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  • Writer's pictureSanjay Saverimuttu

Making "The Blood Project"

The Blood Project debuts in Louisville Ballet's #CHORSHOW from Jan 25-29.

Dancers Natalia Ashikhmina and Mark Krieger rehearsing "The Blood Project". Photo by Kateryna Sellers

We all have it. It runs through our veins, keeps us alive, and bonds us as living creatures on Earth. And yet for all that it does to connect us, blood can just as easily other us. I’ve never been able to donate blood as an adult gay man. Homophobic and antiquated laws from the FDA prevent blood donation from MSM, the assumption that we are all HIV positive. When the Pulse shooting in Orlando happened in 2016, I remember how there was a desperate need for blood donations, and as much as gay men wanted to step up to help their community, they couldn’t this time. This has always been how I defined my relationship with blood, it’s something to be tested constantly and never good enough to give to someone else. I started thinking about the other relationships people could have with blood, whether it be literal or symbolic. That’s where the seeds of The Blood Project were born. It is an ongoing series of duets and trios that are meant to expound on these relationships, and find connection around an idea that often is used to separate us.

This particular iteration of the work offered an opportunity to not just have these as separate and distinct duets/trios, but also connect them all to one another. This is my third collaboration with playwright, Allie Fireel, who this time has brilliantly created seven different characters (one non-binary character represented by two dancers) and found ways to have all these stories and relationships interweave with one another. These stories really came alive when we met with the young adults at Louisville Youth Group, an organization that supports LGBTQ Youth. Upon first glances, it felt right that half the kids were cuddling large stuffed animal sharks (apparently this IKEA shark is a trans meme icon), creatures that are very sensitive to blood in the water. Many of their ideas helped inform the relationships explored in the work, and further invigorated the relevancy of The Blood Project and the ways it can increase LGBTQ representation in dance.

At the center of this work is a non-binary character trying to navigate the world they are living in. This person has to navigate a myriad of issues; dealing with physical violence, deciding how to express themselves, and navigating their own body along with the body dysmorphia associated with that process. When you want to live one way but your body has other plans for the trajectory of your life, or more accurately, society has plans for how your life should be lived based on the body you’re born with. If your body looks like this, then you need to live like this. But that’s not feasible. This scrutiny isn’t just subjected to gender identity but also body size, race, ability, etc. When your body is causing you pain, how are you supposed to act like nothing is wrong? When you are born of one culture, but raised in another, how are you supposed to adequately represent both? When religion creates a moral standard that denies or harms your identity, how do you continue to worship? These all can tie back to blood; blood in the body, blood ties, and blood iconography.

Dancer Brienne Wiltsie rehearsing "The Blood Project". Photo by Sam English

Through all of these relationships, it is hard to ignore love and the way we tackle hard issues over the course of a romance. In “early love”, when you try to build and support one another using experiences you’ve gained from a life that predates them. In “middle love”, when individual struggles become a joint issue for two people to overcome. Finally in “later love”, when one must deal with the mortality of the couple and what does your identity become without the other person. Love isn’t subjected to just romance; there is of course family love, whether it is for a sibling, parent, offspring, etc. Those relationships open up the dynamic of love across generations and what that support/community is needed to serve different needs and communication styles. Finally, there is self-love, sometimes the hardest to work through but the most important for our mental and physical survival.

Choreographer Sanjay Saverimuttu rehearsing "The Blood Project". Photo by Sam English

There are still many angles to explore in The Blood Project. My hope is for this work to continue living on in various iterations with more depths and connections to bring to dance. This version is a love letter to all of my previous works I’ve created for Louisville Ballet, building on the storytelling, movement vocabulary, and representation I’ve achieved over the past decade. You can see this iteration of The Blood Project in Louisville Ballet’s #CHORSHOW which runs from Jan 25-29.

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