Dancing the Past in the Present Tense
Queer Afropean Presence in Oxana Chi’s Dancescapes
In the context of queer people of color’s invisibilization in mainstream historiography, their mere bodily presence on stage is already subversive, for it enacts resistance to their widespread marginalization in hegemonic European timespaces. Queer performers of color can use their bodies to stretch beyond stiff geohistorical constructs, and to swim against the currents of Western linear temporality. In the process of decolonizing and queering cultural re-presentations, the body may operate as a nodal point between feminist, postcolonial, queer and performance theories. Staging a conversation between these multidisciplinary sources and involved performance analysis, this paper moves through the 21st century repertoire of queer Afropean choreographer Oxana Chi, who draws from such various techniques as Global African Theater, Ausdruckstanz, ballet, kung fu, raks sharqi and Sufi dance. Her current work centers on empowering women of color biographies in the traumatic contexts of the Holocaust, colonialism, contemporary racism and migration. Arguing that her dance productions embody and enact “a presence that is history, a history that is present” (Omise’eke 2008, 195), I examine three specific solos: Through Gardens, Neferet iti, and I Step on Air. Asking how decolonial queer corporealities (dis)appear in cultural memory, the article shows how Oxana Chi’s dance fills crucial gaps in European historiography and re-presents the past in relation to present power relations and imaginations. In order to explore what I call memory dancescapes, I use the notion of space at three interconnected levels. Starting with a brief overview of queer and decolonial processes in the academic space, I then turn to Oxana Chi’s queer diasporic narratives and timespaces onstage. Finally, I explore how her movements of spinning, crossing, and jumping transform the dancing body into a space of resistance.