What Can Queer and Dance Do for Each Other?


The host of Explode! Queer Dance on Saturday night was the South Asian drag queen LaWhore Vagistan.

Paula Lobo for The New York Times

As audience members took their seats for the final performance of Explode! Queer Dance on Saturday night, the choreographer, performer and dance scholar Thomas F. DeFrantz roamed among us, collecting suggestions.

“What needs to happen for this to be a queer dance?” he asked my date and me, leaving us each with two index cards and a Sharpie. Later he would take our ideas into consideration — or discard them — as part of his improvisatory solo “i made a mess.”

That work was one of four on the bill at Jack, the theater in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, that hosted the performance portion of Explode!, a four-day festival organized by the dance historian and theorist Clare Croft. The event brought together artists and academics “thinking about what queer and dance can do for each other,” as our dazzling host, the South Asian drag queen LaWhore Vagistan, put it in her introductory remarks.

According to the program, Explode! set out to tackle inextricable challenges of strengthening ties among queer dance artists and dismantling racism, sexism, classism, transphobia and white supremacy. A tall order, but why aim for less? Through that framework, one reiterated by LaWhore (“Dr. Vagistan, if you’re nasty,” she said with a smile, a reference to her own life in academia), we watched works ranging from Jennifer Harge’s critique of police brutality to an Irish fiddle-and-dance duet by Cleek Schrey and Nic Gareiss.

Mr. DeFrantz’s provocation — What makes a dance queer? — came to mind as Mr. Schrey and Mr. Gareiss took the stage for “Lafferty’s,” establishing a subtle intimacy simply by standing face to face. It’s not unusual, among contemporary male Irish dancers,…

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