A 72-year-old with cropped silver hair, tattoos and a leather vest, posing to dance music at 2 a.m. with a fur cape and a killer look. It’s not what you’d expect from a grandmother, but Emilyn Claid was never one to conform.
It’s been 23 years since Claid’s last stage appearance. She began her dancing career with the National Ballet of Canada in the late 60s. But she quickly left that behind to become part of the British New Dance movement in the 70s and 80s, a group of artists liberating the dance, and themselves, from the constraints of ballet, and moving into more avant-garde and activist territory.
Claid also has a parallel career as a gestalt psychotherapist, author and teacher. There are so many layers to a life – not something we always see on stage. In this personal exhibition, there are contrasts everywhere. Claid’s lean, muscular body is visibly strong, her back proud, but she explains that she had eye surgery earlier this year that forced her to stop and lower her head, as a parody of ‘an old person.
There are shifts between the soft-spoken conversation she engages the audience in, amusingly narrating songs from her own funeral playlist, and the cool posture, looking us straight in the eye like it’s a photoshoot: confident, stimulating, sexy. At one point, she is sprawled on huge animal fur, being primal; at another, doing a camp disco act; then plunging his foot, or his head, into a large drop of clay. Then she emerges with a microphone to be funny and honest herself.
This piece – emilyn claid, Untitled – was created with the help of choreographers Heidi Rustgaard, Florence Peake and Joseph Mercier, but we feel that it was only Claid who was able to interpret these slices of thoughts, fantasies, identities . Even the things she tells us that don’t make sense – an elaborate hairstyle, for example – turn out to be tied to threads in her story. There are themes quietly in the room: queerness, transformation, death. Perhaps they could be collected more loudly in a thesis. Or maybe it’s way too conventional because Claid keeps its experimental edge.