Opening at Arts House on the 1st of June is Blood on the Dance Floor presented by ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and performed by Jacob Boehme, taking no prisoners, it opens the door on some pretty personal subject, cutting through the politics of gay, Blak and poz identities through a melding of forms and visual metaphor. At The Space dance studio, nestled just off the ever bustling Chapel St, writer Jessi Lewis met with creative team and sat down for a chat with Jacob about the work.

Tell us more about the performance, what was the genesis for wanting to create Blood on the Dance Floor?

Blood on the Dance Floor is an autobiographical story, but in saying that it’s been fictionalized to a certain degree just to make it a bit more universal and accessible, it comes from my experience of being HIV positive. I’ve been poz now for around 18 years. You know, we’ve been dealing with HIV in Australia for 30 years, but the stigma and discrimination around being positive still exists, and detection rates are still rising.

We are lucky enough in Australia to have access to free medication and services so for us at least in this country and some of the other more developed western countries, we don’t have the problem or the issue of dying from aids, so much as there are a whole heap of other issues about living with HIV. Like relationships and love, I meant it’s hard enough navigating love, partnering and giving over to potential rejection and all that kind of stuff, but when you have the whole added issue of having to disclose your health status, it becomes this whole other area

But in the broader sense Blood on the Dance Floor is about fear and love, and the fear of loneliness that we can all suffer from from time to time. But in searching for those answers, I draw on my cultural strengths and my blood ties. My mother’s fifth generation Australia, English Irish stock, and dad’s aboriginal from Narangga and Kaurna from South Australia. I started to base the whole thing about blood, how, HIV which is a blood born virus, how blood is a symbol, a substance that’s used to divide unite empower, weaken, drawing on my own blood to find some kind of strength.

So is it fair to say that you believe in art having an important role to play in communicating ideas or further pushing agendas, and is this something you’re looking to achieve in Blood on the Dance Floor?

Well, I’m a firm believer that the art we make should at least say something. I don’t know if I have a clear agenda with this one other than asking “Why have we stopped talking about HIV?” or “Why are we not talking openly about HIV?”, other than the same old rhetoric, you know about demonization and fags.

I do believe in a quote Nina Simone gave “An artist job is to reflect the times” and that’s I suppose what I’m doing, I don’t know if I have an agenda other than to bring hiv into that world, because there is not that much in the way of theatre or performance that address the issue. If it does it generally memorializes it, so we have to go through yet another aids death from the 80’s and we are not living in the fucking 80’s it’s 2016, there is a whole range of other issues we have to address.

What do you think it would take to see such a gravitational shift surrounding the stigma of HIV in this country?

I don’t know, other than creating space for conversations, and I suppose that part of the reason I’m doing this work, because I don’t have the answers, it’s just creating a space for some of this stuff to be talked about.

Getting back to the performance, let’s talk visually, what can audience expect from Blood on the Dance Floor?

Well, it is movement theatre, text and we have a video artist, there’s a whole lot of visual elements. We have the most insane-almost like an Imax screen as part of this performance, it’s very rich, our spatial designer Jenny Hector has created a wonderful space, and a very slick looking show. It’s got a lot of different story telling elements can draw on, there text there’s movement cinema and lighting.

What’s been your journey so far as a dancer and creator, tell us more about your background, and how did you come to create this work?

I started in dance very late, I was only 21, I went to NAISDA in Sydney, so I did my training there, in all forms, ballet, jazz, contemporary techniques and tap but a big part of that was cultural dance, so we would have elders from around Australia and the Torres Strait Islands, come and do traditional dance with us, that was the foundation of our dance practice. From there I ended up coming back to Melbourne, and I ended up being an arts administration assistant at Polyglot Theatre, and it was their director Sue Giles that got me into puppetry, I went on to study a masters in puppetry at VCA, and through being mentored and doing training with Phillippe Genty from France, it was actually his wife that got me back into movement, cause I’d just turned my back on dance.

I started really exploring the relationship between dance and visual theatre, which is not a new practice, it’s so ancient, it’s not innovative or hybrid at all, it’s just a really old, ritualistic form. So from that form, working with elders taking some of our old stories into that, I did a masters of writing for performance at VCA. Just taking all of the tools I’ve gathered along the way, it comes to this point where I’m ready to make a work about this.

Does traditional dance influence or own a place in this work at all, or how do you see this being contemporized?

A little, I mean suppose, even when we do pure contemporary dance, because its indigenous dancers performing it, people will read something cultural in it, that’s that other thing, where’s that gravitational pull to get people’s minds to go somewhere. I mean god you make a dance piece about being in the shower, and someone will go “Oh, I can see you going back to country there” but no actually, I was just rubbing myself with soap, imaginary soap.

But some people will see or read of course, that there is cultural dance in there, and to a certain degree there is a bit of traditional movement that choreographer Mariaa Randall has pulled from. But, she’s a contemporary indigenous choreographer making a contemporary indigenous work, so there are flavours but it’s not purely traditional at all.

Do you recognize any recurrent themes in contemporary dance, and how do you feel your performance work fits within or possibly outside of such trends?

Particularly in Melbourne, I suppose media and technology seems to be really infiltrating dance quite a lot and the use of text is being seen more and more. Which I think is a good thing, as it’s a great way of giving audiences and “in” so they don’t feel alienated from it. Even myself as a trained dancer I’ll go and watch dance but I’d have no idea of what it was about, what they were trying to say, or why I’d just spend money to watch that, they haven’t made me feel anything, and we go to the theatre because we want to feel something.

This is what we are trying to achieve with Blood on the Dance Floor, for us it’s about giving the people who don’t normally go to dance a way in, making it accessible, when we trained back at the one rule was, if you don’t have your story, you don’t have your dance, and that’s how dance has been practiced on this country for, at least for 75,000 years or more.

This promises to be a though provoking performance, as rich as it is visual, it closes on the 5th of June, you can book your tickets here

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