Vancouver dancer and choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg has always had a bifurcated view of gender.
In a phone interview with the Straight, she reveals that her mother once asked what she wanted to be for Halloween. Friedenberg replied "a man".
Her mom then asked what type of male character. Friedenberg reiterated that she just wanted to be a man.
"She got me a big moustache," Friedenberg says. "I definitely have been exploring drag since I was a kid."
But she emphasizes that even though she wanted to be a boy sometimes, it wasn't all the time.
"I also wanted to be, like, a little pink ballerina," Friedenberg adds.
Naturally, this raises a question about preferred pronouns.
"I go by 'her' most, but it depends at the end," she quips. "But thanks for asking."
These stories from childhood help explain the motivation behind Friedenberg's newest interdisciplinary creation, Pants, which will be presented as a work-in-progress at this year's 34th annual Dancing on the Edge festival.
It's a comedic combination of dance and talking, which reflects her research into her own and her child's exploration of gender. It's been created with the help of dramaturg Joanna Garfinkel, director and cocreator Kate Franklin, and Zee Zee Theatre's Cameron Mackenzie, with whom she worked on Sunny Drake's Men Express Their Feelings.
"It's very kind of autobiographical," Friedenberg says. "What I'm trying to do is weave storytelling with the embodiment of my experience as somebody who mostly identifies as female but not exclusively—and just what it is to feel masculinity and femininity in the body."
Humour has long been a cornerstone of Friedenberg's practice in shows like Body Parts, How to Be, and Porno Death Cult. Whereas many of her previous shows featured extreme and zany characters, this one is far more personal.
She also hopes that Pants will shine a light on the "ridiculousness of gender in our culture".
"Comedy has always been a way for me to cope with things, to deal with difficult situations, to connect with people," she says.
This was the case as a child in school, where she sometimes ran afoul of teachers with her antics.
"Even in ballet class, I would always get in trouble for trying to make the other little girls laugh," Friedenberg recalls.
She wanted to be a prima ballerina but her mother "very wisely" informed her that she would likely end up in the quarter ballet. That led Friedenberg into other forms of dance.
Later, she studied theatre at the University of Calgary and dance at Simon Fraser University. Because she lived between these two worlds of dance and theatre, she was able to create her own unique blend of dance and text.
Along the way, she was encouraged by mentors such as Denise Clarke of One Yellow Rabbit in Calgary and the outrageous and innovative British cofounder of DV8, Nigel Charnock, who died in 2012.
From the world of comedy, she's been inspired by Australian Hannah Gadsby and American Tig Notaro.
Friedenberg also offered a major shoutout to the Dancing on the Edge festival producer Donna Spencer. Friedenberg guesses that the first of her many appearances was way back in 1994 after she graduated from university.
"I feel really lucky," Friedenberg says. "Give credit to Donna at the Firehall [Arts Centre] for giving me a chance really early in my career and letting me experiment and see that audience respond.
"I'm just so happy to be still doing it."