The secret sexualities of artists and performers explored in ’20 Rue Jacob’ happening now
The underground queer subculture of 1920’s Paris is getting resurrected through a multimedia performance extravaganza 20 Rue Jacob.
The androgynous and unusual portraits by 20th century artist Romaine Brooks captivated partners, and co-collaborators for 20 Rue Jacob, Courtney Harris and Charli Brissey. They delved into Brooks’ life and the world of artists, writers, intellectuals who would all meet to share their work and have discussions. Many of these people, life Brooks and her partner Natalie Barney, a poet, were subverting their gender and sexuality during the time.
“I could say I stumbled into this through the back door in that I found Romaine Brooks art work and was just enchanted with it,” said Harris, “but on another level I’ve already been dealing with these things.”
Harris, currently an assistant professor of dance at VCU, said as a dancer for the Houston Ballet many years ago, her sexuality was kept from ever being a part of her work or image, even though she was very much out as a lesbian.
“While I was watching a lot of the males homosexuals in our company get press with the gay magazines in Houston and other sources, I was kind of kept secret,” Harris said.
She said it felt as though there were rules to be followed and her company did not want the audience knowing the details of her sexuality even as a subtext.
“It definitely felt like the ballerina is supposed to uphold a very particular image and that my sexuality had nothing to do with that,” Harris said. “and that was not going to be invited into the discourse.”
Harris said since entering the world of academia and choreographing her own work, gender representation and sexuality have become very important to her.
Brissey, a dance choreographer who identifies as queer, shares Harris’s interest in gender and sexuality. She said they have drawn parallels between Brooks’s circle of friends on the left bank of Paris and their own right here in Richmond.
“The genders and sexualities of all of our friends are very fluid and shifting and changing,” Brissey said. “And it was really interesting to come across the circles and communities that were also doing this but a century before us and also across the world.”
Brissey said they wanted to explore the similarities and differences between the more secretive salon communities in Paris and the kinds of parties and people that are a part of their very own lives. These non-traditional topics will be presented to an audience in a non traditional performance.
Harris and Brissey were able to create a hatchfund to help them bring Brook’s portraits to life withmodern dance, drag, film, sound and video installations, sculpture, and physical theater. There will be visual artist from Nicole Bauguss, scholar and performance artist from Michael J. Morris, and a colorful cast all in a salon setting at the historic Hoffheimer building in Scott’s Addition.
Brissey said they’ve structured 20 Rue Jacob in such a way that the audience will be meandering through the different installations and hopefully mingling with other members of the audience.
“We’re really hoping it brings together a lot of different communities that may overlap a little bit,” Brissey said. “But it might be challenging for certain people if they have an expectation of it being a traditional exhibit or a traditional performance because it’s a lot of different things but it’s also a big party.”
The audience is completely free to move about however they’d like. Performances will happen about every thirty minutes and after, the performers will immerse themselves back into the audience. The video, sound and sculpture installations are set like a more traditional art exhibit. There will be programs handed out at the door to help guide audience members through the exhibit.
Harris and Brissey both said they hope their work helps explore the questions of what it means to be queer, what it looks like, and what is mean to be “subverting gender and transgressing it at the same time.”
“Something that I think that both Charli (Brissey) and I are very interested in is positioning this work in a way that’s not highlighting the binary,” Harris said. “but showing more gender fluidity and more gender play, and that gender is always a performance in the end.”
Performances are May 21-23 at 7:30 p.m.. General admission is $10 and student tickets are $5.
Sounds neat, right? Well, as many of us know, good art comes at a cost – and the organizers behind this bad boy are looking for some help in covering said cost.March 24, 2015
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