Holy Cow(s)!: Hari Krishnan slaughters and seduces with dance showmanship
by Drew Rowsome - Photos by Mile Brokenshire
"It's pretty sexy work," says choreographer Hari Krishnan of his new piece Holy Cow(s)! "It's very meaningful work. Provocative in terms of politics. Being a proud gay man myself, a person of colour and a political beast, I wear my politics on my sleeve and every part of my body. I'm challenging everyone, the dancers, the audience, to look into their own clichés and to question their assumptions."
This is Krishnan's company inDance's third time being presented by the prestigious DanceWorks series, but his works Skin and Quicksand, featuring plentiful full-frontal nudity, were presented during Buddies 2015/2016 season. "Buddies was one of our best experiences," he says. "We had four sold-out nights and the audiences were so responsive. Buddies was satisfying as a choreographer and, more importantly, as a gay man. Buddies represents an important nexus of art and activism, to me it's a kind of hothouse of LGBTQ art making and progress. Most of the audience came without any preconceived notions, as I hope they will to Holy Cow(s)!, they just came with an open mind and took it all in. To me that is a successful collaboration. They don't have to know about dance, they just have to come in and enjoy the show."
Holy Cow(s)! features "seven amazing dancers, Beth Despres, Paul Charbonneau, Peter Hessel, Roney Lewis, Megan Nadain, Vinod Para and Xi Y. I'm so particular about the people I choose to collaborate with. I work with kindred spirits. Black, blue, white, brown, it doesn't matter to me but they have to come into the dance studio with a strong political message. Because along with excellent choreography and excellent movement and highly compelling dance, there is also highly compelling politics that are important to me because I believe that all artists should be activists. I challenge the exotic and the exotification and what that means. What those words mean to me as a gay man of colour living in the west."
The dancers also have to be willing to explore gender and sexuality. "All of my work is informed by gender fluidity and a kind of androgynous liberating aesthetic," says Krishnan. "Coming from a Asian dance background, or even a classical ballet background, the males are supposed to dance a specific way. I sort of rupture all those expectations, where male and female dancers sort of integrate their sexualities as one beautiful mess. That is more representative of who I am, of who we are, in the 21st century. I'm always pissing off someone but with this work I'm trying to slaughter as many holy cows as possible."
And it will be a show. Buddies' Brendan Healy referred to Krishnan as "a bit of a showman." Krishnan agrees, "I have this larger than life persona, it's been there my whole life. And coming from a form with such a gestural vocabulary, naturally it falls into the natural way I talk and behave. But more importantly, the exuberance, the showmanship, is an extension of an authentic complexity of both art and politics. There is theatricality that pops up. Some quote unquote pomp and splendour but it's not a means towards an end, it's an end towards a means. It's important to me as an artist to negotiate that balance between PT Barnum showmanship and an activist voice. That I will not compromise on."
That showmanship serves Krishnan well, "I get major pushback when I take my choreography to India or to some conservative space. But they know, if they know dance, that it's Hari Krishnan choreography so it's going to have a political bent and ask uncomfortable questions. But they also know it's going to be spectacularly awesome."