"Sometimes I'm just sitting in the barber shop reading GQ Magazine and I'm really into it," said Nora Sharp in a recent interview with Windy City Times. "I look at myself looking at Armie Hammer and it's the whole 'do I want you or want to be you?' thing" Sharp said with a smile.
Many of us have had similar moments in our journey toward a queer sense-of-self but to fully appreciate the humorous complexity of this remark, it would be wise to attend the premiere of Sharp's latest dance/performance, entitled Small Boobs, at Links Hall opening tomorrow night. Sharpwho ascribes to a "dealers choice" use of pronouns ( Windy City Times using "they/their" ) has been cultivating a solo performance practice over the last couple of years that is a hybrid of open-mic-style comedy, karaoke, cabaret and contemporary dance. Let's just say the genre is as perfectly queer as Sharp is.
The themes that they have been ruminating on for Small Boobs have to do with a connection between one's desire to understand and claim a gender identityand how difficult that can beand the desire to find and sustain an intimate relationship. Sharp's exploration is about the similarities of those struggles and the question of one's safetygiven the vulnerability of desire along the way.
"I feel like people suffer in similar ways when we strive to accomplish this thing that is gender and when we strive to accomplish this thing that is attachment and relationship. Especially when the possibility of finding security or safety gets wrapped up in the striving for that thing. And when that gets mixed up with desire, it just gets really crazy" Sharp explained.
This thesis is both profound and simple. Perhaps that's why it can be kind of funny. There is also a through-line of failure woven into this narrative that lends itself to a relatable and self-deprecating sense of humor. After all, how many of us have tried and failed, at some point in our lives, to live up to hetero-normative standards both in relationship and in gender presentation? And how many of us have laughed and cried along the way?
"For a long time in my life I was trying to date men" Sharp explained. "And that feels conflated for me, in retrospect, with this understanding that I would be 'okay' if some dude loved me. That was something I learned before I was even conscious practically. But at some point I was like, 'Oh, I'm gay. This is amazing!' I was always failing at getting this thing to work out and then I realized that I didn't even want it. Great!" Sharp said with a laugh.
"But then I realized that it wasn't just about being gay. I mean, news flash: gender and sexuality are not the same thing! I noticed," Sharp continued, "that femininity and femaleness was also a space where I felt not only like a failure, but also unsafe. And I've sort of found myself at this masc end of what we now realize is a socialized spectrum anyway. I feel better being there. Like 'the sculpture has reveled itself out of the stone' or something like that."
Then there's the title of the work. "Boobs are this manifestation of femininity that I don't have much to show for and it just feels like this really humorous and literal representation of my feeling of failure over something I'm not sure I ever wanted in the first place. Whether I wanted it or not, this is what I got. So what are we going to do with it?"
"Also, LOL. [Note: Sharp actually said "LOL."] It's awesome to have a show called 'Small Boobs.'"
"I think," Sharp added, "that feelings around how we want to be seen, how we want to present and who we want to be are messy and contradictory and complicated. When you look at that it's quite fascinating… I'm interested in reaching into whatever's digestible and turning it inside out to see all the other complicated stuff. Its kinda fun to look at the complicated messiness of it."
Sometimes the ambiguity and "messiness" of these themes is best expressed in abstract forms like dance and contemporary performance. These genres lend themselves to a multiplicity of meaning as the rules on stage bend at the will of their creator, especially when the creator is talented. Seemingly concrete objects like pieces of clothing, cable cords and microphones take on new significance from the gaze of a queer imagination. The logic of Sharp's world in "Small Boobs" makes sense from their point of view and it will resonate with audiences if we allow ourselves to see the art as we would a queer identity: with creative minds and expansive hearts. That said, die-hard dance/performance lovers should feel equally impressed with this work as Sharp is a mature and nuanced performer toggling seamlessly between improvised comedy, music, and movement.
But Sharp is not really interested in abstract pretension or becoming a master at 'the form.' "I'm doing this thing and I've got some deep feels about it but I'm also not trying to force grandiosity. … I have an impatience with preciousness while also holding the fact that we are making performance because there is a lot of real stuff that we want to be dealing with" Sharp said.
A community-minded ethos is central to their creative process and performance ideology. And like many artists, Sharp questions the necessity and value of the art form altogether given our current state of political and cultural affairs.
"I think that creative process spaces and creative communities are really fruitful places for researching the human experience and to practice building the world we want to live in… I want to be in spaces with people where you practice active listening and non-violent communication and talk about the shit we are dealing with outside the studio and also maybe move and sing together. Who cares if we make a cool looking dance in the end?"
Join this creative community during the Co-MISSION Festival of New Works by Nora Sharp, A.J. McClenon, Sojourner Zenobia and Courtney Mackedanz at Links Hall ( 3111 N. Western Ave. ) this Thursday-Sunday ( May 31-June 3 ) at 7 p.m. For tickets and festival schedule, visit LinksHall.org .