BWW Feature: JAMES WHITESIDE - Faggotry in Motion
Years ago, an ex introduced me to a video that changed my life. That video was JbDubs' "I Hate My Job." We've all had those crap jobs and there was something about the lyrics and the heels that lifted me from the depths of my work-depression and placed me atop a glittery mound of fabulous. It was my low-key anthem on a bad day, or my soundtrack as I would strut my ass from one hellacious meeting to the next. It never failed to satisfy.
As my obsession for the song grew, I started exploring other JbDubs jams and have been a fan ever since. Along my journey, one thing I didn't anticipate was my discovery of James Whiteside. James is the master behind JbDubs, Ühu Betch from the drag family The Dairy Queens, and a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. The Mixed Bag of his talent was staggering and I approached each of his artistic pursuits with skepticism, assuming that at least one must be half-assed. I was wrong - look for yourself. He approaches each undertaking with unshakable vision, and with a career at Boston Ballet starting at the age of 17, it's not hard to imagine how his acute understanding for the requirements of excellence have shaped this success.
One thing that remained true throughout this exploration, was James. His voice, his presence and his influence are palpable in all of his pursuits.
"I feel very strongly about being confidently and unashamedly myself."
In a classical world that seldom celebrates those whose voices live outside the traditional confines history has cemented for them, James' perspective is a refreshing life-force that gives me hope for the classical world. His modern, unapologetic take on life, paired with his reverence for art is something we should all strive for, whether we are casual listeners, executors, or die-hard fans of classical art forms.
"I find that people under a certain age really appreciate what I do. The older people think it's strange, but there will always be people who like me for what I do and others that think it's grotesque."
Louder for those in the back! This take on life and art is key in ensuring success for future generations. Without the strengthening of unique, grotesque, boisterous voices combining to propel classical music forward, I fear for the growth of its audience base. Seeing the intersection of seemingly disparate modes of expression is essential for younger audiences. It's ok to love and respect myriad things.
"Music is the reason I started dancing. There is something so manipulative about classical music. It really toys with your emotions and tells you exactly how to feel and when to feel it, [but] the music I make is an escape from classical music. The music I make is running directly away from that and into the loving arms of pop music. I adore Rachmaninoff because he is such a drama queen and he's so ridiculous. I love Schubert as well - I like the atmosphere of his work...the little worlds. [But] the music I make and the music I listen to are often so different [from that]. My interests are wide - I don't think you have to choose just one thing."
This is the key. Those who are interacting with classical music at some of the highest levels aren't immersing every ounce of their lives in it - and as an audience member, you don't need to either. You can go to Carnegie Hall on a Friday and still make it to your circuit party later that night. One doesn't negate the other.
When asked about his favorite piece of art he's produced, James said:
"...my music video for Wallflower. I've never seen anything like it before - that's when you know you nailed it."
In this piece, James uses his unique voice and draws upon inspiration from the type of dance his first teachers did, which includes wild pas de deux work and violent Apache Dance - integrating lifts they taught him early in his studies. The final product is something raw and inspiring. It is grounded in classical sensibility, but rife with modern animal magnetism.
This is true of much of his musical work. The Fanny Bounce begins with a firm planting in the world of classical ballet and devolves into delicious faggotry, ending with a beautiful classical piano piece, James in heels, and a female voiceover talking about chicken fingers and pizza. It's curious, ridiculous, exhilarating.
If we can take a lesson from James, I hope it's the idea that we don't have to confine our voice to one key. One thing never can, nor should, define us. In fact, without a wide variety of interests, inspiration, and experiences, how can we expect someone to bring something unique and different to repertoire that's been performed for hundreds of years?