As a sea of people line up in the hallway of Carriageworks, chatting amongst themselves in anticipation of the performance... suddenly a voice booms over the crowd - all eyes on her. And it’s clear the show has begun.
Already in character, Jacob Boehme waltzes up and down the aisle of people, draped in a kimono with nothing else but glamorous diamond drooping earrings. In his words, he looks ‘fierce bitch!’ He flamboyantly welcomes friends and fans, seduces the crowd with smacks on the bottom and sitting on laps. Engaging and entertaining from the moment you enter the room; but you haven’t seen anything yet.
It’s been 30 years. 30 whole years that Jacob’s dealt with the global epidemic of HIV, the experiences of stigma, discrimination and silence around the deadly virus. By sharing his personal story, unapologetically, of being a white Indigenous fella (blak), sexually attracted to other men (gay) and HIV positive (poz); Blood on the Dance Floor provides a deeper insight into the struggles, discrimination and silence that still surround the HIV virus in contemporary society with the aim of eliminating these negative stigmas.
Mr Boehme says Blood on the Dance Floor, with the Ilbijerri Theatre Company is an opportunity to create a space for our mob to have a voice in the dialogue around HIV. “We need a conversation at a table we have not been invited to in this country, which has so far been led and reserved for gay white men,” he said.
“Our mob has been dealing with HIV right from the early days, back in the 80s, mostly silently and with shame. We are now seeing a spike in detention rates across the country; particularly amongst Indigenous women and IV drug users in our community. Now more than ever we need to take our seat at that table, our silence broken and our voices heard.”
Bundjalung/Yaegl woman and dance choreographer, Mariaa Randall has carefully created an emotional journey through her utilisation of colourfully crafted movement. With every chapter of Jacob’s storytelling comes a powerful wave of body language that paints a picture through a fusion of Indigenous steps and modern contemporary routines. From dangerous beats to emotional bliss, the choreography emphasises the tone of the performer’s mood. With just the simple lift of a finger Ms Randall cleverly creates an intense atmosphere where the entire audience is hooked on Boehme's next step. The traditional Aboriginal movements of heavy stomps, wide eagle like claps and intricate footwork bring imagery of being out bush, and provides a refreshing breath of artistic culture in a new light. Boehme’s technique, timing and ability to transform dialogue into a story of movement is brilliantly crafted and highlighted his multi-disciplinary theatre making abilities.
Jacob Boehme is no stranger to stigma. He is gay, he has HIV and he’s a fair skinned, Indigenous man. Yet none of this changed his relationship with his father, who is portrayed as a comical man with a rich culture and love for his family and Aboriginal heritage. Boehme took people on an emotional journey back on country, where they were able to see a deep insight into the connection he shared with his dad, culture and elders. Boehme’s ability to make people laugh and cry was magically balanced. From sharing stories about a white baby boy rubbing himself in ‘goona’ to be the same colour as his dad, he opened the door to a private life of racism that generations of his family endured. All the while, managing to perfect his Indigenous father’s voice, which humorously helped set the perfect scene for strangers to understand a completely different culture.
"You’re so white but I still love you because you’re my blood."
One of the most powerful scenes truly make you connected to the bush, despite being in the centre of Sydney city. His father was having a yarn about how he wanted to be sent off. He painted an image of being cremated and having his ashes brought down near the lake, and it had to be at sunset! Where they would be lit on fire and watched as they drifted off into the sky with the sun… ‘And then you just sit and remember me.’ It was at this moment where viewers could feel the connection to culture and sense an appreciation of land and nature for Indigenous Australians like Jacob and his father.
Are you clean? The words still echo in my head.
Not only one of the most confronting sequences, but a reminder that if you’re not safe, your whole life can change with one word. Positive.
Boehme's exhilarating escapade of wild nights with raging hormones and strong scents of amal and sweat, set the scene for a Saturday night and a party to remember. With techno beats pulsating faster and faster, his movements become more intense. Dancing in the shadow of a silhouette, a blank white sheet showing a black moving figure and his story starting off sexy, free and frivolous soon starts speeding into a reality of recklessness and dramatic consequences with a red visual backdrop that bleeds with every movement he makes.
Boehme shared not only his own private and powerful performance piece but also a story reflecting contemporary issues facing young males with HIV. An Indigenous friend of his receives test results which identify him as HIV positive. He wants no pity from Jacob, instead a companion that will accompany him out country to see his elders. After driving for hours to go bush, he faces his mob and tells them his situation. Soon after he is disowned from the tribe, asked to leave and banished from his country. By the next week he’s already committed suicide. He was only in his twenties and had his whole life ahead of him. Boehme wanted this story to be remembered because it’s a raw insight of a man representing the narrative of living with HIV in today's society.
Do you remember the last time you went on a first date, or the first phase of liking someone? Boehme brings the audience back to times of lust and questionably love, where you weigh up the pro's and con's about everything and anything about the new guy or gal in your life. His words are raw, real, comical and colourful - both in the diva and devilish kind of way... making an entire room of strangers already feel like his best friend. Despite sharing and at some times over-sharing information, he holds back on the key issue preventing him from furthering in his relationship - a diagnosis he got when he was 24, HIV. The selection of music and choreography suggest that he has a dark secret, one that has impacted his previous relationships and one that will continue to do so in his future.
Mr Boehme’s final product is so much more than just a performance. It’s like a colourful, powerful potion.
During the physical, visual emotional trip some things will bring you up to a state of ecstasy while others will drag you down to cold hard reality.