For those deemed by society to be “outside the norm,” it can be hard to find art that speaks to one’s own life, says dancer and choreographer Che Che.
“It’s amazing that it’s still so radical to be yourself in the world right now,” says Che over the phone from Portland, where she lives with her partner, singer Frankie Simone.
Che and Simone are making song and dance for the queer community; it’s powerful and glittery, strong and sensual. With Simone on vocals, debuting singles from her upcoming album, and Che bringing powerful contemporary choreography to Simone’s songs with her body, they’re performing as part of Motion Pacific dance studio’s upcoming Cabagay queer cabaret show on July 14 and 15.
Simone is releasing singles every month until her album comes out in September. For Pride month, she debuted “Queer,” written by Che as a gift to celebrate their relationship.
“I wanted to make a song that is very clearly talking about being queer, using that word very purposefully and intentionally,” says Simone. “It’s pretty literal, it’s about celebrating being your most authentic self and loving yourself.”
“This is why we’re doing this work: we are your community, we see you and we are perfect—being different than the ‘norm’ is fucking cool!” says Che with a laugh.
Among the few artists who are producing music about the queer experience, much of the language is vague, says Simone, and a lot of it takes a more sombre tone.
“I was excited to shift that perspective and be like, ‘Wait, we’re as happy as can be and so in love,” says Che, who doesn’t usually dabble in the music production side, but wrote “Queer” in a stroke of inspiration.
After the success of Motion Pacific’s winter cabaret show, director Abra Allan was looking for new ways to engage people and maintain that excitement. When resident choreographer Melissa Wiley came up with the name “Cabagay,” the next steps just seemed obvious, says Allan.
In partnership with the Museum of Art and History’s Subjects to Change teen program and the Diversity Center, the variety show will feature local crowd pleasers the Wily Minxes, Micha, and Kim Luke as well as returning out-of-towners Claire Melbourne, Pearl Marrill, and Jeff Dinnell. Motion will preface the 21 and over cabaret show on July 14 with a free teen-led open mic at 5:30 p.m. for all ages and all art forms.
Motion Pacific and Santa Cruz hold a special place in Che and Simone’s hearts.
“Neither of us are from Santa Cruz, but I feel like every time we’re back it feels like we’re home, because that’s where we found ourselves and where we found each other. It’s where we started, it’s the place that we fell in love,” says Simone.
For Che, it’s also the place where she found her queer identity, with the help of Leslie Johnson’s local dance company, Flex, which was active until 2014.
“It’s something that I was always aware of, but really terrified of, so I did everything I thought would keep me safe,” says Che. “Once I found Santa Cruz and Flex—they were so empowered in their sensuality and their sexuality as strong, amazing queer people—it just opened a whole new world for me. I felt really supported and loved through a community, which is what helped me come out.”
Queer performance is all about disrupting heteronormative worlds, according to José Esteban Muñoz, says Claire Melbourne. For her performance in Cabagay, she’s taking on Muñoz’s theory that nothingness is assigned to people who don’t fit the norm and that performance can work as a gesture towards something that doesn’t fully exist yet—queerness in its complexity, as Muñoz wrote.
“Art has the potential to hold nuance and contradiction in a way that I think we’re not generally encouraged to do—we’re encouraged to choose one or the other,” says Melbourne, who is doing her MFA in dance at Ohio State University. “Our whole lives are nuance and contradiction. Learning to embrace that is the most important thing to me about performance art.”
Art is meant to challenge convention, says Melbourne, and in that way is a powerful conduit to the public consciousness.
That’s why Simone and Che do what they do, ever so loudly and proudly.
“As a queer woman, I’ve recently been feeling like I can speak through movement—it’s been my most confident language since I can remember,” says Che. “I think in a time where politics are chaos and where we can be public figures in being positive queer people in the world, this feels so important.”
Info: Open Mic 5:30 p.m. July 14, Cabagay 8 p.m., July 14 & 15, 131 Front St., Santa Cruz. $20-$50 sliding scale. motionpacific.com.