Interdisciplinary Explorations into Queer Identity. Interview with Performer, Director & Writer, Phoenix Chase-Meares.

It was a sunnier time in Berlin and we were sat around thinking of who to talk to next for our Stories series. Our colleague Yerko then told us about Phoenix Chase-Meares and their meaningful work in dance, performance, theatre, film, queer education and more. We were curious to meet this intriguing character of many talents and so after reaching out, Phoenix kindly obliged to host us on a Spree-side rooftop in Kreuzberg.

A young film director, a seasoned dancer and performer, an actor, a choreographer, an author, a passionate promoter of knowledge and understanding. It was a joy to learn a bit of Phoenix’s story and the many layers that make up their artistic and intellectually focused existence.

How does dance differ from other art forms? I posed, as an opening question.

“Dance is the most universal language. It’s so cross-cultural and so integral to human nature and joy. Maybe you’re not a trained ballet dancer, but everyone has their own movement… And I love languages, but although I don’t speak a full second language yet, I can go into a club or a bar in a different country and I can dance with someone and have communication without words. I think that’s what separates dance from other arts.”

Our conversation then flowed to Phoenix’s early life.

“We were super poor growing up. We moved around a lot. My Mom is a really inspirational human being though who’s had a super tough life. She studied literature and so got me into reading very young. I was very, very queer as a child and so I didn’t really have any friends growing up, so she got me into theatre and I became a child actor. I did that until I was 11 but I quit because I wanted to be a human rights lawyer — and so I started studying the legal system when I was 11.”

I was curious to learn how this unconventional sequence of events would then lead to dance.

“I was born disabled. My right leg was fully twisted inwards and I had 16 surgeries from ages zero to eight. Originally they told my Mum that me and my twin brother would never be able to walk or run properly, but my Mum was like No — and so she rehabilitated us. When I was 14 though I got injured and my doctor said I had to keep doing something physical — but not high contact. So I decided to take dance. I was the first male-bodied person at my school to do it… Still, I didn’t think that with my disability I’d be able to be a professional dancer and so I was just doing it for fun… But then I’m a very competitive person, so when all of my dancer friends were auditioning for dance schools, I was like, Well, I’m just gonna see. And then I got into dance school so I was like, Fuck law, I’ll be a dancer.

Phoenix then enlightened me on the new direction their life’s been taking over recent years, outside of pure dance and performance.

“I’m moving into being a film director. And a writer. I got published last year for the first time, as a poet, and now I’m writing my first book which is an anthology series of short stories, poems, phrases and illustrations. Then next year I’ll hopefully write the memoirs of my Mother because she’s had a crazy life.”

I wondered how Phoenix fell into the path of the film director.

“I’ve been working in film for about three years. Mostly as a choreographer or a stylist or a makeup artist. Or just as a dancer or actor. But then I started getting into producing and being an assistant director… And last week I directed my first national commercial for German television. That was a really weird, surreal thing, but it was great… It was for a political party, but they’re kind of a parody of a political party, and so instead of taking the advertising slot for themselves, they handed it over to Mission Lifeline, which is a charity that does Sea Rescue for refugees coming over the Mediterranean Sea, and they save thousands of lives a year. And so my friend Nina and I co-directed it, interviewing survivors and then making a choreography. I think it was super cool.”

I was interested in Phoenix’s journey from being in front of the lens to behind the camera, and how their background as a performer influences their approach to directing.

“It definitely gives you that element of really understanding the body. With dancers and performers we work really closely with people we don’t know a lot of the time. We have to touch them and do partner work, so you get thrown into the deep end when interacting with people. It gives you a more attuned nature for how people interact with each other. I feel like dancers are very considerate and careful when it comes to tactile modality and spatial awareness, and I think that gives a lot to film.”

Phoenix then spoke about their differing approaches between live performances and film.

“Theatre is personal in a very different way to film. You have the audience there with you, and it’s all in the moment. And I don’t like making anything on a stage. All my work is done in spaces where the audience can be really close to me or can be part of the show. I don’t like separation.”

I wondered if there were any overarching themes or influences that guided Phoenix’s expressions across the range of disciplines they explore.

“A lot of my work comes from my dance background. But I was also a child actor and I always loved writing. Dialogue, monologues, stuff like this. And so, slowly my choreographic work turned more into theatre shows just with a heavy movement base… I believe my art always has to be political, social, or economic, and always have a message or a point that’s challenging, but in a pedestrian way.”

We then talked about a particularly meaningful work of Phoenix’s.

“I made a show last year which was all about how I’d experienced sex throughout my life, as a queer person, and how I dealt with gender stereotypes. I made this performance part of a four-part series and then it toured around Germany and Poland… Two of the shows will be adapted into my first feature film which is about polyamorous relationships stemmed from queer origins, and how they’re transmuting and challenging the concepts of heteronormative monogamy. And so the film will be about this, but with a fourth-dimensional sci-fi thing to it, because I’m really interested in the concepts of time and time travel.”

We closed on a discussion about intellectual values and Phoenix expressed to me their reverence for both seeking and sharing knowledge.

“I think the biggest thing for me in life now, regardless of art, is education. Attaining as much knowledge as I can and then trying to pass it on. I really believe in being a pedagogical person, especially when it comes to trans theory, queer theory and black culture. Like, I know I’m not a black person, but that means that more so than anyone I should know about black history and oppression because my privilege allows me to not be part of that. And so we do a lot of educational stuff with The Soul Sauna — which is our black and queer non-profit organisation. For me, it’s super important to attain knowledge and pass it on in a really respectful and nice way. I don’t like talking down to people or making people like cis-gendered straight white men feel somehow separated. Because like within queerness and feminism, it’s all about equity and equality.”

Thank you to Phoenix for the enlightening conversation. You can find their links below.

Phoenix’s Instagram -- TobyLikesMILK -- The Soul Sauna

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Phoenix wears the Olya Blouse & Vinnie Dress.

Words & photography by runescape.