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Trans choreographer comes to Chicago
by Thomas Bateman
2012-10-24

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Recognized as one of the first out transgender dancer-choreographers in America, Sean Dorsey will bring his dance company and new show, "The Secret History of Love," to Chicago this weekend. Dorsey spoke with Windy City Times about the show, his creative process and dance as a means of sharing previously untold stories of transgendered people.

Windy City Times: What can and should viewers expect from "The Secret History of Love?"

Sean Dorsey: People should expect a lot of full-throttle, full-bodied, very physical dancing—the rare opportunity to see really beautiful, luscious partnering work between male dancers and queer dancers. They should expect to see some of themselves and their stories onstage and also see some delicious and also deeply moving stories about our community's history.

WCT: I'm very curious about your creative process. You mentioned that you started more than two years ago. At what point were you just doing your own brainstorming and when did it become collaborative with the company?

SD: I started with a research phase in archives and libraries, but also spent about a year and a half conducting these oral history interviews. During this time, I started working with a team of composers to look at themes that were emerging in the interviews.

After that, I created an hour-and-15-minute rough draft of the sound score, which is all narrated either by my voice, with my original writing or mostly by these LGBT elders' own experiences in their own words.

The evening will be a suite of dances that will take us, more or less, linearly through history, the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. Parallel to this will be an exploration of themes like coming out and first love, legal repression and police abuse, managing to find each other and more.

WCT: Now a little bit about you personally: Your website mentions that you are one of the first openly trans dancers and choreographers in the country. What opportunities has this given you to be a spokesperson for the trans community both in your work and outside of it?

SD: Great question, thank you. For me, there was a lot of isolation and some great challenges and loneliness in my dance training and during the decision to become a working artist and get my work out there.

I didn't see anyone else like me in my classes at my dance school, at any dance performances or dance history, let alone in most of the arts. So I had to be more creative in looking for my own role models who were transgender writers or activists, or performance artists.

Somehow, I made it through dance school and immediately when I started creating work, I had such a strong reaction from my community and people like me, who came up to me literally in tears and had never seen someone like them or a body like theirs onstage.

I also heard from people who were not transgender, whether they were LGB or straight, that the work resonated with them and they connected with what was very universal in the work.

So, while I bring a really specific perspective to my work as a transgender and queer person, I think the reason my work attracts such diverse audiences is because it uses that very specific lens to talk about universal human questions of differences or belonging, of love or family or loss or healing.

I take very seriously what I believe to be a really great honor to be a pioneer or a spokesperson for my community. There are challenges in that, but ultimately it's a deep, deep blessing to get to bring stories and voices to the stage that have always been censored or not invited.

WCT: And in doing so, you've had such great critical reception for "The Secret History of Love." Given your success, what does the future hold for you?

SD: Given the critical success and positive audience reaction, we actually have the opportunity to take the show on tour in the U.S. and internationally for the next two years or so. While all of that is happening, we will get to start new work and it's going to be a very busy and rich next few years.

Also, during this time we have community residencies where engage with communities. We have all level of dance workshops that are transgender- and queer-friendly. We also do demonstrations and have community dialogue, so that's a really important part of the process for me as well, getting to meet people and have both community and intimate conversations. And we hope to spread dance fever—to attract people who are transgender or genderqueer who have never set foot in a dance studio!

WCT: And is there anything else you'd like to tell Windy City readers?

SD: I'd like to express a warm welcome to readers who are already fans of dance and theater, but especially to people who would normally shy away from modern dance. I want people to know that this is dance-theater work that uses lots of elements of storytelling that is really accessible. People will be hearing real life stories that are really moving stories that haven't been heard before.

Finally, I'd like to add that one reason we're very excited to be coming to Links Hall is that Links Hall has been behind us from the very beginning. They commissioned up and helped make the show possible. We're so blessed and honored by their support and excited to share the fruits of the last two years of our labor!

Shows will take place at Links Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield Ave., Suite 207, on Oct. 25-27. Preceding the production is the GenderFest pre-show. On Oct. 25, Ellie Navidson will perform spoken word; the Youth Empowerment Performance Project will perform Oct. 26; and transgender activist KOKUMO will entertain Oct. 27. A screening of "and then there were two..." will follow each performance.

The pre-show is at 7:30 p.m., with Dorsey's show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10-$15; see www.LinksHall.org or call 773-281-0824.

Further information about Sean Dorsey's past, current and future projects is at www.seandorseydance.com .


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