Choreographer, dancer and writer Jacob Boehme brings secret identities into the light in this visceral monologue
Theatre maker Jacob Boehme has been fostering his new work for Ilbijerri Theatre Company for 15 years now, not that he necessarily knew it at the time; it took a decade and a half of living with HIV to finally consolidate his experience into a work of theatre. "I had to sort my own shit out first."
Boehme seems the kind of man incapable of artifice – almost too sincere for an artistic temperament – but his interrogative mind and capacity for honest self-evaluation make him a choreographer and performer to watch. His new show Blood on the Dance Floor draws as much on his Indigenous heritage and his training at NAISDA (National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association), as on his identity as an HIV-positive gay man.
"A lot of the foundations of my work come from the elders who’d gather from all over Australia and train us in traditional dance. It was those processes and methodologies that really stuck with me – on how to make movement, how to make story."
It’s tempting to think of Boehme’s Aboriginality and his homosexuality as being mutually exclusive, or at least an uncomfortable fit, but the parallels he draws between these two identities quickly take on a certain profundity.
"The piece is about secret identities in a way. I’m a fair-skinned Aboriginal man, so my identity is always questioned. And then with HIV, you can’t tell that by looking at me either. And because there’s so much stigma around being positive, disclosure becomes a kind of shameful act. It was the same thing for my father."
Boehme’s dad was encouraged to lie about his Indigenous heritage, declaring "in one town he was Indian, another Malaysian, the next Apache or Filipino. And this was a way of surviving."
The parallels didn’t end there. When Boehme was first diagnosed with HIV, he discovered an extraordinary fact about the virus. "It’s a coloniser. It attacks the healthy cell and then rewrites its DNA, until there is nothing left. It takes over, completely colonising your immune system. I thought, if it’s rewriting the cellular structure of my DNA, then who the hell am I?"
Boehme’s father – who totally accepted his son’s homosexuality – died during the development of this piece, and has infiltrated it to some degree ever since. "His voice, his yarns, kept coming through." Perhaps some stories are passed down through the blood after all.
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