WARNING: This review contains descriptions of sensuality, sexually explicit acts, profane language, shouting, screaming, loud music…
But enough teasing!
“Queer Dance Freakout,” presented by Gender Fucked Productions on Sept. 24 at the Elastic Arts Center, defies all expectations of a traditional dance performance. (And that’s a good thing!)
Inspired by “The Infinite Wrench,” the signature show of local acting troupe the Neo-Futurists, “Queer Dance Freakout” is a one-hour performance of twenty-six one-minute works created by GFP’s colorful cohort of choreographers. A combination of skits, solos, duets, group numbers and audience interaction keep you guessing, “What comes next?” until the very end.
On a wall-sized screen are projected the different dances displayed as numbers corresponding to a long list handed out at the entrance. Whichever audience member shouts their choice the loudest is the one they perform, and we all shared some chuckles at the expense of dancers’ huffing and puffing when unexpectedly performing back-to-back pieces.
In “Live Turning Republicans into Meat Pies,” by Dawn Heilung, one unlucky Conservative wearing thick glasses and sweater vest is lured into a living meat grinder. In a large circle, bodies spin while hands chop up and down, growing closer, closer… Then, dismemberment! Spurts of red cloth erupt from the center as the poor soul is ripped to shreds and devoured. (Note: No actual Republicans were harmed during the performance.)
Patty Roache catapults and twists over a chair like a gymnast on a sawhorse in a premiere titled “Trust Exercise.” Every joint moves independently, building into crescendos that send Roache somersaulting over the chair seat. The piece climaxes with Roache shouting “Shut the fuck up!” in response to lyrics from Renee Rapps “Talk To Much,” their sarcastic rage again catapulted them into another act of high-flying daring do.
There are capable actors amongst the ensemble, like Bianca Thompson doing a spot-on lip synch of an interview with Eartha Kitt from the documentary “All By Myself: The Eartha Kitt Story.” With head thrown back, Thompson erupts in manic laughter while mouthing the lines “A man comes into my life and I have to compromise? You must think about that one again!”
Sometimes skits are folded into the dancing, as with Ryan Eykholt’s “#5.” As dancers are set and posed the cue for the music is given, and every Millennial in the audience starts bopping and swaying to Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5.”
“Um, that’s not the right track, dearie,” says Eykholt to the sound technician, then continues to adjust the dancers in a goof on persnickety choreographers. The ensemble plays it so nonchalantly that the gag wasn’t apparent, at least to me, until the scene became too absurd to take seriously. When dancers are asked to “act” they often fall back on Vaudeville-era pantomime; but not these dancers, whose cool demeanor completely pulls off the bit.
Post-bit, the ensemble freezes, and individual body parts come to life when numbers are called. They devolve (evolve?) into what appears to be stone age robots stalking prey on four legs, then partying like jungle animals.
There are moments of solemnity, like in “Russian Is Too Gendered To Name This Dance,” choreographed and performed by Mash Bandouil. They use their arms like a sculptor uses a gouge and carve intricate patterns through the air. Lithe and nimble, Bandouil spirals through the air, lands on the floor without a sound, then appears to use their back muscles to crawl and glide across the floor. “Russian” is like a cool drink after a spicy meal and adds depth to the otherwise raucous show.
“Encouraged,” by A’Keisha Lee takes spiritualism to new heights (literally). Set to a gospel track, the ensemble raises up their chins, then their fists, before plunging them sharply down. They seize Lee’s wooden plank body, lift her overhead, and carry her around like an offering to the one above all in a moment that is truly transcendent.
Out of twenty-six pieces there wasn’t a single dud. I’m sorry that I can’t describe them all. (We would be here all day!) There were touching duets, comedic spoken-word drenched in pathos, twerk-a-thons, dancers singing in tight multi-part harmony, simulated cunnilingus, raunchy birthday celebrations, a sarcastic Jane Fonda workout routine, a queer take on Bob Fosse’s “The Rich Man's Frug,” and more!
The show was so much fun that it is easy to forget the political message behind it. GFP’s mission statement “envisions a world where trans, non binary and gender non conforming artists are able to thrive and make art that pushes beyond any binary we could imagine.” One could call this common sense, but it is made political by outside forces that would see performances like this eradicated.
An interesting observation:
In dance companies, dancers often appear uniform in height, weight, hairstyle, costume, etc.; Here, everyone expresses themselves in their own way. In the former, when one dancer doesn’t match the others, they stand out like a sore thumb, but with the GFP dancers no one stands out, or they all do, both at the same time, a true representation of society.
The best part, everyone sells their performances completely. They exude joy and confidence, a presence that spills into the audience and wraps around you like a warm, fuzzy blanket.
“Queer Dance Freakout” is a clarion call to unite against conformity. The next time you find yourself bogged down by life, make a bee line to the next GFP show and get ready to “slay, slay, SLAY!”
Gender Fucked Productions’ “Queer Dance Freakout” runs on Oct. 29 and Nov. 19 at Elastic Arts, 3429 W Diversey. Tickets are priced on a sliding scale and discount codes are available for anyone who wants to see the show but can’t afford the base ticket price. For more information visit genderfucked.org.