if unusually supernatural form of self defense. The original myth tells a tale of Medusa’s survival despite extreme sexual and physical abuse. In the original story she is labeled a villain and murdered in the end. This interpretation communicated a prequel with room to consider her as a powerful being creating intimacy across differences (human faced human for human with face made of snakes). Often exchanging and repeating partnering moves like linking arms and reciprocal social dance lifts and carries, this duet was a story about intimate connection through movement.
“INVENTOR: invents a particular process, system, culture or device that is good for people and planet”
By far the best and only use of Titanic drag (yes, the costume was the ship itself) of 2023, this duet involved a dramatic Celine Dion drag entrance, an accidental slip down the stairs and an amazingly graceful partner catch, making said fall no problem …the stuff experimental drag legends are made of. The playful inventiveness in Coup’s work is impressive. This performance involved giving roses to the audience and lots of adorable nautical themed costumes and props. Coup’s skill with anonymity contrasts with Arellano’s hyper masculine motorcycle helmet anonymity. Obscured head to toe in bright blue bodysuits this duet serves not just facelessness but the body itself becomes indeterminate like it is waiting to receive its individuality. We are blind to facial expressions and identifying features like hair style, gender, race. These things still become “visible” but only through shape and movement and only by paying close attention. Cultural identities manifest through musical choice and physical presence. Coup’s comedic and super cutesy outlook on life speaks to the relationship of self preservation and transness. The crowd pleasing unisex broadway musical-like movement reminds me of how babies (human and animal) are born cute because their survival depends on the care of others. A very fun and queer pop absurdity emerges as the dancers pander to and play with their very enthusiastic and receptive audience.
“LUMINARY: Inspires people to rise beyond their expectations”
My favorite moment from Kiné Camara’s offering was what I’d call an inverted cipher dance. It began with a circle of dancers facing center but the soloist, Camara, traveled outside the circle. The dancers backs were to her she was witnessed only by the audience. She began a walking dance that seemed pained, fearful…perhaps she’d been canceled by the group of dancers with their backs turned to her. My expectations for an upbeat street style choreographed moment dissolved as a tender, risky abstraction of a wormhole of a social circle dance ensued. Slow and deliberate gestures and tableaus developed in the ensemble rooted in the casual gestures of crowds and club dance floors. Movements like clapping, standing, looking and turning cannoned through the group. This piece commented on the power dynamics of gathering spaces and the harassment and abuse many Black and Brown femmes experience just being themselves in public. I hope it was a work in process sharing. I can’t wait to see where the artist goes with these ideas in the future.
“ARTIST: inspires people to be in touch with their humanity”
My favorite “bringing the house party vibe” to the evening moment: Janu enters the main gallery space serving a look that could’ve been grabbed from a film noir movie. He is street smart and stylish, perhaps a world weary detective pausing under a streetlamp to tip his hat to a passerby as he contemplates the heartbreaks and victories of the day. Iconic house moves followed but mostly what this artist brought to the energy of the evening is a true love for what dancing can feel like…real, fun and free. We want to dance with Janu…and we can because the post show dance party is about to begin. Yanu ended the show blurring the line between presentation and participation in a beautiful way.
“WRITER: writes books, stories, poetry, films, TV shows, articles, Op-Eds for new paradigm”
I’ve been depending on the support of my loved ones and my writing, dance and performance communities to keep me going as I navigate the present moment. Art and artists motivate me to keep witnessing, processing, learning and creating. Now more than ever I need to remember why we artists do what we do.
My hope is for all creatives to feel emboldened to relate their experiences of arts and culture with wider world issues without thinking they need to be “good” at it. All our roles are interconnected. It contributes to our collective strength when we reflect on what we make, what we value and what we have a problem with. I dream of a ceasefire in Palestine. I want an end to the genocide there as well as in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Land Back. Here and everywhere. I cannot separate these desires from my artist and writer life and I don’t want to. I don’t want to turn away from the challenging reality that we are in. What we think and do builds the world we live in.
We can’t give up on the pursuit of collective liberation. I know I’m just one of many wondering how to keep going. Events like Show 6 remind me that we need to keep going. We need to stay inspired and continue to grow the myriad ways of being and doing in the world even as we grieve atrocities that seem to never end. No matter our calling or role we all contribute…as individuals and in community, watching performances with packed houses and dancing alone in our bedrooms dreaming about what true liberation feels like.
CO-PERFORMANCE AND PARTY:SHOW 6 ran at Muutus Studio in Georgetown on
Nov 10th, 2023. For more information visit coseattle.dance.