2019 Progress Review: Blood on the Dance Floor (ILBIJERRI Theatre Company)

Toronto’s Progress Festival presents a tragi-comic mix of dance, theatre, and storytelling

A tragicomedy mixed with a hopeful love story – Blood on the Dance Floor presented at the Progress Festival is an emotional mix of theatre, dance and storytelling. The one-man show is performed by Australian Jacob Boehm of ILBIJERRI Theatre Company. Boehm connects his identities–gay, Black and HIV positive–through a motif of blood, which defines his fears and generates discrimination against him. The work is curated by The Theatre Centre and Native Earth Performance Arts.

Boehm welcomes the audience to the space as a campy drag queen, dressed in a silk kimono with pink lipstick. Hugging and leading audience members to their seats, Boehm is a charismatic performer with a welcoming smile. The opening comedic monologue takes place in the audience and tells the story of drag queens competing in the planning of their own funeral arrangements after HIV and AIDs spread through the community. The flamboyant character talks about their choices of songs and flower arrangements before wiping off his make up and removing his rope, stepping on stage as his true self.

Boehm takes to the stage in a graceful dance sequence, choreographed by Mariaa Randall. The modern/contemporary choreography is full-bodied with beautiful line and gesture work. Boehm transitions between storytelling, movement and video projections to tell his story of his attempts to find love, acceptance from a father who says he would still love a grandchild and the racism he faced in his childhood. Boehm expresses that we all have secrets that we wish not to disclose and builds the courage to tell his own throughout the work.

I found the most potent part of the performance to be Boehm’s experience in being asked if he is ‘clean’ which he begins to shout at the audience as if it were to echo in his own head. This is followed by the audio clip of many ignorant yet typical responses by possible romantic partners when they first find out that he is positive. These clips, such as ‘did you use my toothbrush?’ repeat over and over and speeding faster till Boehm breaks the tension with a movement sequence in shadow to a red liquid backdrop.

Boehm expresses his feelings of being held back by these different identities and his hatred for the stigma behind HIV through a relatable story of just wanting to be loved. I feel some of the hardship may be lost on the Toronto audience as the community may be more accepting of the stigmas presented than in Australia (which did not legalize same-sex marriage until just over a year ago). However, it is a beautiful story told by a great storyteller and graceful mover. I wish we could keep Boehm here forever to make more beautiful work.

Details:

  • Blood on the Dance Floor is playing at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St W).
  • It is playing till February 15, 2019 at 8:00pm.
  • Tickets are $25, available online or by phone (416-538-0988).

Photo of Jacob Boehme by Dorine Blaise.

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