A response to Querida
Choreographer/Creator: Darling Shear
Performed by: Darling Shear
Presented November 2–4, 2018 at Co-MISSIONS Series, Links Hall (*)
image credit: Allison Sweat
Like many in Chicago and beyond, I count myself a friend, supporter, and fan of Darling Shear, who’s one of the busiest dance performers I know. Darling’s previous works have been driven by musical choices. It’s sexy, elegant, funny, and fierce. So I knew I had to see her latest work, shown as part of Links Hall’s Co-MISSIONS series. Her solo piece, Querida, took me by surprise, as it reveals Darling boldly testing some new and challenging modes in her work.
The show opened with a pre-performance screening of SPiN, a short film of queer erotica directed by Chelsea Ross that featured a joyful and diverse orgy. This was a fitting opener to Darling’s piece, which played on intimacy and openness about sexuality.
Darling’s online program notes say “I hope to help ease and give comfort to all who come and help release some of the dis-ease around our bodies and the policing of them as non-white males.”
For the first section of the piece, the audience was seated in chairs and Darling held the stage, alternating dance numbers with autobiographical stories. The dance numbers highlighted
Darling’s love for costuming and classic music choices: she had a fan dance to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” twirled a feather boa for the Habanera from Carmen.
The autobiographical stories Darling told—about her early realization of her female identification, about childhood sexual abuse, about escort work as a teenager, about an abusive relationship—were powerful; I could feel that. But unfortunately, on the night I attended, Darling’s voice was low-volume and casual, so I wasn’t able to catch on and follow much. The idea of intimacy and catharsis was there, but I was excluded from the intimacy because I missed so many words. Darling was bravely exploring a new way to use her voice as a performer, beyond dance, but maybe a microphone was what was missing in the space. (Either that or I’m losing my hearing.)
The second section of the piece centered around a ritual of intimate storytelling that involved audience participation. The intimate story was Darling’s, and audience members, seated in a circle on floor cushions, were solicited to read aloud sections from a “sacred text” composed by Darling and bound in the form of a book. After reading from the text, each of the selected readers was baptized with water and embraced by Darling. The text was beautifully written, poignant and poetic, about identity, love, loss, and sexuality. Darling once more alternated the language-based moments with dance and music: one number featured a soft flogger with which Darling taunted and brushed the circled participants. Another involved lap-dancing for some audience members. A final solo dance was a frenzied whirlwind of energy that transcended eros. Darling led the audience in reciting affirmations: “I love myself, “I’m a boss-ass bitch.” The ritual lasted nearly two hours, and by its completion it had run the gamut from orgy to sermon to ecstatic witchery.
Carole McCurdy is a Chicago-based artist whose work addresses grief and anxiety, duty and resistance, and the absurd mysteries of embodiment. She has performed at spaces including the Chicago Cultural Center, Epiphany Dance, Links Hall, Hamlin Park, High Concept Laboratories, and Defibrillator Gallery. She received a 2016 Lab Artist award from the Chicago Dancemakers Forum and was a Fall 2016 Sponsored Artist at High Concept Laboratories. She created and directed an ensemble piece, Waver, with support from CDF, HCL, and 3Arts Chicago. carolemccurdy.com
(*) PRJ is partnering with Links Hall to celebrate their 40th anniversary by providing a platform for artist-to-artist responses to the work that is presented as part of the Pay-the-40th-Forward season. Thank you, Links Hall, for all that you do for the dance and performance communities in Chicago. Congratulations on 40 years!