Sins Invalid (10/04/2009)
As a dancer, I feel most alive when I'm present in my body; when I breathe hard, feel the power of my feet on the ground, and sense the weight in my head and arms. To feel embodied is an exhilarating experience, and after seeing Sins Invalid's fourth annual performance, "An Unashamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility," I was struck by the complexities of being present and proud in a body that can make others feel deeply uncomfortable.
The show opens on Matt Fraser, a disabled performer, dancing naked, unashamedly, and beautifully as an audio recording berates him. Instead of music that reflects the grace and power of Frasier's movement, the audience (and Frasier) is bombarded with voices that echo the internal reactions many have to seeing a body different from what they perceive as normal. As I watched Frasier throw himself across the stage, it became clear that for him to feel embodied takes more strength and courage than most people are asked to summon in a lifetime.
Sins Invalid is a performance project that celebrates artist with disabilities, centralizing those who are queer and gender-variant. The project itself was conceived of, and is run by, disabled artists of color whose mission is to redefine beauty, sexiness, and normality to include people of all marginalized communities. From the cheers, whoops, and applause I heard during the show, it was clear the audience was overwhelmingly supportive of and inspired by Sins Invalid's mission. When confronted with the bodies of the performers, the audience became audibly excited rather than uncomfortable. They embraced the idea that resonates throughout the show: every body is beautiful.
I braced myself as the narrator announced we were about to witness a piece that contained S&M. I wasn't sure if, in addition to wrapping my head around the difficulties that disabled men and women face, I could watch human beings inflict pain onto one another only twenty feet in front of me. As it turns out, the humor and wit that Ralph Dickinson, Leroy Franklin Moore Jr., and Seeley Quest brought to the stage was a delightful celebration of sexuality and seduction. Watching the dominatrix role-play with her client validated the disabled client's sexuality in a refreshing and empowering way.
As the show progressed, I kept thinking to myself, "any discomfort the audience feels is not even a fraction of the discomfort that some of the individuals on stage or those they represent feel daily." While it was wonderful to see an audience seeking out and finding empowerment in Sins Invalid's show, I believe it is equally important for those who wouldn't seek it out to experience it as well. I can imagine a different audience—perhaps less open to or familiar with the ideas brought up during the performance—that might have felt troubled by certain moments of the evening. To face the pain and suffering of others takes will power.
Sins Invalid speaks to those who are rendered invisible, as well as to those who render others invisible; we're all on both sides of the equation at some point in our lives. To watch the beauty and struggle of embodiment is an important experience for both the body and mind.