For his graduate thesis, Gregory King created ‘Spit’ to challenge homophobia and heterosexism
At the Bob Hope Theatre, 6101 Bishop Blvd. on the SMU campus. April 30â€“May 1 at 8 p.m. May 2 at 2 p.m. $13. SMU.edu/Meadows
When Gregory King prepares for the final stretch of his master’s degree plan, he won’t be writing up a thesis the way most students might. Instead, he’ll be watching three dancers interpret his vision. And if it’s done right, King’s master of fine arts degree will be in sight — and perhaps some eyes will be opened, too.
On the precipice of getting his dance degree from Southern Methodist University, King took a decidedly unsafe route in preparing his thesis, titled Spit. Despite the school’s conservative reputation, he couldn’t help but use his final work to make a statement about homophobia and "heterosexism."
When he presented the idea, he hoped his 20-page proposal would make the concept clear and welcome.
"I wasn’t sure if it was going to fly," King says. "SMU is so highly conservative but this is very much about my life and experience as a black gay man. It’s an honest piece."
After the pitch, he says the room was silent, but it played itself out more successfully than he anticipated. The faculty accepted the proposal, but there was the little catch of actually performing it. And even King didn’t know how it was going to play out onstage. His mentor, professor Christopher Dolder, reassured King that he shouldn’t change anything and just move forward.
He did, and Spit is part of this week’s dance show at SMU, Body Voice—Dance Rewired.
King moved to Dallas from New York in 2008 to get his degree. He was offered the chance to obtain his master’s and bypass a bachelor’s program due to his already extensive accomplishments in the field: In New York, he had performed on Broadway, danced with the Metropolitan Ballet and worked on touring shows.
But his experience growing up in Jamaica was perhaps the biggest factor in developing Spit. The show is divided into three parts, beginning with two men in a relationship living together but being watched. He transformed a horrific scene from his past into the first act of Spit.
"I was living with a friend and the next door neighbors came over asking what we were doing in there," he says. "Soon after, the entire community came down to our place with machetes. One time, my dad, who was a cop, held a gun to my head saying he would shoot me if I were gay. I did not want to live there."
While the first act is autobiographical, the second goes for the jugular with its provocative nature. His cast interprets a poem he found online titled "NiggaFaggot" by RazeGeneration. The title alone will likely cause immediate uneasiness — which is exactly what King wants.
"Someone actually asked me why not use something else to get my point across," he says. "People will hear this for two minutes and probably squirm. But it’s two minutes of derogatory words that I’ve been called for 35 years. Two minutes is nothing compared to hearing it growing up. This is indicative of my life."
It’s also from where his title stems. King sees being spat upon as one of the most degrading things that can happen to someone. He wants reaction, but thesis or not, he believes that art should start a conversation.
While people talk about racism and sexism, he wants to add heterosexism to the mix — something he says people rarely talk about. The idea that "everything" has to do with male/female perspectives is something King hopes to challenge with Spit.
"Even in dancing, growing up, I barely experienced any male-male duets. All mine were hetero," he says. "How odd that for a normal society, that wasn’t normal for me. Why should I have to fall victim to my norm?"
In his final act, King moves into a more optimistic tone of transformation. The antagonist develops into a sympathetic character and the sandbox the act happens in reflects a certain innocence. In it, people simply play together minus the labels. This dramatic build to Act 3 is Spit’s resolve.
"At the end, the three men onstage in their underwear is symbolic of childhood innocence," he says. "In that white underwear we wore as boys, I think it’s poignant. As a little boy, I didn’t think who’s different or who’s the same. One thing that we share is a heart."
King directs and choreographs the piece, but doesn’t appear in it. Instead, he’s relying on his cast … who are incidentally composed of straight men. By the sounds of it, the art of King’s intentions transcended any labels.
"They believed in me and my vision," he says. "I had to work at pulling something out of them when it came time to be intimate and tender. Even though there is this strong masculine energy, I needed to do a lot of talking to and coaching. They went there for me and never once gave up on the possibility of selling this story."
And King does it all in 11 minutes.
Texas Dance Theatre ends season
Two-year-old Texas Dance Theatre ends its second season with two performances on Friday, including a recently-added matinee.
The finale includes the work Adam and Eve and God, choreographed by guest artists Mark Panzarino and set to the music of George Crumb. The rest of the program features five dances from four choreographers, with music by composers from Clogs to Antonio Vivaldi.
Scott Theatre, 1300 Gendy St., Fort Worth. April 30 at 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. $10Ââ€“$25.817-676-1514. TexasDanceTheatre.com.
Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it
Gorgeous models don’t just get their starts on Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model — you can be discovered right here in Dallas.
Mexican-born photographer Jorge Rivas — who will have a show of his work open at ilume Gallerie in late May — wants a few good (looking) men… and women. This weekend, he’s be interviewing model candidates for several swimsuit shoots he’s booked.
On Saturday, the men are invited to arrive as buff as they wanna be … and swimsuit ready to go! On Sunday, it’s the same, only with the ladies. Men are expected to be over 18 (bring ID) and 5-feet-9 or taller; women need to be 5-feet-7. Dress casually but expect to get your wetwear on.
And sorry — no peeking. You gotta audition to get in.
ilume, 4123 Cedar Springs Road. May 1, 9 a.m.â€“noon (men), May 2, 9 a.m.â€“noon (women).
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 30, 2010.