‘WoMan In The Mirror, A Dancer’s Journey’Entertainment Feature Thursday, May 17th, 2012
A wild ride through the life of Devra Gregory
Downtown’s 10th Avenue Theatre has been busy with a series of community events and productions lately. Up next is the world premiere of WoMan In The Mirror, A Dancer’s Journey, a one woman show created by local performer Devra Gregory. Directed by Jessica Bird, Gregory (DEV) as MJ will take you on a wild ride through her life as a professional dancer from ballet to burlesque to “Michael” while she seeks spiritual truth.
I caught up with DEV as she prepares for this exciting new leg of her journey. Excerpted below is a conversation that touched on Michael Jackson’s genius, impersonation versus drag and the universal power of dance.
Andrew Printer: Have you been watching Smash on NBC? I ask because it seems that behind the scenes the life of a professional dancer can be arduous. Audiences only see the magic and the glamour. Does it resonate?
DEV: I have not seen the NBC show. Honestly, I don’t watch much television, but I have lived the life of a dancer and know firsthand that it is WORK. The glamour and magic is what the audience sees, yes, and making it look easy, but what goes into creating that illusion, what the audience does not see is persistence, dedication, struggle, rejection, injuries, egos, self criticism and so much more.
What can audiences expect from WoMan In The Mirror, A Dancer’s Journey? Is it entirely dance or a monologue as well?
My one-woman show runs about one hour and 40 minutes. About 30 minutes of that is dance, including my performance of Michael Jackson. Other styles of dance included in the show are ballet, jazz, burlesque, exotic dance (PG warning) and a Sea World-style performance for kids (of all ages). I have experienced all of these styles in my life and rather than edit to make people less uncomfortable I’m showing it all (well, almost) in order to present the transformational arc of my life. I believe that by accepting all parts of ourselves rather than making some things bad or good; it just becomes part of the journey, the road to understanding ourselves and becoming whole. The rest of the show alternates between re-enactments of my life and storytelling directly to the audience. The audience can expect to be taken through an emotional ride from tragedy to light-hearted comedy, to spiritual inspiration.
Why were you drawn to Michael Jackson as a musical figure/dancer to build a performance around?
My decision to impersonate Michael began as a professional choice, and then I became a huge fan while studying his work. Through my career I landed a job as a backup dancer for a female impersonator show, and the rest as they say is “herstory.” I kept up the work as MJ not only for the challenge of copying his incredibly unique dance style, but also because of who he was as a person. There is so much more to Michael than how the media portrayed him. He was a humanitarian, nature lover, and I believe a channel for divine information; when I hear the words of “Earth Song,” “Just Another Part Of Me,” “We Are The World” or “Heal The World” I feel what he was saying was extremely timely and important for the planet.
Does your performance touch upon the tormented part of his personal story as well as his genius as an entertainer?
This show is my life’s story, not Michael’s. There are similarities between our lives that the audience may pick up on, however I’m not delving into them. I’ve had my own torments and challenges and successes which I am sharing candidly.
I keep my life separate from the character I portray, just as an actor is not the person they are in any given role. I’m sure Daniel Radcliffe has a hard time not being associated with “Harry” but it’s not who he is. Luckily, I don’t look like Michael when I’m out of make up so it’s easier to keep my own identity.
I notice your use of the term “Michael Jackson impersonator.” Is this different than doing drag? I am thinking about how men performing as icons like Judy Garland were once called female impersonators, but now it is all called drag.
There are so many different categories; impersonators, celebrity impersonators, female (or male) impersonators look-alikes and drag performers. Usually an impersonator is taking on the character of a famous person; a look-alike already looks like the famous person without changing much; a drag performer may have their own character and not impersonate a celebrity. Drag is usually considered female to male, but I lovingly say I’m “in drag” when I’m in character, although that’s not totally accurate. The term “drag” started in Shakespearian times, I believe, when men played all the roles including the women’s. The dresses were heavy and huge, so the male actors had to “drag” around their dress. A female impersonator is always a man impersonating a woman, and a male impersonator is a woman impersonating a man, like me. But I prefer to call myself a celebrity impersonator, because when I get called for a gig I’m not submitted as a female to male, just as Michael. I do let clients know I’m a woman so there are no surprises if I have to get ready on site!
Have you built performances around any other celebrated performers? Any plans to?
No, I haven’t and I don’t plan to.
Your resume spans the gamut of dance (ballet, burlesque, jazz). What is it about dance that inspires you? What haven’t you done?
I began dancing at 6 years old as a personal escape into another world away from a chaotic home life. Also, my Mom always brought me to the ballet as a child and I was enchanted. I had to become a ballerina, there was nothing else I wanted at that time. One thing led to the next and I found I could have a career in dance. The healing effects of submerging myself into dance stayed with me even after leaving home. There is something remarkable about dance in that it combines the two sides of the brain, one to learn choreography and technique, the other side being completely in the present moment, and going beyond thought, just “being” the dance. That is the difficult part because the mind wants to control everything, but in letting the creative side out, dance becomes a fully integrated experience. Usually when people say, “I can’t dance” it’s because they are only using the logical side and not allowing the creative part of themselves to flourish. They literally think themselves out of feeling their bodies, the mind won’t let go.
The other thing that inspires me about dance is taking the body to extremes; what we can do with these incredible gifts of form and flesh continues to amaze me.
You ask what I have not done. There is a lot I haven’t done; many forms of world dance, musical theater, tap – but what I choose to focus on is what I have accomplished; I try to see what is positive and not focus on lack or negatives.
Talk about the spiritual journey you have been on and how that journey intersects with dance in general and this performance in particular?
On the spiritual side I think our bodies are anchors for cosmic energy to get grounded to the planet. Since I am a spiritual person, everything I do including dance relates to my spiritual commitment. Bodies conduct energy and what the mind is thinking about when energy gets raised through dance is a form of prayer. This is the idea behind indigenous and tribal dance; there is intention in the movement, in the dancer’s thoughts; it is far more than performance, and ritual dance is a powerful way to commune with the spiritual realm, create change, or celebrate nature’s cycles. Even the belly dance began as a way for women to bring the energy of Mother Earth into form, through their bodies. It became something else over time.
In my performance I offer a variety of expressions, from the gracefulness of ballet to the playfulness in a kid’s type of dance; fun in jazz, to sexuality in the exotic dance and allowing that to be OK. It’s time for women to reclaim all parts of themselves to become empowered and whole, and for men to accept all parts of themselves also. The more we integrate the male and female parts of who we are the happier we’ll become. If male world leaders would allow their feminine natures to speak, there would be far less war in the world.
WoMan In The Mirror, A Dancer’s Journey runs at the 10th Avenue Theatre May 18-20.
For more information visit 10thavenuetheatre.com.
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