Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Speaking through movement


Twincest and 'Translations' performances this week

John Medina and Eric Lorico, part of the Translations festival.
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Every once in a while, a dance-maker comes along who helps transform how we see contemporary dance. In recent years, Jez Lee recognized that the representation of Asian dancers needed an overhaul and radically shifted how we view work developed by local Asian choreographers. Lee works with partner Shawn on Twincest, a performance-art project that challenges the boundaries between performance and gender. Lee also founded Translations (June 29-30), a performance festival "dancing the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality."

On June 28 and 30, Twincest will present two completely different performances at Modern Times Bookstore and the Porn Palace. The performance at Modern Times will involve craftworks and is inspired by the cable show Jackass; the Porn Palace performance is a benefit for Femina Potens and "will likely be darker. Shawn and I are going through some interesting experiences looking at vulnerability and dependency, as well as trust. Some of our best work is made in the last final hours as we process and hash out our confusions."

Both artists in Twincest identify as genderqueer, a specific cultural identity that denies the binary model (male/female, butch/fem) for sexuality and gender. Lee says, "I found that I was favoring the masculine aspects of identifying as trans because they were a way to escape from my fears of being feminine. I made efforts to embrace my femininity as a part of myself, and to learn how to navigate and 'queer' my genders to be flexible."

In an effort to create a sense of authenticity and vulnerability, Twincest will sometimes create performances that incorporate nudity. "The audience is going to decide my gender no matter what I want them to think, particularly as my naked body reveals its female-born parts. If we do a performance nude, the comments and reviews tend to say 'the women' or 'two females.' Folks within our community know better, but even they see what they want to see."

In addition to performing together as Twincest, Shawn and Jez are a couple. "We make pieces that are about our emotions, fears, growth, and experiences being partners. They are about raw insecurity or about desire and passion. Or they're an inside joke of ours, and performing allows us to share our experiences and laugh at ourselves."

Some of the Twincest performances are controversial, challenging the norms of emotional safety and the traditional viewer/performer model. In a recent performance, an audience member fainted when the performers exchanged and ingested a small amount of blood. In another performance, the couple created a ritual where Shawn lanced a pimple from Jez's inner labia. The procedure was projected on a large screen in a dark room, creating an eerie environment punctured by Lee's screams. Viewers were squirming in their seats. Lee says, "Our performance is a chance for us to play out fears or desires in a very charged space."

Lee has recently left directing the Translations festival, and new curator Kara Frame is excited about building on Lee's legacy, recognizing a "hotbed of queer activity as well as the larger Asian American Diaspora. Translations subverts expectations of racial, sexual and gender roles." Frame is especially excited about two queer groups performing this year: John Medina and Eric Lorico, and Kilterbox. While Kilterbox, a group from New York, isn't Asian, Frame felt that their work reflected the festival's mission in spirit, "juxtaposing interviews with multicultural LGBTQ women and modern dance."

John Medina and Eric Lorico are from the Philippines. They speak through movement about intimacy and air-traffic control, an odd combination that could create an interesting piece. Medina says, "Putting male bodies on stage automatically creates a perception of subtle sexuality. Our choreography is the display of sexuality, not an overt act but a result of our choreographic intent." Translations also features Laurie Buenafe Krsmanovic, Julia Graham, Iu-Hui Chua, Ishika Seth and Black Cactus Choir.

Twincest at Modern Times Bookstore (888 Valencia St., SF), June 28, 7:30 p.m. (free); and the Porn Palace (415 Jesse St., SF), June 30, 9 p.m. Tickets ($15; $10 advance): see Translations at CounterPULSE (1310 Mission St., SF), June 29-30, 8 p.m. Tickets ($10-$20): (415) 435-7552,

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