Melbourne based multi-disciplinary artist and Creative Director of the Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival, Jacob Boehme has 20 years experience as a dancer and choreographer, but his latest performance piece at Melbourne’s Art House can possibly be argued as his strongest creative statement yet. Blood on the Dancefloor is a politically charged piece that looks at various issues straddling identity, family and love, with a dash of humour as well. Jacob was kind enough to answer some questions about this piece as well.
This performance makes a statement about identity. Can you explain how much identity is important for you when performing this production?
To be honest, I still pinch myself and wonder how this show got up. I’m a fair-skinned Indigenous gay man living with HIV, and to some extent, that’s what this show is about. I don’t see myself represented in the media or theatre. I don’t see a lot of contemporary Australians represented in our theatres or media. There is a conversation that’s been happening for quite some time now, with little action, which addresses the need for many identities to take their place in these industries. A bigger conversation about modern Australia that truly reflects who we are in our arts & culture: from our original custodians to our most recent brothers & sisters.
How do you work with others for a piece that is so close to you personally? Are there challenges in working with others for such a personal story about you?
From the beginning of this process, there has been a diverse team of collaborators contributing to and supporting the work. This was a very conscious choice, to ensure that the piece (at times unapologetically personal) doesn’t become insular, and that it remains open and accessible. The challenge therefore becomes how we as a collaborative creative team, negotiate our ideas and individual disciplines to best tell this story.
The performance utilises a lot of forms of performance including theatre and choreography, but also including things like text and imagery. What were the challenges in combining these forms together?
The biggest challenge has been finding the balance between each form of storytelling, to give each form its own space in the narrative. A challenge, but also delight (and surprise) has been finding the relationships between these forms and how they can work together and compliment each other, rather than compete for that space. In saying that, potential solutions weren’t that far away when we referenced our own performance methodologies (ie: Indigenous ceremony), rather than Western theatre conventions. We are the original multi-disciplinary arts practitioners. Our ceremonies are evidence of that, with the use of text, sound, movement and visual art as equal and integral parts to storytelling.
What are you hoping people who see the production come away with when they leave the theatre?
Blood on the Dance Floor is not just about HIV. We all have a little secret part of ourselves (or our past) we find hard to disclose or share with others, particularly a loved one or potential partner. We can all understand or empathise with that. With that in mind, we invite our audiences to consider the act of disclosure, from the perspective of a person living with HIV: which still today has so much stigma, discrimination and silence around it. We hope that this performance encourages a more open and public discussion around HIV, particularly about reducing the stigma attached to the virus.
Blood on the Dancefloor is being presented with the help of ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and will play at Arts House in Melbourne from 1—5 June. More information and tickets can be found here.