Interesting body of work coming to Cork

Fat Blokes is one of a number of corporeal shows at Quarter Block Party in Cork, writes Marjorie Brennan.

The artist and performer Scottee is talking about how much he is looking forward to bringing his latest show to Cork.

“Not only do I love the city, but also you can’t get away from the sing-song Cork accent, can ya? It’s beautiful.”

Scottee’s own accent is unmistakably that of a born and bred Londoner, but his Irish roots are not far from the surface.

Scottee’s dance show aims to challenge stereotypes and reactions to heavy bodies.

The 33-year-old, who has built a reputation for thought-provoking, funny and political work across many mediums, was brought up in the north London borough of Camden, but spent many summers in Ireland.

“A lot of my childhood was spent being sent over, digging out on the bog and going to church and trying to impress the neighbours,” he laughs.

Scottee’s critically-acclaimed production Fat Blokes is receiving its first Irish outing as part of Cork’s Quarter Block Party festival.

He has collaborated with renowned choreographer Lea Anderson on the show, which features him and four other men, none of whom are professional dancers, exploring fatness and masculinity through the interweaving of dance and personal memories.

Like much of his work, Fat Blokes is rooted in the injustice and inequality Scottee has witnessed throughout his life.

He says he has “learned on the job”, having left school at 14.

“Everything I do is through gut instinct. I was brought up on an estate in poverty but my mother was hugely empathetic. From a young age, I was dealing with injustice and precariousness.

Those things have really informed who I am but also, I come from a long line of Donegal storytellers, so a combination of that empathy and being able to tell a story and hold a room has led me to the career I have today.”

While Scottee enjoyed a loving and protected childhood, when he left the safe environment of his home, things changed.

“When I was growing up, being fat meant you were sturdy and strong. We know that food in Irish diaspora culture is such a political thing.

"It wasn’t until I left the house and started meeting other people that people were disgusted by my fatness and felt they had to tell me about that.”

Fat Blokes is a reaction to a series of incidents in which Scottee was publicly abused.

“It happens all the time. I am quite a visible person. I am very forward-facing, no holds barred, I wear bright colours, I am not ashamed of the person I am.

"People find that peculiar so they often shout things at me, or mock me in public.

"It always happens when I am on my own and they are more than one.

"That’s when they find the confidence to do it. And it is always men.”

The idea for Fat Blokes crystallised when he started to think about what would happen if he was with a “gang of other fat weirdos” when such incidents occurred.

“The general public is so obsessed with fat people exercising, so I thought, right I’ll do a dance show where they’ll see us sweating but they are going to have to be confronted by the reality of what it’s like to be a fat person as well, the confusing headspace of what it is to be fat.

"Sometimes, you feel fat and fantastic, sometimes you are penalised or made to feel guilty for the body you exist in. Fat Blokes is a response to all of that.”

Scottee is very clear that the show is not making any statement on the health of people who are overweight but is an indictment of how people who don’t conform with a certain bodily ideal are often shamefully treated.

“Some people have the misconception that what we are saying is ‘everyone has got to be fat, and it’s amazing’.

"That is not what we are saying. What we are saying is there are all number of ways of being fat.

"What we want to ask is do you think the level of violence and ostracisation, the daily mocking, laughing, people taking photos of us, the verbal and physical abuse... do you think that is fair?”

When it comes to audience reaction, Scottee says he has seen both ends of the spectrum.

“There was one young woman who waited for me after the show who could do nothing but look at me and cry. I asked her was she okay and she said it was the first time she hadn’t held any shame around her body because it was the first time she had ever seen people who had similar bodies to her on stage moving and having some form of freedom.

“On the other hand, a guy came up to me after the show and said: ‘Great show but you know you are going to die of diabetes’. It was an interesting conversation because I told him I had just had a health screening, I’m not pre-diabetic, my heart rate is completely normal, my cholesterol is where it should be. But because that doesn’t fit the narrative, what they are told about fatness, I’m wrong.”

Scottee says the show is also a reflection of his own journey in the artistic world, one that he hopes inspires others.

“A lot of my work questions who can be an artist and who or what is allowed. The arts is quite a protectionist world. I am always trying to break those barriers down. I didn’t train to be an artist but I think I am doing an alright job at it. Perhaps I am living proof that if I can give it a go, everyone can.”

Scottee: Fat Blokes, Firkin Crane, Cork, 8pm, Friday, Feb 8. Tickets: €20. Quarter Block Party runs Feb 8-10.

quarterblockparty.com/scottee/

m/Other- Quarter Block Party

Continuing its theme of body positivity, Quarter Block Party will also play host to a performance by Canadian mother and son Gabby and Benjamin Kamino, both dancers and choreographers.

What makes the piece even more so is that the pair perform naked.

The timing of the collaboration was fortuitous for Gabby, who had just retired from her job teaching in a high school.

She offered to help her son creatively.

Having received the backing of her family, Gabby put the piece together with Benjamin, entitled m/Other.

“He called me a month later and said: ‘I might like to do a duet with you Mom, the only proviso is you have to be naked’.”

While Gabby wasn’t that perturbed by the idea, she says she did have other family members to consider.

“I have a husband and two other sons and I needed to make sure they were okay with it. If I were still teaching high school I probably would have declined because it’s weird then, but as I’m retired I didn’t feel the necessity to censor myself.”

Having received the backing of her family, Gabby put the piece together with Benjamin. It is titled m/Other.

“It would probably be my only chance to dance with my son, and the other thing was I wanted to show the dance community that just because you get older you’re not extinct. I have a real issue with our culture and what’s required of young women and older women as far as body image goes.”

While Gabby acknowledges that people may initially be uncomfortable with the nudity, the reaction has been broadly positive.

“Once the shock wears off that the dancers are naked, and the audience absorbs what they’re watching, it totally changes.”

The dance piece is performed to Gorecki’s ‘Symphony No 3’, otherwise known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. The dominant themes of the intensely moving piece, are, fittingly, motherhood and separation through war.

“I’m going to be 70 soon. I have two knee replacements, severe arthritis, so my physicality isn’t what it used to be, but this allows me to incorporate my ability in a way my body can manage.”

Gabby is hoping an Irish audience, and is hopeful that they will be open to the concept. “I hope people realise they’ve seen something unique and it’s okay to feel uncomfortable at the beginning. Art should make you feel uncomfortable until you settle into it and open your senses.”

Saturday, Feb 9, 2pm, St Peter’s, North Main St, Cork

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