Out in the Tropics: Sean Dorsey Again Uncovers Gay Life Through Dance
In its fifth year of Out in the Tropics -- a performing art series that highlights contemporary LGBT artists and their work in poetry, dance, and theater -- FUNDarte invited back San Francisco-based Sean Dorsey Dance to unveil new work, Uncovered: The Diary Project. Two years ago, Dorsey and company performed the intriguing The Secret History of Love, the untold stories of gay love, from the pre-Stonewall era through the 20th century.
Secret History's source material was interviews and oral story telling, but for Uncovered, Dorsey uses texts from actual diaries of transgender and queer people, including Lou Sullivan, a Bay Area transsexual gay man and political activist who inspired a suite of dances aptly named "Lou."
We caught up with Dorsey en route to Boston.
New Times: Why is it personally important to you to give voice to the history of an oftentimes silenced GLBT community?
Sean Dorsey: There is great power in taking our stories back, recording our stories, telling the stories of our elders and ancestors, continuing an oral history tradition. And then also inviting the larger culture to participate in and learn this history.
In the case of this show, I was passionate about telling the world about Lou Sullivan, this extraordinarily pioneering, brave, beautiful, and generous transgender activist who devoted his short life to his community. Lou died of AIDS before the world started to finally begin to embrace transgender people. He didn't get to live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his activism, but he left behind his lifelong diaries -- 30 years of gorgeous writing and honesty. I created that piece set to a score of his diary entries.
Obviously you are very public with your work. Have you always been vocal, or was there an evolution?
I have been pretty vocal from an early age. I got the social justice bee in my bonnet very young. And fairness and compassion and contributing to community have always driven me.
How have your own experiences influenced both the themes and execution of your body of work?
What my work looks like on stage is a reflection of all my loves: dance and choreography, theater, storytelling and writing, music, heartbreaking honesty, and humor. I've also had a lot of personal loss in my life. So grief, loss, and healing are ongoing explorations for me.
Growing up, I never saw or even heard of another transgender dancer let alone choreographer. I never saw LGBT content in dance. There were plenty of gay people making dances, but for some reason, they mostly only ever created heterosexual duets and stories. I needed and craved to see me, my community, our lives and beautiful wonderful complex bodies onstage.
Do you think that the performing arts can play a significant part in creating real dialogue and truth?
Public conversations and activism are really, really important. My art is part of that national movement. But my calling is as a cultural activist. When I create a dance that is honest, vulnerable, risk-taking, super accessible, rigorously-crafted and beautiful, two important things happen: transgender and LGBT people finally get to see themselves and their history in award-winning dance. But then also, audiences who are straight and maybe don't even know anything about LGBT people watch the show and get this direct, open connection to our universal human-ness. Gay or straight. Trans or not.
This huge light bulb goes off and you can practically hear all the hearts bursting open in the audience, people going, "Wait, I understand that. That is a universal human experience. I know what pain feels like. I know what love feels like. I know what wanting to be loved and seen feels I like."
And suddenly all this connection and compassion is created ... And then the lights come up after the show and a lot of the audience is in tears, and people start striking up conversations and talking to each other in a way they never would otherwise.
When you sit in a theater, in the dark, and watch a performance on stage, if the art is made well, you can have your heart and mind just blown wide open. Beautiful. This is my life, and I give thanks every day for it.
Uncovered: The Diary Project from Sean Dorsey Dance will be performed Friday at 8:30 p.m. at the Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach; tickets $25, $20 students and seniors; colonytheatremiamibeach.com; 305-434-7091.
--Miguel Estefan, Jr., artburstmiami.com
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