Visionary choreographer draws from real life to explore intercultural gay relationships

By |2018-01-16T06:52:35-05:00October 11th, 2007|Entertainment|

By Judith Cookis Rubens

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – If Christopher Williams moves even one audience member to seek out a deeper emotional connection after seeing his new work, he’ll be satisfied.
“I love the idea that people should be freer to access their most profound emotions. If you shut yourself off to the pain in life, you’re not going to experience the joy,” the New York performance artist said recently during a phone call from his home in Brooklyn. He headlines Wellspring/Cori Terry & Dancers’ annual Alternative Dance Project.
Williams – the openly-gay dancer/choreographer who weaves elements of dance, puppetry, theatrics and performance art into his work – debuts his latest, “The Portuguese Suite,” to area audiences Oct. 18-20 in Kalamazoo as part of the project. Wellspring, southwest Michigan’s sole professional modern dance company, launched the effort in 2001 to introduce audiences to diverse guest artists and dance styles.
“The Portuguese Suite,” a series of nine contemporary dances, is Williams’ deeply personal exploration of intercultural gay male relationships. While its subject isn’t traditional, it’s told in a traditional storybook-ballet format, with each segment related to a different herb or fruit that medieval herbalists believed possessed magical properties in love spells or hexes.
The dance is set to Portuguese fado (“fate”) songs, recorded by famous Portuguese singer Amalia Rodrigues. This musical style was born from the half-singing, half-weeping laments of abandoned sailors’ wives, Williams explained.
“Fado is halfway between singing and crying; … the voice is pushed to the extreme and there’s a lamentation behind it, but it’s also melodic and beautiful,” said Williams, who fell in love with the haunting sound during visits to Portugal with an ex-lover.
In fact, Williams calls the piece an homage to a Portuguese man he met while studying physical theater and acrobatics at Paris’ L’Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq from 1996 to 1998. During visits to the man’s family in Portugal, Williams was painfully aware of living an alternative lifestyle in such a traditionally-Catholic society. In the dance, a chorus of seven female dancers is used to suggest the sense of a small Portuguese village.
The dance explores the idea that a love affair can be beautiful or painful, depending on the situation, Williams said. “It recognizes that behind the beautiful smile of your lover is a painful skeleton,” he added.
Williams is known for experimental, theatrical dance that incorporates elements from ages past, including medieval and Renaissance times.
He is fascinated with past civilizations, he said, in part because “there was space to believe in things like monsters, angels and other races.” In the Middle Ages, people didn’t know much about the universe, he said.
“My work is about opening this space for imagination,” Williams said.
Wellspring founder Cori Terry is excited to welcome Williams back to western Michigan. “It’s sometimes challenging,” she said of reaching out to Midwest audiences, which typically are familiar only with classical dance. “But I have a feeling he will fill the house.”
In town for a weeklong residency, Williams and his eight-member company also will conduct master classes for Wellspring dancers and students and Kalamazoo Public School children. In addition, he will host an outreach workshop with a local high school gay and lesbian group.
Williams’ movement classes aren’t always limited to dance technique, Terry explained. “He does work with feeling the weight of your body. He really puts people in touch with their bodies in a different way,” she said.
“I’m excited to do workshops with gay youth,” said Williams, adding he still – even in New York City – faces subtle disapproval or overt hatred because of his lifestyle. “Subtly, through my artwork, I want to show that alternative lifestyles are valid and powerful human experiences.”

‘The Portuguese Suite’
Wellspring/Cori Terry & Dancers’ Alternative Dance Project, featuring Christopher Williams’ “The Portuguese Suite,” is scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 18-20, at the Epic Center, 359 S. Kalamazoo Mall, Kalamazoo. Tickets: $20 general admission; $10 with student ID. Suggested for mature audiences only. For information: 269-387-2300 or visit

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.