Artist Interview: Jacob Boehme, BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR

Photo Credit: Bryony Jackson

Photo Credit: Bryony Jackson

The Big World, Up Close series is currently wowing audiences at Arts Centre Melbourne. This highly-anticipated arts series, now running for its third consecutive year, highlights the voices of First Nation artists from Australia and from all around the world.

Part of the series is BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR, a performance piece by multi-disciplinary artist Jacob Broehme. A choreographer, dancer and writer from the Narangga and Kaurna nations of South Australia, Boehme uses his various talents to execute this solo work, which explores and dissects the politics of gay, Blak and poz identities and the legacies of our bloodlines.


Maria: I know this performance is based on your personal experience but could you share whether there was a moment or inciting event that motivated you to actually create this project and tell this story?

It actually started back in 2013, an interesting year in a number of ways. In 2013, it was the 30 year anniversary of the first HIV diagnosis in Australia. It was also my 15 year anniversary of being HIV positive and at the same time, I was turning 40!

These three things were a major movitator for me to create the concept of this show, as well as a desire to bring different disciplines from my practice together to create a solo show, which I had also never done before.

What motivated me to tell this story is a need to see our stories on stage - not only an aboriginal voice in a discussion about HIV, but a need to create theatre and art of people living with hiv - not dying from it.

We often see in art, film, television and popular media, that instances where a character or story involves a character having HIV, the focus will be on the condition and issues of dying mortality. And that’s not the case from people I know.

Maria: How has BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR as a performance evolved from when you first started with the concept, to it being on stage now for two years?

It's been interesting. It took us three years to get it all up on stage working with text, movement and the digital imagery and video. In BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR there is a massive cinema screen on the stage that supports my performance, it is integral to the work.

We looked at creating BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR as a contemporary piece of theatre that follows indigenous voices first, and uses cinema and video art (that talented video artist Kieth Deverell contributed to the show) in place of me wearing paint-up.

In ceremony, paint-up tells a story, BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR as a contemporary piece video art in place of the paint-up. 

Maria: With HIV/AIDs being seen less and less as a taboo subject, and the recent prevalence of PREP in the queer community, how do you think this has affected the perceptions of being poz?

It depends who you ask about it.

BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR intends to get Aboriginal communities to talk about it more. This is because, in our communities, our counts are staying at consistently high rates even now. 

I know that recent statistics released by the Kirby Institute state the lowest detection rates over how many years but they also show indigenous rates are on the rise, particularly women and heterosexuals. 

I think this is because most of the education and marketing we see about HIV is being directed towards specific demographics. But now people are slightly waking up to and noticing that, yes you can target one demographic, mainly the Anglo gay male community, and detection has gone down in that community which is good, but at the risk of neglecting everybody else. 

A whole range of work needs to be done on this matter; PREP and PEP havent really been advertised outside of the Queer community.

When you get research findings that HIV in heterosexuals is on the rise, you’d think, well okay, a whole new strategy needs to be developed to reach these other demographics.

Maria. BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR explores identity and connecting with ancestral bloodlines. Queer people often find that sometimes due to issues with acceptance from their birth family, they end up with a "chosen family". Have you experienced or witnessed how a “chosen family” surrogates a birth family, and if so what struck you out those experiences?

My only answer to that, yeah of course, we all have chosen families, we all create our tribes outside the nest and that’s part of life. 

Regardless of the chosen family we end up belonging to though, it never replaces ancestry. 

Ancestry and lineage is extremely important to forming your identity, because it affects people place themselves in their environment and their relationship with land and place.

Maria: On the topic of ancestry and bloodlines, how does your connection to your heritage and traditions influence your art and, in particular, this solo work?

Jacob: My ancestry actually lead me to study dance at NAISDA. I chose NAISDA over mainstream dance college because NAISDA focused on teaching us beyond Western techniques and because of their huge focus on traditional aboriginal dance.

We spent intense periods of time on songmen and songwomen and being educated by them, I learned we have performance-making dramaturgies that are older than Ibsen, Shakespare and Aristotle. The ways these have always been taught is, learning by doing, which is contemporary today.

These teachings have become the foundation to my performance work especially BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR.

Maria: What do you hope people take away from BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR?

Jacob: First and foremost, hope. 

And bravery. BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR is a love story or a love poem, not just about looking and wanting for love but in many ways.

We all want to be loved and want to love, especially in a world like today we have so many leaders who think the way to lead is by instilling fear and hate… 

You look at some of these ways people achieve so-called success in order to get a measure of who they are and that shows what kind of people they are. 

Love poem, kind of to my dad as well, in many different ways. 

Maria: What would your advice be to people who wish to support blak, poz, or queer people in their communities?

Jacob: The same rule for how we support anyone; we show up, we be there and listen. 

BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR is showing for two nights, August 20 - 21 at Arts Centre Melbourne, as part of the Big World, Up Close series. You can learn more information and get tickets via the Arts Centre website, or by clicking here

Read a review of BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR by Nigel Holliday here

Note: Interview has been paraphrased