At a time when unprecedented legislation across the country seeks to limit or restrict LGBTQ+ rights, here in DC choreographer Robert J. Priore is producing queer-focused art. PrioreDance’s Where the Bois Aren’t, a 40-minute work, cues off of gender expression, sexual orientation, and identity. The work addresses what it’s like to live in the world as queer and marginalized. In a more personal way, the work tells Priore’s own story of recovery from ACL surgery, the upheaval of an altered physicality, and the triumph of healing.
The music — Spanish singer Rosalia, electronic, techno, classical, Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man” — drives the movement of the eight-part work while brief silences thread one section to the next. Within the silence between songs are precious seconds of life sounds: a heavy exhalation or kiss, the slap of skin against skin, a gasp, a collapse to the floor. Movement arises from emotion. It’s comparable to a shout or scream, sigh or groan that we feel in our viscera. It’s a physical reaction and a way of taking action by putting your body on the line, vulnerable in protest. The movement style reminds of Gaga, a movement language developed by Ohad Naharin for the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company that invites dancers to feel movement from “within.” The vocabulary also recalls stylistic choices with graceful fluidity and exaggerated movements influenced by weight-sharing contact, ballet, and modern dance.
At Keegan Theatre, lighting by Faryn Kelly creates a setting for the slim narrative. On stage, it’s a blank page. There are no sets, props, or projections. A wall of separation is suddenly created by a patch of darkness. In an instant, light sculpts the space to pull performers together. Priore sets it up this way too, casting dancers as witnesses to the action, shifting the sense of presence, in a similar way as fleeting experiences sift in and out of memory. Side-by-side duets performed by Kelsey Rohr/Ryan Bailey and Michala Conroy/Jamal Abrams give way to a long straight line of dancers pulsing downstage. The line is confrontational at first, yet the dancers’ proximity invites us into the world they create onstage.
Nine strong, fluid, articulate dancers fall and rise from the floor. Improbable movement easily takes place with nothing held back. Wave-like undulations travel through the spine. Familiar gestures unexpectedly pull the group together, hands on the face, a shift of the body forward, a warm invitation or a tick of panic.
A storyline, open to the viewer’s interpretation, surfaces to underscore feelings of being an “outsider” as an “individual” separate from the group. A sequential series of intimate duets accents partnerships between Kelsey Rohr/Jamal Abrams, Chris Saunders/Michala Conroy, Michala Conroy/Sydney Samson. Priore and Ryan Bailey dance with velvety control creating a brutal romance sealed with a kiss. Clarisse Lukban and Shanice Mason slice through the diagonal of the space, a chest-pounding struggle ensues. Against one’s self, Chris Saunders has no empathy. He repeatedly falls to the floor, his weight crashing down with a controlled impetus. Jamal Abrams and Shanice Mason are pulled apart, the partnership frayed by those surrounding it.
Where the Bois Aren’t accents the experience of the choreographer, the frustration of personal loss alongside a promising tomorrow. The dance communicates a connection to community and support. As the dancers stand in a semicircle surrounding him, Priore dances alone. His dancers witness the proof of his recovery, and signify the support system that can fuel the strength to take on the challenges that lie ahead. We’re all in this together. The message of understanding and acceptance appears.
Running Time: 40 minutes with no intermission.
The program for Where the Bois Aren’t is online here.