Johnnie Cruise Mercer’s ‘Pillow Talk’ explores the intersectionality of race and sexuality this weekend at Dogtown Dance
“We can speak, and if you don’t help and if you don’t do something, we will fight,” said Johnnie Cruise Mercer, a local choreographer who’s produced a piece as part of the Richmond Dance Festival‘s Thrive show this weekend. ”We are going to yell and we are going to do something because at this point, our buttons have been pushed for too long.”
Mercer’s piece, Pillow Talk: A Conversation Between Lovers, is part of a partnership with his dance company, The RED Project, and happens May 7th and 9th at 8 PM at the Dogtown Dance Theatre.
Mercer (top image) grew up in an urban neighborhood, and faced a sort of culture shock after attending a an art-focused high school with a more privileged, predominantly white student base.
“For me, being around the two was weird. When I was younger, I was always around people who had to make from nothing, like if you wanted to do something you had to do it from no money, because we had no money,” said Mercer about the struggles he faced early on. “If I wanted to dance, I had to gather around people in the community and make a dance team. I can’t go into a studio and dance, we can’t afford it.”
After going into high school and college, however, Mercer’s artistic restlessness was seen as an annoyance rather than a necessity, where some of his classmates would ask why he was always trying to put pieces together rather than supporting his efforts.
“They’re like ‘well, [success] is gonna come, one day it’s gonna come’ it’s almost like a privilege, like ‘I know it’s gonna come to me because it’s always came to me’” said Mercer.
Mercer’s work is centered around the subconscious, which began as he was growing up as a introspective and observational kid.
“I started to go through this duality of watching myself and watching others and trying to understand others through myself,” he said. As he grew up, this outlook evolved into questioning the covers that we put up to give illusions of who we are, and the mentality that keeps us from wanting to reveal everything about ourselves; to be as raw as possible.
“Who is just a person? How can I, as an artist, relate to just the person? By making a piece about African Americans, how can a non-African American understand my work and understand my anger or my sadness without pre-judgement or guilt?” asked Mercer. “How can we be less cynical and more sympathetic empathetic and actually feel what someone else is feeling?”
Photo credit: Torian Ugworji
This, along with an awareness of the intersections between sexuality and race that come with being a Gay Black man, are what inform his dance work and what has inspired his most recent production, Pillow Talk: A Conversation Between Lovers.
Presented in the final concert of the Richmond Dance Festival, Mercer’s latest effort is tackling conversations dealing with race, oppression, cultural depletion, and the existence of white supremacy in American culture has come to a head in the wake of the events in Baltimore and the growth of the #blacklivesmatter movement.
Pillow Talk uses a conversation between two lovers to frame “America’s inconsistent dialogue between the Africanist aesthetic and its Eurocentric counterpart.”
The piece will pull from the constant presence of the Africanist and Eurocentric ideologies within American culture, and will present the values of the two cultures through dance associated with both aesthetics.
Specifically, it will take place “after the Eurocentric side has spoken to the Afrocentric side consistently, so much so that the Afrocentric side yells at the Eurocentric side.”
The work will investigate the idea of twoness within the Black community, and the ways in which the African American community has to traverse “The Veil” and exist between the expectations put forth by White America and Black America.
According to Mercer, “the investigation will explore the limits of speaking aloud as a Black artist, focusing on multiple points including racial acceptance, cultural frustration, and what it means to be young, Black, and trapped in America.”
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