Categories: Arts

Sean Dorsey tells stories with dance

One way to grab an audience’s attention is to tell a compelling story — and what a story choreographer Sean Dorsey has.

As a child in Vancouver, British Columbia, he loved to dance: “I would bounce around the house to music in my leotard,” says the dancer, whose troupe presents its 2014 home season concert at Z Space in The City this week.

But Dorsey didn’t begin formal dance training until the age of 25, after deciding to switch graduate studies from community economic development to the arts — and embracing his transgender identity.

For Dorsey, there was no moment of awakening. “I don’t have a before or after story or experience or narrative — it was that I always knew.”

Fortunately, both transformations were met without resistance. “Even my 95-year-old grandmother is completely supportive of my being a full-time artist and transgender. She’s spectacular,” he says.

For the past three years, Dorsey has toured the country, collecting field and studio recordings from the “elders” of the LGBT community.

“I’ve spoken with an amazing range of people,” he says, “some who have been living with HIV or AIDS for more than 25 years, some who lost partners and lovers, health care providers … it’s been beyond life-changing.”

Those deeply personal stories form the basis of his ongoing dance archive titled “The Missing Generation,” the newest section of which premieres this week. The score, developed with cellist Alex Kelly, multi-instrumentalist Jesse Olsen Bay, and trombonist and keyboard player Ben Kessler, includes voice recordings of his subjects as well as Dorsey’s own.

Also on the bill is “Lou,” based on the journals of pioneering gay transgender activist Lou Sullivan, who, prior to his death from AIDS in 1991, bequeathed his 30 years of diaries to the San Francisco GLBT Historical Society.

Dorsey knows something about pioneering himself. He recently became the nation’s first transgender dance artist, and his nonprofit, Fresh Meat Productions, is the first transgender organization to be awarded National Endowment for the Arts grants for his tribute to Sullivan.

On tour, Dorsey and his longtime company of three dancers — all of whom are also gay — conduct dance workshops and post-performance Q&A’s.

“It’s so fulfilling. My work attracts the most diverse audiences,” he says. “Transgender youth, gay men and lesbians, heterosexuals, young theater lovers, older dance lovers, all stripes, all communities, some new to dance, some beautiful people who would never sit next to each other and share their experience. I can’t believe this is my life and I get to do this.”


Sean Dorsey Dance

Where: Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday

Tickets: $15 to $25


SF Examiner
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