It's rare that a dancer, human even, has this level of multi-skill, many try, most fail, but Claid is in very safe water.

By: Sep. 24, 2023
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Review: EMILYN CLAID, UNTITLED, The Place “celebratory but critical as hell” reads the end of Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest’s mission statement - and I’m all about that. The volunteer led festival runs over numerous venues 16-24 September, with one being the ever-topical The Place.

I attended the sole show of emilyn claid, UNTITLED. Claid is many things: “choreographer, writer, director and teacher” - and so is the nature of the piece. It’s her first solo work in 20 years, and she’s involved the creative support of three collaborators: Heidi Rustgaard, Florence Peake and Joseph Mercier.

Two thirds through the 80 minute work Claid recounted a negative review she received in 1997…so I write this with some trepidation. That said, appreciation has little to do with actually needing to like something - but thankfully I feel both towards Claid and her work.

As we entered the space Claid was in overalls working clay on a small unit with wheels. When familiar audience members caught her eye they shared warm hellos. Simple interactions say a lot about people - and there was genuine affection being offered and received both ways.

The Place felt fuller than normal, and also quieter. When Claid began you could actually hear the silence. I'd say that's the sound of respect. The audience was the who's who of dance academia - talk about major nod.

And it's little wonder. Claid is #goals; on basically every level. The work is authenticity personified, and ranges from dance to comedy, menacing to camp - the latter emphasised by the support of two back-up twinks.

Claid speaks throughout, regaling stories and experiences, reciting her own text that feels like poetic prose, and working the crowd like an experienced comedian. It's rare that a dancer, human even, has this level of multi-skill, many try, most fail, but Claid is in very safe water.

There's numerous dance vignettes and most feature an animal skin cloak used in different ways; as cruising companion, form of shelter and stress reliever. Also a larger than life flora-inspired headdress makes numerous appearances; cue properly laugh out loud deadpan stares.

I was surprised ballet featured so predominantly - not physically per se, more philosophically. Claid was a ballet dancer before anything else, and the experience has clearly stayed with her - as they do. She spoke of frustration over the gendering of roles, and how she always longed to dance Romeo. So she did, with a willing audience member as her star-crossed lover. Claid chose well, as her Juliet was both underplayed and invested, allowing this Romeo to finally have their moment in the light.

Claid also described the daily reality of many young dancers in ballet companies. After all that training you basically become a "human chandelier" - she's not wrong, and we clearly all have the baggage to prove it.

The clay returned for a segment about shame: the shame Claid was dealt in relation to the 1997 review. She fully submerged her head in the clay sculpture, and riled herself up with all the different ways she could consume her queer shame. It was an interesting visual moment, and poignant emotional sharing.

Next she mounted the clay and began to apply it to her face, smothering with the looser consistency and applying the denser material as facial appendage. As she explored the space with her body the clay fell to the ground with satisfying, random thuds. Signifying nothing, or perhaps a sense of liberation from imposed shame, gained through life experience.

Earlier Claid had asked audience members to choose tracks they'd like played at their funerals. As the overall piece came to a steady finish, Claid moved to the chosen music in barely-there light offering moments of internal musing, physical realisation, spatial tension and tenderness all rolled into a gently disappearing, dancing hum. She'd mentioned endings at the beginning of the evening, and this closing suggests that Claid will be quietly eternal.

emilyn claid, UNTITLED was at The Place 23 September

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz 


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