Queer performers bring anguish to stage


At the Bronx Academy of Art and Dance’s (BAAD!) new space, performance artist Yalini Dream recalled the summer day when she told her mother she was in love with a woman.

“That is not true. You’re just friends. This is against God. This is against your ancestors,” she said in her mother’s voice for a performance featuring Ms. Dream as herself, her parent and her aunt.

Later on in the performance, Ms. Dream’s aunt believes her sister is
crying over Ms. Dream’s partially-dyed hair, but Ms. Dream knows the real reason.

“I’ve had wild hair my whole life. I don’t think my Amma was crying about my hair last summer,” the actress said.

Ms. Dream, a Sri Lankan performer born in Manchester, England, raised in Texas and based in Brooklyn, was among eight female poets who shared their stories through poetry, song, dance and video at BAAD’s Lit Night, part of the organization’s annual BAAD!ASS Women Festival which began on March 8 and concludes at the end of this week.

Before the festival became an annual event, BAAD! executive director Charles Rice-Gonzales said the organization found it hard to promote individual female performance artists, especially the queer women and women of color it hoped to support. So Mr. Rice-Gonzales devised a solution.

“Why don’t we put them together as a festival?” he said.

Edgy Name

The event’s edgy name’s comes from a Donna Summer song called “Bad Girl.” Mr. Rice-Gonzales said he and artistic director Arthur Aviles toyed with the title until they came up with BAAD!ASS Women, which stuck.

Like Ms. Dream, many of the artists performing at Lit Night identify as queer. They expounded on self-discovery, often related to sexuality, and the impact of their journeys on themselves and those around them.

Filmmaker and musician Nyna read an excerpt from her screenplay called Feels Like a Woman, which focuses on her own coming-out story.

Nyna took a humorous tone to her story, in which the artist meets her first love interest, Rico, at a club, finds herself at the house of Rico’s on-again-off-again girlfriend Brenda and witnesses the odd dynamic between the couple. The story is laced with internal conflict.

When Rico picks Nyna up in a white Sting Ray, painted with red flames, Nyna’s mother is suspicious.

“She was bent on sabotaging any bit of happiness I might enjoy,” Nyna remembered thinking.

At the same time, she could not look back at her mother when she gets into Rico’s car.

‘The disapproval on her face would have ruined my afternoon,” she said.

Other stories of first love took a more somber tone. Writer Kirya Traber performed a set of poems about her first serious relationship with a woman — the first written during the relationship itself; the second, after its demise.

For Ms. Traber, the relationship was as much about cultivating self-acceptance as it was about finding love. In her poem, she wondered if the experience of kissing her lover, also a black woman, was similar to experiences others might have had while kissing the poet herself.

“There is nothing more honest than lying naked with everything you’ve been taught to hate,” she declaimed.

While Ms. Traber reflected on the tragedy of being unable to revisit certain parts of herself without evoking the memory of her past love, she was able to lighten the mood by recalling the negative things about her girlfriend — an affinity for pot, a hatred of hip hop and a penchant for the comedies of Will Ferrell.

“Sometimes we are better for what we leave behind,” she said.

Fighting self-doubt

Writer J. Skye Cabrera used her performance to help audience members fight any feelings of self-doubt or inadequacy they might possess. She used slam poetry to personify doubt and address the audience’s insecurities.

The performance had a strong interactive component, with Ms. Cabrera encouraging audience members to practice shouting “no” on the count of three before the artist delved into her poetry.

“I am doubt and you belong to me,” she recited at the end of her poem, going on to exhort audience members to reject her claim.

Abusive father

Author Sargenta G’s performance was a cathartic one, in which she walked onto the stage pulling a suitcase, taking out a box with an image of flowing water and a jar labeled “Papi’s ashes.” The piece intertwined both Spanish and English as the artist sang about the abuse her mother suffered at the hands of her father.

“She had loved you all those years, but you only made her suffer,” Sargenta G. said while sprinkling “Papi’s ashes” onto the floor.

The evening gave the Lit Night’s artist a platform to voice their stories and a space where they could feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and words. Ms. Dream said she was happy to see so many artists at the event expressing their voices through different media. She added that a teacher who told her she was a bad writer had once temporarily stifled her own voice.

“Every time I thought about writing, I felt like crying,” she said.

Toward the end of the Lit Night, Ms. Dream said her performance featuring a painful conversation with her mother was one of many acts to come.
“Some conversations take years to finish,” she said.