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qPDX REVIEW! Thanks Alley

GenderFantasy: A live review

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GenderFantasy rehearsal photo by Wayne Bund.

My first thought upon leaving Kaj-Anne Pepper‘s first full length dance and performance art pieceGenderFantasy was: “How in the hell do you clean that much glitter from beneath a foreskin?”

And though that question may be 70% joke, it actually says a lot about the absurd vs. mundane that GenderFantasy embodies so well. The piece, featuring 3 dancers in addition to Pepper,Lillian Rosetti, Michael Zero Reed, and Keyon Gaskin, begins with dancing you might recognize as current and, though I hesitate to say familiar, at least recognizable. But  the movements go beyond what we would generally call contemporary dance. Mostly this technique works, although occasionally I did wish for some longer stretches of repetition and synchronicity. And yet somehow, though you might not enjoy or be be comfortable with every dance, it does make a beautiful and interesting whole.

The ultimate mashup, Pepper’s choreography manages to pack in the multitude of gender performance and perception in bites so tiny you’re not exactly sure what you’re seeing enacted. From giggling to grunting to throwing a make believe ball it takes us a split second longer to gender the actions in our heads, just enough time to realize the ridiculousness of what our brains just did to these movements and sounds.

Raijah Antoinette‘s costuming is simple yet inspired. Blackened arms and messy makeup that smears as the show goes on, contrast with the sparkly patches of glitter to make a striking confusion of  ugly and pretty. And the liquid latex that acts as skin, literally peeled off, makes a perfect metaphor that is just the right amount of obvious.The black spandex bottoms and strapless bra-like tops are pretty much matching but only serve to highlight the dancers’ differences. You wonder if the casting of 3 “men” and 1 “woman” was a conscious choice for the piece or shaped its creation.

But the difference is never more stark than in the scene lacking Rosetti but not containing plenty of nudity. Dance is already so much about the body, but Pepper, Reed and Gaskin take it to the next level by actually making their genitals actors in the show. Mirroring the song they sing about otherness (yes, I’m talking about the Little Mermaid) the 3 go back and forth between hiding and exposing themselves, thereby making themselves “female” then “male” then back again. All the while it raises the question of whether they can ever fit either and whether it is worth the extreme effort to try. Hiding their junk with their bodies or literally holding it back with their hands severely limits the movement of these feminized beings, even as the female body is conspicuously absent.

Their venue, the Headwaters, positioned at the northernmost point of town next to the train tracks, is the perfect intimate space to see GenderFantasy. At times my second row seat was a bit too aromatic, but even body odor only serves to further implicate how we perceive sexuality and gender. I’d love to see this space used more often for social gatherings and performance. Oh so artsy gritty. And as the lights rose I found myself sad that the fantasy was already over.

Lucky for you, you have three more chances to see the Fantasy as it continues its run tonight through Sunday at The Headwaters (55 NE Farragut). And if you still want more, check out our earlier interview with creator Kaj-Anne Pepper.

Qpdx preview’s Genderfantasy!

Interview with GenderFantasy’s Kaj-Anne Pepper

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Performance photo from the Sass Patrol preview. Photo by Dan Ostergren

Kaj-Anne Pepper has been a performer, dancer, drag star and multi-modal artist in Portland for several years. We have come to expect great things and Pepper’s upcoming full length show, GenderFantasy, is highly anticipated. It opens this Thursday for a 4 day run at the Headwaters Studio (55 NE Farragut) and amidst the madness Pepper took a moment to talk with qPDX about his process, the show, and those involved in collaborative art.

Also, I believe the Kickstarter for this project has been extended so you still have a couple days to contribute to this amazing project here:

qPDX: What started you on the GenderFantasy process? When did you decide to create that show? 

Kaj-Anne Pepper: I have been using the term Genderfantasy to describe some of my performance art since I was 18. It really began to pop when I started performing with theSissyboys. Genderfantasy is an evolving exploration of the constructs of gender and identity that repeat in my work and in the world around me.

I began this iteration of Genderfantasy last year when I was applying for a RACC project grant. It was originally called Gender/Body/Glamour and had a whole different set of circumstances in it. I think Genderfantasy is a better name, it’s catchy, and it describes a major theme the work jumps off from.

q: Who did you think of to begin collaborating with? How has that collaboration developed?

KP: Genderfantasy is definitely my baby, but it is still a collaborative effort. My collaboratorRaijah Antoinette, designs and works very closely with me conceptualizing characters and looks for the cast. She and I have been collaborating on work together for over a year and this is the most in depth we have go to play. She is inventive, precise, dedicated and very invested in the work we create together.

I choreographed Genderfantasy, but the movement and dance is truly inspired by the efforts and explorations made by my dancers Lillian Rossetti, Keyon Gaskin andMichael Reed in rehearsal. Our rehearsal process took us a lot of strange and wonderful places. We have rehearsed outside in a river, in bars, on the bus and at Performance Works Northwest. I found the rehearsal process to be the most exciting and rewarding part of this project thus far. That might change after the show closes…but we’ll see.

Originally in the beginning, I had two other main collaborators. Due to very amicable and understandable circumstances they both had to back out of the project early on. This led me to fill their roles with Q-pop Diva CJ and The Dolls. My collaboration with another queer performance artist felt like the right turn and was very fruitful.

Artwork, especially performance doesn’t manifest exactly as you plan in your head. Luckily, with the RACC grant I had the support and ability to have other bodies and spirits and space to rehearse and play with ideas for longer periods of time than I’m used to. Genderfantasy has stayed true to it’s original intent as a celebration of queerness and exploration of power, identity and glamour. It definitely took some detours around how that would be expressed because of some changes I had to make to the cast, but I am happy with our flexibility in finding new ways to shape this performance.

GenderFantasy has been a process. And you’ve had a few working/preview performances as well as documenting your process on a blog. How has that informed the shape of your piece? Is the documentation and marketing part of the art?

The Genderfantasy blog is a proving to be a treasure worth more than it’s weight in weave!  I am looking forward to looking back on it in 3 months, 6 months a year! I wish I had updated more of my rehearsal notes, and pictures…but I get quite nervous about giving away the secrets too early. I guess now that the show is opening I can let it all spill out! Documenting my progress via a blog is a great way to get the word out about what I’m doing, it gives people more purchase and investment in the project and is a great way to keep grounded while things start to heat up and get excited.

Makeup and hair at a GenderFantasy rehearsal. Photo by Wayne Bund.

Our three satellite performances at BentNot Enough! and our fundraiser preview Sass Patrol were the milestones in this marathon. Each mini-performance gave me perspective on the movement, the sound the look…everything. It was like a little Genderfantasy mini-series on TV and DEC 1-4th is the big made for TV movie after all these little vignettes which have helped shape the performance.

Fliptography also seems to be integral to GF. What role does the flipbook that audience members receive play? Their contributions will be part of the installation, correct? What does it symbolize in terms of the larger implications of the piece?

Fliptography is a fun and exciting way to create a mini-performance on video, which then gets captured and made into a flipbook you get to take home with you.

Each flipbook is a little capsule in time a record of when you could be anything you wanted for 7 seconds. You are performing yourself for yourself. You will see in the show how that is played out by four dynamic dancers who are all costumed and presented very similarly. I think this is a very apt start off point for Genderfantasy and its comments on the construction of identity. At the core of our sense of self sits a fantasy…are you a boy or a girl? This fantasy is given to us even before we are born. There is a time as children those lines are blurred. There is a time when those lines become necessary to participate in normative culture. Queens, kings, drag stars and queers of the night have initiated themselves into a magical world of make believe which dismantles the gender binary. When we dismantle a fantasy that sits at the core of how we walk in the world, we learn to walk differently. Seeing ourselves in a mirror creates this feedback loop of self-awareness. Video is like a mirror, but a magic mirror. We all start creating ourselves with a mirror. Our first audience is ourselves. I think by inviting everyone in the room to perform for the camera and giving a piece of them back to themselves we are letting everyone know they are more than just an audience member. They are a participant in the creation of this glamour. They are in fact co-creators of the experience by feeding the camera their performance.

How does the installation work with and inform the performance and vice versa?

While each audience member gets a flipbook, I get the video record of your movement and expression. Everyone is helping me with my research on movement and performativity! The installation is a fun and exciting way to participate in the atmosphere of Genderfantasy. Also, our studio visits to the Fliptography studio help me construct ideas and concept for movement, make-up and even sound for the show.

Even your Kickstarter seems intimately a part of the art. At the $25 level you get your own mini-choregraphy! Tell me about that and the whole Kickstarter process.

Kickstarter is a great platform to show the world you’re ready to be supported, to be believed in and to be seen. Asking for support for my artwork is a powerful yet vulnerable position to be in.

As for the video commissions…I don’t feel done with the explorations I’ve made in rehearsal for Genderfantasy and wanted to strategize a way to continue that process. It worked!

Anything else you would like qPDX readers to know about you, Gender Fantasy or the whole GF crew and process?

During rehearsal it became apparent to me that I was being carried by a force greater than me. Genderfantasy is dedicated to the lineage of queer and trans performing artists who have passed on from this life and who’s lives have shaped and made possible for my exploration into these liminal states of gender, power, sexuality, movement and representation. This is dedicated to our ancestors and our descendants. It is a spell, a glamour to celebrate the intersection of authenticity and entertainment.

Genderfantasy tickets ON SALE NOW at Brown Paper Tickets! is where you get your advance tickets for Genderfantasy! Dec 1-4th at The Headwaters Theatre!

Remember to show up at 7:30 to be part of the installation and get your own glamorous flipbook from Fliptoraphy!


10 more days til our KICKSTARTER closes and we only have 800$ more dollars to go to meet our goal. If there was a time to give and support Genderfantasy now is the hour! ANY bit helps 1, 5, 10, 25, or MORE all get you great and fun rewards mostly HANDMADE by the cast, crew or myself! Check out our kickstarter HERE

Genderfantasy in JUST OUT and Cover!

I’d like to note that RAIJAH ANTOINETTE is responsible for the beautiful and superbly crafted make-up for GENDERFANTASY and didn’t get proper mention in the article. She is a cornerstone of support on my creative team and deserves praise for her craft and talent! Viva RAIJAH!


Glamour Shots

Kaj-anne Pepper’s Genderfantasy to debut at The Headwaters Theatre

Photo by Wayne Bund.

Sometimes all it takes to get a great idea off the ground is a little bit of support. As a member of notorious drag troupe Sissyboy, Kaj-anne Pepper established a fertile foundation for the power of collaborative art, conceptual dance and the strange beauty of genderqueer narcissism. With Sissyboy a thing of the past, Pepper’s oeuvre had taken on the form of drag, painting, dance and much more, but one project loomed on such a grand scale that without a strong shoulder to lean on, it may not have happened.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council last December, a whole lot of rehearsing, planning and collaboration—and the artistic flexibility inherent in facing a giant learning curve, Pepper’s Genderfantasy has finally come to life.

Pepper, 26, describes the work’s drag/dance premise as “an exploration of queer glamour and quicksilver identities which shift and change alliances and relationships.” But the scope of the performance isn’t easily summed up in a sound bite. Instead, Genderfantasy is prone to abstraction. Based as it is in an undefined, dream-like habitat that could be a nightclub or a theater, with the choreography representing either dance pageant or competition, nothing in Genderfantasy seems certain within the identities of the characters or the location.

The performance itself consists of Pepper, along with dancers Keyon Gaskin, Michael Reed and Lillian Rossetti, reveling in fluid movements while donning dirty glamour makeup and teased blonde wigs. “Tranny-pop” purveyor Cabiria Jones—of CJ and the Dolls—contributes beats to Pepper’s sound collage, and local business Fliptography will provide an installation for attendees to participate in, producing 60-page personal flipbooks to take as souvenirs.

The concept of image and gender as social constructs resides at the heart of Pepper’s creation, and with flourishes like Fliptography, he hopes audiences will be able to better grasp the ideas behind his performance by delving headfirst into them.

[The partnership with] Fliptography is another comment on the construction of a personality and of image, and how rapidly each still, frozen moment changes and how we’re really a collection of these frozen moments, and how that applies to gender and relationships,” explains Pepper. “When everyone is going through that installation, they’re allowing themselves to be part of that process of the construction of their own glamour. They’re literally initiating themselves into an aspect of what we’ve been working with for a while.”

As a performance, Pepper says Genderfantasy is also a vehicle to reveal histories of liberation, and to pay homage to his queer ancestors. Through the process of self-discovery and identity, Pepper hoped to answer for himself how he was able to create a project like Genderfantasy at all.

During the rehearsal, I started to think about where I come from, and how it is that I’m able to parade around in fucked-up wigs, and messy but beautiful makeup,” recalls Pepper. “How is it I came to be who I am? That led me to really pay attention to my influences and my inspirations, and the bulk of those are dead queer artists.”

Throughout preparations for the performance, Pepper developed a keen appreciation for the challenges of a project so much bigger and more involved than his typical solo or group work.

Doing a project of this size is difficult because not only am I the creative director, choreographer and dancer, and a collaborator with the music and the makeup, but I’m also the project manager,” explains Pepper. “It’s a lot for one person to do.”

And it’s been an at-times daunting journey. Pepper says he’s faced significant bouts of conceptual struggle as the creation of the piece has unfolded. The organic nature of the performance, and the malleable notions derived therein, compete with each other for both visceral attention and a tangible takeaway. But Pepper says he’s more interested in challenging the audience’s perception of how they’re supposed to feel, and what they’re supposed to think about the piece.

The thing about Genderfantasy is that it really is an exploration of evolution and identity,” says Pepper of the morphing nature of the show. “I feel that it’s always going to be evolving, just like our construction of gender is always evolving, and just like the construction of how we see each other in our own identities, how gender lays on the body, and how I believe that gender in essence is a fantasy.”

The final version of Genderfantasy is, in fact, still evolving. Three separate satellite performances—essentially early version excerpts of the finished product—helped inform aspects of the show in the months leading up to its premiere. Up until opening night, it’s likely Pepper will be fine-tuning the various cogs of his drag/dance opus. Before that time comes, Pepper has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the final weeks of the project, and to sustain the talented artists he’s worked with for the past six months.

The mystery of what this project is telling Pepper—and what it will tell those who see it—is something he says he won’t know until the opening.

I really feel like the mystery is the relationship between the experience of what the dancers experience inside themselves, and then what the audience experiences with them,” explains Pepper. “Genderfantasy works on the axis of authenticity and entertainment, so I’m working really hard at cultivating a level of realness in our movement, our characters, our presence and our ferocity. But it’s also a drag show. I hope people get to live at that intersection.”

Genderfantasy opens Thurs., Dec. 1 and runs through Dec. 4 at The Headwaters Theatre (55 NE Farragut St.). Doors open and the Fliptography installation begins at 7:30 p.m., show is at 8. Tickets are on a $10-$15 sliding scale, and are available via Brown Paper Tickets. For more information, visit

Poster, Zine, Kickstarter and in the home stretch!

The Poster is DONE! the Zine is DONE! The Post cards are DONE! Pretty soon you will see my glamour face all over town! Which is all the more reminder to PLEASE become a backer for our kickstarter campaign! 1, 5, 8, 10$ all get you great rewards and the satisfaction of loving up a local emerging choreographer!

I’m excited and nervous and overwhelmed and feeling hopeful. Genderfantasy is happening! I’m having labor pains already! Thank you so much for all the support so far, we’re ALMOST THERE!




Photos of the fantasy and another stream of consciousness about Genderfantasy

Whoohoo! Kickstarter has launched and in the first day we have 115$ so far! Please, visit the kickstarter link and check out our awesome rewards for your support!

Today I met with one of my photographers the lovely Wayne Bund and downloaded 1,000 photos from our most recent photoshoot/video shoot. It was glamorous. The process of documenting fantasy is the construction of glamour. The act of posing and representing liminal states of consciousness, representations of altered gender and play acting with permeable and quicksilver characters is the foundation of fantasy. Welcome to Genderfantasy where we sweat the illusion through our skin and our skin is covered in color and the color is the story of our lineage and the lineage is the conversation with our ancestors and the consequences of their actions. Charting ecstatic presentations of pageantry, inspired by queer radicals who take gender and use it like an etheric sculpture, transformed histories of oppression and fear of the other and give permission to their bodies, themselves and all who watch to be entranced and confused, entertained and questioned…

Genderfantasy is charting ecstatic presentations of pageantry. Inspired by queer radicals who see gender as a living permeable and malleable sculpture. Transforming histories and stories of oppression by play acting homo vs homo violence, unearthing hidden misogyny, and confronting internalized homophobias. Celebrating the woman, the man, the queer, the queen and the child inside all of us. Covered in texture and color. Lips dripping with desire. Fearless in the face of judgement. Judging in the face of fearlessness. Set in a theatre as a nightclub as a temple as a memory, these queens shift alliances and desires like quicksilver and compete only to build energy to reach deeper into their decaying shared fantasy…pulsing, driving, fighting, laughing, lipsynching for their life, confusing the elements, and letting the elements confuse them. Will they find each other as they spiral and circle with the living memory of the dead? Will they find strength through adversity and physical exertion? Will two become one? WIll they find peace as they dig past the chalky shadowed layers of false advertising and cultural baggage? Will they shed their skin and find their new body, reborn after hyperventilating past the intimacy necessary to accept an OTHER as SELF?

Here are some pics from the photo shoot. I’ve included a bunch that show how we’ve been making flipbooks with FLIPTOGRAPHY.NET