BWW Reviews: Voguing Takes Center Stage at DANSE
The Fire Flies, presented at Julia Meneret Contemporary Art as part of "DANSE: A French-American Festival of Performance and Ideas" exists at the intersections of the Baltimore and Paris voguing scenes.
Choreographed by French photographer Frédéric Nauczyciel in collaboration with Baltimore ballroom icon Dale Blackheart and Parisian ballroom standouts Honeysha Khan and Diva Ivy, this suite of a solo, duet, and trio explores the diasporic reach and impact of voguing. For Nauczyciel, the outskirts of Paris and the city of Baltimore are kindred communities; he cites HBO's The Wire as the catalyst for this recent work and sees the art of voguing as "a new way to inhabit and transform the cit[ies]."
Jenni Livingston's 1990 documentary Paris is Burning was critical in propelling this Harlem-founded cultural movement to the world stage. The role of television and film in dominant perceptions of the ballroom scene-and of marginalized communities in general, for that matter-is a concept that emerges through Nauczyciel's integration of video in The Fire Flies. In Control-Unlimited Natural Tender, a large projected video of Dale Blackheart staring into the camera is accompanied by a performance by Blackheart himself. He slowly walks up and down the center of gallery and looks every member of the audience in the eye. The holding of this gaze is a simple yet powerful gesture. Captivatingly stoic, Blackheart is intentional in every breath and shift of focus, so much so that some audience members chuckled or squirmed in their seats from the discomfort of being stared at.
In M. Against the World (Floor performance), we witness an energetic solo by Honeysha Khan from multiple perspectives at once: live in the center of the gallery and from an aerial view projected on a wall. The aerial view projection anchors Khan as the central generative force. When she descends to the floor for a dip, we are met with her unflinching gaze as she stares into the camera above to catch her breath. It almost seems as if the audience is looking at surveillance footage in real time, and Khan is challenging judgment from all angles. Through the ritual of seeing and being seen, The Fire Flies engages the etiquette of voyeurism in both museum and ballroom culture.
Khan, Blackheart and Ivy give stunning performances that according to an audience member at the post-show talkbalk, "highlight the artfulness of voguing." This statement, though, reveals the issue that is in need of constant pushback. Voguing is not more artful or contemporary when presented in institutional art spaces. The ballroom scene has been at this for decades. The galleries are just now catching up.
Photo Credit: Frédéric Nauczyciel