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Intermedia's 'Q-Stage' fest provides a forum for questions of gender

A scene from Gender Tender's “Bent/Straight,” featuring performance duo Will Courtney and Syniva Whitney.

A scene from Gender Tender's "Bent/Straight," featuring performance duo Will Courtney and Syniva Whitney.

There were no absolutes evident at Intermedia Arts last weekend, as the second series of the “Q-Stage” performance festival wrapped up with shows featuring transgender and genderqueer artists.

“Bent/Straight,” by queer couple and performance duo Will Courtney and Syniva Whitney, and “The Grief Experiments,” by A.P. Looze, pushed genre definitions in terms of the art form in much the same way the artists’ gender identities don’t fit into binary limitations.

The performer/creators in both shows fall somewhere outside male/female categories, identifying either as transgender, or non-binary, in some cases preferring the pronoun “they,” rather than he or she, to reflect that identity. Mirroring that propensity away from gender absolutism, the work itself defied being pin-pointed into a category. Gender Tender’s work is part dance, part comedy, part experimental performance, with pastiche of film sprinkled throughout.

A.P. Looze’s work, under the direction of Zoe Michael, takes a slightly more narrative approach, but vacillates between performance art and storytelling, with some multimedia incorporated.

Physical objects played a huge role in both works. In “Bent/Straight,” the performers collaborated with artist Madeleine Bailey, who created an installation made up of three mini-blinds on wheels that were used as a moving set for the piece. Whitney and Courtney rolled the blinds to different spaces on stage, creating architectural shapes for their dance and performance work to come alive. Bailey’s design also incorporated household lamps that doubled as props — a crucial part of the lighting design, as well as costumes that matched the absurdity of their performance style.

In Gender Tender’s work, the visual elements were much more integral to the piece than a set might be in a traditional play. The objects became themselves another character. The performers moved them around but used the mechanism of opening and closing the blinds to create metaphorical gestures. The blinds came to symbolize the obstructions that get in the way of relationships, and of seeing people as they really are. The blinds also became an instrument to provoke humor, a gag employed readily as the performers freely drew from film noir and horror movies in order to devise a macabre playfulness that ran through the work.

A.P. Looze

A.P. Looze

A.P. Looze, meanwhile, demonstrated their mastery at manipulating props. A sparkly blue cloth became a stand-in for social media communication, a pile of clothes on a floor, the ocean, and a bathtub.

Looze also made use of two Barbie and Ken-like dolls. They were seen copulating with each other and inserted into Looze’s mouth in a funny, sexy scene that perfectly illustrated the ridiculousness of gender norms taken to the extreme.

Ultimately, “The Grief Experiments” proved the more accessible of the two pieces, in part because Looze lets the audience into the journey.

While by no means linear, Looze’s work succeeded in emotionally connecting with the audience through themes of recovery, loss, and sorrow. Gender Tender’s piece, while visually fascinating, didn’t have the same sense of an arc, and its spastic moments of morbid humor failed to connect to its visual and movement elements, which were more successful.

What’s clear is that “Q-Stage,” presented by 20% Theatre Company, has proven to be a fertile ground for experimentation. In supporting local queer artists, artistic director Claire Avitabile has nurtured a space for performance that challenges traditional modes and categories, seeking to find new form and ways of presenting work.

Madonna's tribute to Prince on Billboard Awards: U got the look, not the voice


Stevie Wonder and Madonna offer "Purple Rain"/ Associated Press photo

Stevie Wonder and Madonna offer "Purple Rain"/ Associated Press photo


Madonna let us down again.

Although she may not have been everyone’s first choice, it made a certain amount of sense to have Madonna perform a tribute to Prince on Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards.

After all, they were born the same year and wrote and recorded a tune together (“Love Song” on her 1989 album “Like a Prayer”). They were both big stars in the ‘80s who have continued to command huge respect. And he went to see her in concert last year in St. Paul, and then he performed for her later that night at his Paisley Park studios.

But Madonna’s performance on Sunday said more about her strengths and weaknesses than it did about Prince’s prowess or legacy.

Madonna looked the part. Emerging on a purple throne, she was dazzling in a silver-and-lavender paisley suit, complete with lacey gloves and an ornate cane. Madonna always looks fabulous.

The sentiment of the song “Nothing Compares 2 U” – which Prince wrote for his 1985 side project the Family but Sinead O’Connor made famous in ’90 – certainly was apropos.

But asking Madonna to sing a ballad only shows that she doesn’t have the vocal chops to pull off a highly emotional tune that demands considerable range.

Furthermore, watching Madonna slowly descend a staircase with the aid of a cane wasn’t in the best taste. It summoned images of Prince, wracked by pain that we’ve learned about since his death on April 21, hobbling with a cane.

Madonna has always been at her best on dance numbers. Prince, of course, dazzled on dance numbers, ballads, medium-tempo tunes, rockers – pretty much all kinds of things.

Pairing Madonna with Stevie Wonder on the ensuing “Purple Rain” was a more prudent move for the Billboard Awards. Dressed in a black suit with a prominent purple scarf tied around his neck, Wonder took the first line, “I never meant to cause you any sorrow.”

Madonna picked up with “I never meant to cause you any pain.” From there, the duet progressed, with audience members eventually waving special wristbands with purple lights in unison. The moment felt right, even without a spine-tingling guitar solo -- and with Madonna sounding a bit insincere when she proclaimed at the end, “Most of all, thank you Prince Rogers Nelson for all that you've given us."

Perhaps more fitting words were spoken by Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson when he rhapsodized before Madonna emerged on her throne. Fighting back tears, he said, "All of us live in the land of music and his departure was an earthquake."