21 June 2015

SWAGGA: after the run

Before the show
This run is over and I realised on Saturday that I must have performed SWAGGA in its various incarnations to several hundred people by now. I'm in a state of overwhelm about this. I know that I have been part of something big but it will be a while until I have time to reflect on it properly and to understand what it is that happened. For now, these are my thoughts:

Doing a run of dance shows is exhausting. Every night I would go to bed feeling happy and satisfied, I'd wake in the small hours with some kind of mental niggle about something and then in the morning I'd feel the dread again which built until the second I got onstage. God knows how performers in long-term shows manage, the performance is omnipresent, I was unable to shut it out of my mind as I went about my business in the daytime. I spent most of the week feeling sick with nerves.

My body held up ok. We did long warm-ups each day, I worked on loosening my stiff knees, talking through the fear of performing, settling my mind, singing along to silly music. The show starts with a lot of noise and bad attitude and it wasn't hard to get into that state of mind! By the end of the run I had aches and was covered in bruises, my voice became hoarse. Even though we were dancing for shorter periods that we dance in rehearsals, the adrenaline and pressure of performing was knackering. I felt as though I'd been through a storm.

Each performance had a different feel to it depending on the audience, how I felt about the technical aspects of what I was doing, the presence or not of Trash Kit, whether or not I recognised people in the crowd. We sold out a couple of the shows and the others were almost full. There was so much sweat and intensity as I found my way through the score each time. But what they all had in common was that the response was extremely positive. It will take a long time to forget the applause. Here are some of the things that people said online:
  • the best thing I've seen in a long, long time.
  • SWAGGA is staggering stuff.
  • still replaying it
  • astonishing
  • music just so perfect.
  • a beautiful dancing reassessment. Something got done. Thank you
  • very moving, u crafted a mesmerising thing together
  • It's not like anything I've seen on stage before; funny, moving, sexy, scary and really, really watchable. I mean you can't take your eyes off them.
  • SWAGGA is just the most angry, beautiful, smart, funny, scary, joyful, thing I have seen in a long long time. If I was some kind of theatre producer I would give Kay, Charlotte & Project O my annual budget and cancel everything else.
  • I've just been to see the most inspiring show of recent times.
  • fierce and powerful and sexy and entertaining
  • It was so, so wonderful
  • Wow, once again moved, tearful, grinning.
  • What a storm of emotions and raw power.
  • detailed, exciting, uncompromising work woooo. Feeling love for SWAGGA
  • I can't remember the last time I loved a piece of theatre as much as I loved SWAGGA tonight. Perfection
  • absolutely fantastic!
  • Anyone and everyone who's wanted to dance should catch SWAGGA. Empowering and invigorating and I could just go on and on.
  • a must-see show. Congrats to all concerned, enduring images that stay with me & a band to break your heart.
  • Oh no. #SWAGGA is sold out tonight. Should have booked quicker :(
Many people said that the show moved them to tears. On the last night a woman stood crying by me, all she could say was "thank you!" Others stood to applaud us. It is almost too much for me to take in. It's fabulous to think that this means something to people.

Thinking about what audiences see when they see people like me or Kay, Alex or Jamila dancing on a stage is something that we talked about quite a bit in the rehearsal period. Would we be seen, really seen? That was part of the intention for doing SWAGGA, to be seen for who we are. Would people be able to see us? I feel culturally hyper-visible as an agent of deathfat and also queer and invisible. There is so much bullshit in the way of people being able to see people like me. It is very risky to put yourself in someone's line of fire.

After the show
The answer is that some people were able to see us and some people were not. It was a relief not to have to deal with the usual crap in instances where I was visible to people. I feel like a valuable person and now I know what it is like to be treated as one. I want more of it and I think that everybody should be treated in this way. But others were not able to see us. In one case a man did not have the language to talk about us, so it was all a bit clumsy; in another, a critic's view was ruined by his homophobia.

Being misrecognised, especially by someone who has access to a large readership, is a violent experience and one that can make a person feel painfully vulnerable. But these are not the people I dance for. There's a line in a song we sing: It's not for you. It's complicated because the dance has different functions at different times for the people making SWAGGA. I'm responsible to other people who are building their careers and repertoires on my movement, I love them and want to do a really good job of it. But in my heart I am not dancing for the papers or emissaries from the land of respectability. I'm still not sure why I perform, perhaps I will never know, but this week I was able to connect with people watching me and recognise acknowledgment and excitement in their eyes. I felt that we were able to encourage each other to imagine something different for ourselves, to be less alone in these stinking times.

None of us know where this will go.

Thanks to everyone who came and supported SWAGGA. Giant love to Project O aka Alexandrina Hemsley and Jamila Johnson-Small, Trash Kit, Verity Susman, Katarzyna Perlak, Jo Palmer, Maeve Bolger and Lorna Campbell.

SWAGGA is supported by Arts Council Grants for The Arts, The Junction, The Yard Theatre, Siobhan Davies Dance, State of Emergency, Artsadmin and Dance Research Studio.

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