Ray Young’s ‘Out’ a celebration of queer joy

Words by Josephine Leask. Performed at Lilian Baylis 25 and 26 April.

Ray Young’s welcoming, relaxed performance at the Lilian Baylis oozes with sensuality, Jamaican Dancehall vibes and queerness. Out shines a fresh queer light on Caribbean dance in a duet that articulates a conversation between non-binary and trans bodies of colour that defiantly refuses a colonial, white, capitalist, heteropatriarchal gaze. Performed by formidable artists and devisors Azara Meghie and Bambi Phillips Jordan, the work showcases not only their strengths in Breakdancing and Voguing but their attitude and charisma as performers. They are a striking couple with their contrasting bodies and movement styles which they use to carve out a vital space for LGBTQIA+ belonging, performance and joy.

Out morphs between high-energy dance solos, smoochy grinding partnering, and contemplative moments of stillness and recovery. At times both artists work the floor, taking turns to showcase their technical skills. Meghie launches into some fast, tricky Breaking footwork, followed by an acrobatic head spin. Jordan takes off on a sassy catwalk complete with sculptural hand performance, then with dramatic elegance, falls to the floor in a spin and drop. The movement, defining a queer dance floor is neither linear nor traditionally progressive, but disrupted and circular. Both performers respond to their bodies, each other and the mood of the audience, playfully and seriously. Young, a trans-disciplinary performance artist and director whose practice engages with queer activism, race and neurodiversity, resists the capitalist, traditional forms of over-performed, over-produced, conventional dance shows. The performers take breaks when they need to and some sections, where there is little activity, are lengthened out to the point of monotony.

An opening display of Dancehall’s characteristic grinding and whining, with lip-synching, pelvic rotations and booty shaking, brings cheers from the audience. Meghie and Jordan meet as equals as they develop a physical relationship of closeness, respect and sensuality, sometimes tinged with playfulness, at other times earnestness. Dancing together, their explicit, erotic bodily contact is delightfully free of misogynistic baggage or connotations of heterosexual coupling. Their interpretation of Dancehall becomes a reclamation of Caribbean dance for queer bodies.

Out also marks the more sinister side of queer expression in countries where it is illegal. In an extended, repetitive sequence of movement, Young juxtaposes a DJ’s pulsing music mix with a voiceover that describes Jamaican homophobic attitudes and laws. Both performers strut out confidently against the sobering aural backdrop, staring out at the audience, unfazed. Then we hear the looped voice of a ranting, anti-LGBTQIA+ American preacher to which Meghie and Jordan perform a sequence of repetitive, pleading arm gestures while standing on the spot. Repeating these actions until they reach a point of boredom and exhaustion, they defiantly carry on. This feels like a ritualistic act of cleansing and healing as through time, the violence of the preacher’s voice dissipates and sounds pathetic.

Out’s final section, an orgy of orange peeling and consumption, creates a different vibe to that of the activity on the dance floor. Meghie and Jordan remove their jewellery, heels and gloves, replace them with sun hats and pull up stools. Slowly and meticulously they peel a lot of oranges, sucking and eating them as they go. Like two old friends with a job to do in the heat of the sun, they exchange looks and banter as they compete over their peeling skills. It’s a humorous and heart-warming scene, made complete by the sunny glow and bitter-sweet smell of oranges. We start longing for some of the juicy fruit and as if by magic they’re generously offered around the audience. Things heat up when the performers return to their stools and quite literally make love to the oranges. Sucking, smelling, licking, fingering and smacking the fleshy pulp the performers live out multiple fantasies, climaxing in a sticky orange mess. Orgiastic and triumphant this final scene celebrates not only oranges and their multiple functions, but a safe space for exploration, queer desire and community.

Header image by Rosie Powell.