"Yes" is Nic Lincoln's favorite word. And it's clear why he chose this affirmation as the title of his performance Friday night at the James Sewell Ballet TEK BOX in the Cowles Center. The longtime Sewell company member is bravely sharing aspects of his identity through works created for him by choreographers Penelope Freeh, Wynn Fricke, Judith Howard, Megan Mayer and Kristin Van Loon (plus between-the-acts videos).
This daringly intimate and often poetic show is an emotional journey from birth to injury to death and somewhere beyond. Lincoln celebrates his realness, an act of defiance in a society still reluctant to embrace personal authenticity. Opening act Venus DeMars, the iconic transgender leader of All the Pretty Horses, supports this tone with haunting vocals and magnetic stage presence.
Howard's brilliantly bizarre "Dressage" follows with its unusually paired sources of inspiration: horses and drag queens. As Lincoln emerges from a pile of furs and shiny fabrics, his fishnet-clad legs uncertain like a newborn foal's, feet shod in sky-high heels, he possesses a hybrid grace drawn from the catwalk and the state fair horse show.
Van Loon's "More Love Than Can Ever Be Repaid – 1987" delves further into glamour. Most striking is how thoroughly she sets Lincoln to gyrating along the audience seats — almost to the point of absurdity. It's as if he's exorcising a restless disco spirit. Freeh's masterful "Paper Nautilus" displays another side of Lincoln's virtuosity by portraying him as a sailor on leave, tripping lightly as if in a World War II movie musical but also burdened with a darker mission.
Mayer's "You Might Be Expecting Me" is a standout effort as an understated take on Lincoln's stint in retail. This is one smart study of the soul-sucking curse of having another job to support an arts career. And Fricke's deeply poignant "Into White" is about the passage into (maybe) the proverbial white light. Lincoln is a ghostly and agitated soul as he wrestles with the last throes, in search of a settling peace.
During Friday's show, teen Maddie Norgard spoke movingly about bullying, a cause important to Lincoln based on his own childhood experiences. The performer will donate a portion of ticket sales to OutFront MN in support of LGBT equality. Given this background, It's fitting that Leonard Cohen's beautiful "Hallelujah" is on Venus' set list. Lincoln's project locates the sweet spot where art and activism merges. It's about sadness transformed into triumph.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.