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Genderfantasy in JUST OUT and Cover!

November 11, 2011

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

BY RYAN J. PRADO
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 genderfantasy.wordpress.com.

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