Queer youth find expression through dance in MACHiNENOiSY's Law of Proximity
In some ways, dance is the ultimate act of trust: someone else is holding you, catching you as you bend backward, or lifting you, and you need to know that they won’t let you fall.
That idea is being taken to new levels in a project MACHiNENOiSY is doing with a group of eight queer youths between 19 and 24 years old—a full spectrum of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, many of whom have never danced before. The idea, in concert with the Queer Arts Festival, was to use contact improvisation—the dance form where a touch sets off a range of motion in someone else—to communicate, build self-confidence, and connect, while also creating a multimedia show called Law of Proximity about those notions.
For Delia Brett and Daelik, the dance artists behind MACHiNENOiSY, entering a studio and making intimate contact with other performers is an everyday thing. But they immediately saw that it was going to take some getting used to for their young mentees. “When I was young, touch was such a taboo subject,” Daelik begins, sitting after rehearsal with Brett and two young participants. “If it was hard for the average person, what is it like for a person who’s queer—someone who’s maybe been told that touching someone from the same sex is wrong?”
“There was just a bit of social awkwardness around touching people you’ve just met,” admits Morgan Condon about the start of the process, which also included working with pro dancer Jennifer McLeish-Lewis. “Also the issue of consent is important to me. And you have to get comfortable giving your trust and your weight over to someone. It was very scary at first, and now it’s very comfortable.”
Condon and fellow performer Charlie Cook say just as much trust was involved in sharing their deepest issues around identity, body image, and homophobia—some of the underlying themes of the work.
Says Condon: “It’s been really rewarding in those moments that feel good and look good and express things we wouldn’t necessarily be able to express in any other way.”
The resulting work, though layered with personal issues about being young and queer in this time and place, will inhabit a complex multimedia universe. Sound artist Stefan Smulovitz and multimedia designer Sammy Chien have helped the team integrate interactive technology like the Xbox Kinect system, whereby movements can trigger sounds and visual projections.
The effect is high-tech, but Brett stresses that, ultimately, it comes down to the people.
“Primarily, the content is them. It’s just them and the impact of having all these different colours and flavours in the room.”
Talking to the participants, there’s little doubt they’ve learned a lot during the process; as Cook puts it, “It really teaches you about your body and the way you’re comfortable to move.”
But Brett and Daelik, who are more used to making their own bold visions, have also been changed by this collaboration. “A lot of assumptions or expectations we have as choreographers are being questioned—things we take for granted, and we realize what we’re asking of people and how big it is,” Brett says. And then Daelik comes back to that word again: “We have asked so much trust from the group.”
Law of Proximity is at the Scotiabank Dance Centre as part of the Queer Arts Festival from Wednesday to next Saturday (August 15 to 18).