Monday, August 26, 2019

Blood on the Dance Floor

Written and performed by Jacob Boehme
Ilbijerri Theatre Company
Tuggeranong Arts Centre, August 24 only, season closed.

Reviewed by Samara Purnell

Flamboyant Jacob Boehme
A flamboyant Jacob Boehme burst into the bar, where the audience was enjoying a pre-show drink. Bejewelled and with heavy makeup, he ushered us to our seats and began to set the scene of gays and queens during the HIV epidemic of the 80’s. Each funeral attempted to outdo the previous ones, as they “dropped like flies.”
Throughout the almost hour-long performance, Boehme tells his own story through elements of dance, monologue, sound and video installations.
Born of an Aboriginal father and a white mother, the fair-skinned Boehme explores, processes and explains his identity as a gay Aboriginal man living with HIV, (blak, gay and poz as he describes himself). The underlying concept is blood - carrying both the HIV virus and his Aboriginal heritage.
Boehme uses a barrage of lingo and terminology with no holds barred. One shocking revelation is that some young gay men are actively trying to catch the HIV virus, perhaps for a sense of belonging.
 “Are you clean. Are YOU clean? ARE YOU CLEAN!”  Boehme demands, breaking the fourth wall to continue direct, personal interaction with the audience, as the voices in the soundscape ask the same question. Graphic descriptions of the casual, anonymous gay sex scene and one night stands and the relentless questioning of being “clean” grows louder and more menacing until the words give way to an overwhelming sound, like a runaway train.

Jacob Boehme. Photo Bryony Jackson

The insecurity, anxiety and fear of rejection upon telling a new partner the potentially relationship-ending information of being HIV positive, drives the script. So too, Boehme’s recalled conversations with his dying father, who was aware and for the most part accepting of, his son’s homosexuality.
The choreography by Mariaa Randall is meticulously thought out and deliberate, simple in its demands, but effective in its depiction of the stories being told and Boehme’s responses and processes – the expressions of fear and vulnerability, hope and sarcasm are clearly portrayed. Elements of indigenous dance are woven throughout.  
Director Isaac Drandic seamlessly weaves video by Keith Deverell and a soundscape by James Henry into Boehme’s performance, silhouetting him against a stark, white backdrop and a red screen of blood cells. One short sequence that was less directly related to the storyline was a dreamtime story about a fish dying in a cave, presumably a story told by his father or a metaphor for a slow death.
The demise of Boehme’s friend, with the “beautiful green eyes”, rejected by his mob upon returning to country with HIV was tragic. The description of his suicide and callous disposal left the audience in tears. “Blood on the Dance Floor” was also funny, engaging, passionate and poignant, ideally suited to the intimate space as Boehme creates a very direct personal contact with the audience, taking them into his experiences. The steeply tiered seating of the venue gave an added sense of vulnerability to Boehme, as the audience looked down onto his performance.
Boehme hopes that by inserting the information about his HIV status between the horrifying facts he doesn’t cook and that his laundry liquid comes from Aldi, his new love will not reject him.
“Blood on the Dance Floor” aims to shine a light on the issue of HIV in the indigenous community and help them find a voice amongst those living with it. It is a moving and multi-faceted story about love, family and belonging and how our bloodlines define us.