This month at the Central District Forum, I saw Showing Out: Contemporary Black Choreographers: Part Two, a mentorship and performance event curated by Dani Tirrell. Showing Out’s purpose is to showcase black choreographers from around the Pacific Northwest that often don't get a spotlight for their work. The show featured the work of Keelan Johnson, Michael O’ Neal Jr., Saira Barbaric, Brian J Evans, Neve Kamilah Mazique-Bianco, Kyle Bernbach alongside Gilbert Small II, and Markeith Wiley. Each raw, original performance could have had a multitude of meanings. Through each performance, I found myself uncomfortable, intrigued, and at times lost.
The opening performer was Keelan Johnson, leading member of the Emerald City Kiki Sessions. They opened with “Octavia,” a Kiki-Ball inspired choreography that incorporated burlesque attire. Alongside them were two dancers who were unlisted on the agenda. (The “Ball” in Kiki-Ball is short for ballroom, a tradition of celebrating queerness and transness, originating from black and brown people in New York City during the ‘70s.) Their high-energy performance was amplified by commentary that took a stand on the stigma around the LGBTQ+ community. This opening was shocking in its provocativeness, but did a great job of setting the tone for the night.
Michael O’Neal Jr., also known as MajinnMike on YouTube, performed a piece titled “Nothing Right Now.” The piece incorporated choreography in sync with premade commentary on toxic masculinity. In his commentary, he dissected the effects and implications of toxic masculinity and his work unlearning it. He performed the choreography simultaneously with the cadence of his voice, and the commentary was thought-provoking, providing a heartfelt take on the issue. I found the piece intriguing in its uncompromised authenticity and willingness to dissect issues in order to find a way past them.
Additionally, Brian J Evans, performed “Crazy.” During the piece, he wore a hoodie and ran in place as a slowed and partially edited version of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy played. Moments into the piece, he broke the silence by saying, “I know what you’re all thinking…not another endurance piece.” He went on to explain that an endurance piece is an art installation that relies on a repetitive motion to get a point across. From there, he continued running in place…and then subverted my expectations. He removed his hoodie to reveal a suit underneath, and as the show progressed, he revealed more and more layers of clothing underneath each outfit until there was barely anything left. At one point he even invited the audience to join him in running, and several audience members accepted his invitation. (I was tempted by the proposition, but remained seated for the performance.) Eventually, the lights dimmed and darkness consumed the stage, and I was left searching for meaning in the piece. However, I recollected the saying, “the suit makes the man.” Each layer of clothing, from hoodie to suit, gave context to Evans’ running until it pushed the narrative into the realm of absurdity.
Showing Out was truly inspiring in its diversity of ideas, so much so that there are many that I don’t have space to talk about. In Dani Tirrell’s words, “this show is not for everyone.” And I see what Dani means: just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, art is subject to the perception of its audience, and perceptions are vast in variety.
Showing Out was presented by the Central District Forum January 17 & 18. For event information see here.