…who am I here and now, to the people who are asking?

I come from a white highbrow contemporary dance background. I came to that through music, which I was taught in a Japanese style from a really young age, through English Ballet, and Western classical music to British contemporary dance, and eventually British live art. From there, I went and trained at PARTS in Brussels for a short term bridging project for professionals, and then bandied around on workshops and in companies in the central European scene of the late 90s, till about 2004. Then I returned to the UK and founded a non profit community dance project called Streetsoul (www.streetsoul.org). Its an urban dance project for young women and girls. I led it for five years, before coming to San Francisco. 

This moment feels good to me. Because I have a relationship to my own practice that is a little less harsh then I’ve ever experienced it before. I feel socially comfortable and professionally respected in this group of people. I have this story in my head that the reason that some communities are strong where I am now, is because there is faith that new communities can be powerful. I enjoy that. So temporary cultures become really individual; reflective of the space and time they are born. When I see these people out, we understand ourselves as a community, and to be honest, we often talk about ourselves as that. I find myself talking about ‘this moment’ fairly regularly. So perhaps what is significant about this moment is that ‘everyone’ is talking about this moment.

And by ‘everyone’, I mean about 10 people, who have become a little world to me. A clique, then. But its a clique that is pretty unstable in some ways, and definitely subject to radical permutation and penetration and expansion. There is power in a community, for sure. But I also feel a little weary of excitement. I’ve been the hot new thing a couple of times before, and also been at the intersection of ‘moments’ in other places. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything larger then what it is. Which is that I have a nice group of artist friends right now, and I have a happier relationship to my work then I have done for a few years. So…great.

How do you use queer?  Is it a strategy, a tactic, an identity, a community, an intersection…? How does it manifest in performance in your immediate surroundings?  Whose work are you paying attention to?  Whose work would you want to see more of and why?

Its a community, its a personal identity, which I make public in flickering ways. Its a path, perhaps? It’s what and who I’m doing. Its being ok to have some erotic flow in work.

However I feel like calling something queer is quite an agressive act to an audience, especially if you present outside this immediate cultural surrounding. So you’d have to be clear about your motivations for that act. And if they were sociopolitical motivations…it wouldn’t be right for my work.

Lets say there is a flyer for my work, which is billed as “queer performance”. It demands that a potentially interested audience member assesses whether it might be a good show for them by relating to queerness probably by looking at their own intimate sexual identity. I feel like while I might imagine that what I’m saying is “I’m queer and empowered” or “look at ‘queer’, its an interesting way of doing things” the message to the flyer reader is in fact “are you queer?”.

To demand that other people look at their own sexualities as a process of categorizing my work before they’ve even seen it seems aggressive to me.
Other questions: “What themes continually arise in this self defined community’s work?”  “What holds us together?”

Also because in its most raw and terrifying state queer could be an identity (rather than a tactic), its presumptuous to bill something based around a few peoples identities as “queer performance”. So I can’t bill as queer performance. It’s not mine to bill.

But it is a word I would use locally. Not nationally or internationally, where queer may mean something different, or nothing. I want to be working in connection to people, not out of sync with them. But it doesn’t mean what I’m doing, or who I’m doing will change, or how ‘out’ I am about that.

Queer is kind of easy to use, because it gives the fun allusion to sexual freedom without anyone actually having to come out of the closet. So its kind of an easy way to make your work seem part of the ‘in’ crowd. In places where queer is ‘in’, and being gay or lesbian is ‘edgy’.

It’s as bizarrely motivated to use it locally as to not use it internationally on that front.

Perhaps that’s a tactic, nonetheless.

I’m paying attention extremely locally. I’m paying attention to Minna Harri and Honey McMoney. Minna is savvy and subtle, and Honey is like a loose cannonball of talent. I’m paying attention to things that my friends are in. I’m paying attention to Fauxnique, to Laura Arrington and Jesse Hewit, to Plischke and Defeurt in Berlin, paying attention to Martin Spanbergs education stratagies for young artists, and I’m reading. Or at least books are by my bed with interesting titles around dance philosophy and gender. Perhaps they words are floating in while I sleep.

Best 10 moments of queer performance in the last year are…

Vivianne Forevermore at Too Much! Choreographed by Laura Arrington, when Minna Harris costume fell off. She looked amazing, and that challenge to her emotional body at that moment really felt like skin between the two worlds (drag and highbrow performance) had been peirced, and everyone was vulnerable and wounded, and that was exciting.

Me and harold [Burns] with electric butt plugs up our ass, at Philip Huangs Home Theatre Festival in the House of McMoney, and Minax on the remote control, because it was a nice bleeding of erotic masters and highbrow art aesthetics that left everyone nice and charged.

The performers staring at the start of Jesse Hewits “tell them that you saw me” piece in Counterpulse last year. Thats when I knew I could stay in SF longer term.

Honey McMoneys ritual painting piece “Unseen – A Ghost Story” on day of the dead. It spoke to my bones.

The ‘sailors’ team at “SQUART” into the wilds in the headlands doing a piece that should have been sold to Dior for millions

Clara being told to go and research coyotees, at the same event, and her team loosing her. Her howl in tree and the look on her face as she re-entered the communal space after the fact was without a doubt the uncannyiest thing that happened in that performance.

When Minna Harri employed Robbie Sweeny to take the photos for Toxic. Suddenly everything around that work became magnetic.

When our dramaturgy group got accepted into Too Much! and the Toronto festival of Dance, and my UK professor got excited about the group, and I knew we were onto something. Because, as we are finding through this group, they who write it, own it.

When Martin Spangberg came and talked and talked and talked….which in uncountable ways affected everything.

When Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens did an installation of their ephemera at Femina Potens before it closed, where an international group of people with communal experience of their performance weddings suddenly came to light.

Sadie Lunes Biological Clock performance, which bled ritual and art and community in a slightly uncomfortable but super affecting way.

“Aufdentish” with Meg Stuart on Saturday night when, blindfolded Jorge [de Hoyos] began the performance by announcing there was a portal just above the table to his left. This is not something I’d imagine that Meg Stuart would say. So I imagined we were starting from a place of collaboration from two communities I feel very tied to. It was an exciting moment.

The home theatre festival where TT Baum did a beautiful erotic improvisation where he swirled around the room, kissing people, and extremely closely missed making out with my (straight) dad who was visiting for a few days, and hadn’t really been around Gay men in such ‘distillation’ before.

Romeo Castellucci “on the concept of the face, regarding the son of god” at the Barbican in London as part of the SPILL festival curated by Robert Paccitti. So camp in a way that instead of excluding me as a female person, sweeps me entirely in.

Macklin Kowal saying that spectacle is the signifier, the design that marks the door to something darker underneath. I’d never thought about it as anything other then decoration until that point. But he reminded me to think about what its decorating.

Me doing “bird and person dyning”, a naked solo at Million Fishes, and someone saying that I performed it as if I had suddenly awoken to consciousness in a body which did not look necessarily female.

Honey, Macklin, Harold and Zack beggining to get to the heart of something essential around identity through working on the piece “reception” as an action of punctum for men.

Phillip Huang’s “welcome to San Francisco, Pro Lifers” video.

Honey McMoneys installation of cinder-blocks in Macys.

Harold’s deeply personal performance being misread as him doing black-face and the ensuing local politics.

Keith Hennassy doing a shaking video as part of Jorges shaking video series, in his silver sequined dress.

Daniel Redmans sung compositions of Leaves of Grass. Entirely memorised as part of his personal devotional religious practice, in the traditional Jewish style.

I need to get out more, and see more then these people doing shows. But its so enticing to continue looking inwards with this rich diversity, and rewarding blend of personal and aesthetic. it just seems to quicken and thicken the more inward I focus. It’s seductive. As a tactic for international stardom, I’m pretty sure its one destined to fail. But its the one I’m staying with for now.

Tessa Wills.  Tessa is a a choreographer and live artist with some success behind her as an artist and arts leader in Brussels, London and Vienna. She has chosen to live in San Francisco because of the sensuality of the city. Her background comes from Music through Ballet and Contemporary dance training to Live Art, and now moving back into an interrogation of dance, and its inherent value/not. Her current concerns in practice are around wounds, punctures, liminality and the movement organizational principles of birds. Recently Tessa has completed the solo, “bird and person dyning” performed at Too Much!, a commission for the Meridian Gallery, Union Square San francisco called “flicker/follow”, and an 11 minute dance film funded by the British Council called “mine/scratch/mine”. She is leading a Bay area dramaturgy group to investigate and reflect the cultural identity of the area in an international context.  She recently completed her Masters in Choreography from the University of Middlesex, and is very proud to be a participant in Counterpulses ‘summer specials’ program on the 17th of August. To learn more about Tessa visit www.tessawills.com




  1. Tessa, I fucking love you, and I’m gonna make out with your dad the next time he swings through town.


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