Christine Suarez wrote that she enjoys making dances in unexpected places. She chose to premiere her powerful, timely and moving new work MOTHER/FATHER in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Santa Monica. Inspired by “lesbian moms, gay dads and LGBTQ parents”, a church might indeed be considered by some to be an unusual venue for this work.
Made in collaboration with the four performers Bernard Brown, Ilaan Egeland-Mazzini, Kai Hazelwood and Nguyen Nguyen, MOTHER/FATHER began with these talented artists slowly stepping proudly down the church’s aisle with their arms joined like a bride-to-be and her father. As the dance progresses we hear the voices of real gay and lesbian couples speaking about the joys and difficulties of being same-sex parents. There are only moments when the movement directly reflects the words being spoken. We see this in the solo performed by Nguyen Nguyen when his hands carve out images of the speaker talking about society expecting him to mold or frame his life into their view of what’s normal. These gestures appear again in Kai Hazelwood’s beautifully performed solo. Her movements reflect the struggle of a lesbian couple insisting on remaining true to themselves by not trying to mimic heterosexual couples, keeping their family together, loving their child and simply being who they are.
The movement in MOTHER/FATHER is simple, eloquent and direct. Suarez looks at the topic’s effect on individuals, couples, and their circle of family and friends. We heard the story of the pain of gay couple who adopted a baby girl only to have the birth mother change her mind and take back her child. We feel the speaker’s emotional pain that he still feels for the loss of that little girl. Fortunately they were able to successfully adopt another child. One story is about lesbian parents who live through the fear of one of them potentially being deported and having their family ripped apart. All the voices are those of the actual people involved and we hear all the emotions that they are feeling throughout the re-telling of their lives. Special mention goes to Skye Steele for the excellent Sound Design; creating the perfect balance of volume levels between music and text.
The section in Suarez’s work where she captures the tension created by society’s treatment of same-sex parents and their children is in the duet performed with care and clarity by Bernard Brown and Nguyen Nguyen. The choreography handles this subject with such honesty and openness without ever becoming sexual. We feel the two men’s affection for each other and their anger for other people’s ignorance or intolerance. Suarez never allows the movement to stray beyond the work’s focus on what makes up a family or questioning what is “normal”.
One parent’s words actually bring the dance directly into the church as she talked about how her church’s congregation rallied around her and her partner, attended their wedding in the church and how they continue to support them as parents. Suddenly the sanctuary of the church feels welcoming instead of unexpected, and the quartet performing in the pulpit area of the church seemed quite normal.
Christine Suarez has managed to focus on an important subject without being judgemental. She successfully keeps the movement out of the narrative while reflecting on the stories being told. Her choreography is abstract without being obtuse. By presenting MOTHER/FATHER inside churches, Suarez has not-so-subtly addressed how the religious community could play an important role in improving the lives of LBGTQ parents everywhere.
MOTHER/FATHER will be presented again on June 19 in Ocean Park and on June 26 in Pasadena, CA. For times and venues, visit the Suarez Dance Theater website.