Choreographer Hope Mohr's Bridge Project facilitates conversations about gender through dance.

Choreographer Hope Mohr's Bridge Project facilitates conversations about gender through dance. (Jenny Chu)

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Hope Mohr Dance’s 2017 Bridge Project opens with an unexpected scene: Monique Jenkinson, the first cisgender female to win a major drag pageant, dancing alongside acclaimed gender theorist Judith Butler as they share an “embodied conversation” beneath disco lights. Since 2010, Hope Mohr — the program’s artistic director — has organized the Bridge Project to interrogate a particular topic. This year, two weeks of interdisciplinary conversations, performances, and workshops will explore the idea of gender in movement and what it means to have a radical body.

“The Bridge Project was born out of a passion I feel to facilitate conversations in and beyond the dance world,” Mohr says. “It’s really important as dance-makers to be in conversation with people outside of dance. So I am trying to make those conversations happen.”

The project began with a focus on female choreographers, but has since expanded to challenge the “canon of modernism and postmodernism to include voices from historically marginalized communities,” in Mohr’s words. This year’s festival in particular is meant to unite artists, activists, and academics around the issue of gender equality — inviting performers to explore what it means to have a radical body through their respective mediums.

Drag performer Monique Jenkinson and gender theorist Judith Butler had an embodied conversation while dancing at the opening night of the Bridge Project.
Drag performer Monique Jenkinson and gender theorist Judith Butler had an embodied conversation while dancing at the opening night of the Bridge Project. (Jenny Chu)

And, with a program that features academics and performance groups, this year’s Bridge Project makes that goal a reality. Take, for example, the festival’s eclectic opening night. In their conversation, Butler and Jenkinson discussed — while dancing — how allowing the body to simply rest despite the demands of our productivity-driven society can be a radical act.

Butler’s comedic, quirky steps were the perfect foil to Jenkinson’s fluid modern movement. Through dance and rich conversation, the duo explored how just living, moving, and breathing in our current life conditions is a radical act — a body’s simple form of resistance to the oppressing forces of today’s world. By blending Jenkinson’s background in drag (a performance of femininity) with Butler’s academic approach, the performance offered a whole new way of understanding the body and how it can exist, radically.

Gender and how it’s performed has long been an evolving concept in dance. Since the era of classical ballet — a very gendered and heteronormative dance form — modernism, postmodernism, and contemporary work have all worked to challenge fundamental notions of gender in movement.

“As dance as a form has evolved, it has pushed against both gender stereotypes and traditional approaches to narrative,” Mohr explains. “Dance must continue to challenge fundamental assumptions about how we see bodies on stage and how we see bodies in performance.”

Butler and Jenkinson discussed the notion of what it means to live in a radical body.
Butler and Jenkinson discussed the notion of what it means to live in a radical body. (Jenny Chu)

For Mohr, then, dance — and performance on a larger scale — has always been a key platform for introducing impactful ideas. Now, as a choreographer with an extensive history of activism, Mohr aims to curate performance pieces with political messages. Through her work, she also aims to bring together people across different community lines: Locations, generations, cultures.

“As an artist, for a long time, I tried to make explicitly political, didactic art,” Mohr explains, “but I became dissatisfied with the art that I was making. When I gave myself permission to make art for art’s sake, I started pouring politics into my curating. I approach curating as a form of community organizing. My goal is to put together a program that mixes up different groups of people and also mixes up modes of discourse.”

From the upcoming performances, Mohr ultimately hopes that audience members come away with a better understanding of what it means to be radical, especially in the current political climate.

“The meaning of radical is really context-dependent,” she says. “What’s radical to me might be ordinary to somebody else. I hope that this program will offer people some resources to dig deep into the question of what radical means to them and in their communities.”

An Academic and a Drag Performer Dialogue Through Dance 9 November,2017KQED Arts