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THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST ASKS: The 2023 EstroGenius Festival's Creators and Artists

THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST ASKS: The 2023 EstroGenius Festival's Creators and Artists
Catherine Tharin

By Catherine Tharin
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Published on March 17, 2023
Pele Bausch's "A.K.A. Ka Inoa"; photo by Steven Pisano

Presented by FRIGID New York and Manhattan Theatre Source and Running from March 15 Until April 2

The EstroGenius Festival, founded in 2000 by Fiona Jones and Manhattan Theatre Source, is a script and body-based festival that encourages bold reflection. Originally presenting theater works by women and men playwrights — women had few opportunities; men were asked to give voice to women characters — this thought-provoking festival has grown to include femme, trans, and non-binary identifying artists.

2023 EstroGenius BAN(NED) TOGETHER runs from March 15 until April 2, 2023, and takes place at the NYC venues Arts On Site (12 St. Marks Place), The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street), UNDER St. Marks (94 St Marks Place), and the 721 Decatur Street Community Garden in Bushwick (721 Decatur Street, Brooklyn).

A white woman on a beach facing away from the ocean, crouches in a black sleeveless shirt and skirt wearing a string of black beads wearing a salmon colored scooped neck shirt below. A sign on a wooden 2X4 to her right reads,
Melissa Riker, Artistic Director of the EstroGenius Festival; photo by John Robinson

Curated by Melissa Riker, maura nguyễn donohue, and John Robinson, plus a panel of Manhattan Theatre Source writers, and the team at FRIGID New York, (who jointly curated Solo Voce), the festival supports “the voices who need to be heard” (Riker).

Dance-makers, playwrights, experimental performers, teens, musicians, burlesque performers, noise artists, filmmakers, and dj’s, this long-running festival encourages barrier-breaking while embracing inclusivity. Says Riker, Artistic Director of EstroGenius, “The Mission of the EstroGenius Festival is to offer a platform to as many as we can. (We want to) shake up the world! Our requirement is that everyone is celebrated.”

A close up of a Black woman's facing, wearing animal-print-like glasses holding with bright green lacquered fingers an overripe mango against her left cheek
Joya Powell will present Mango Season; photo courtesy of the artist

Tickets are sliding scale ($20) and available for advance purchase at and Most performances will be available to livestream from home.

The Dance Enthusiast's Catherine Tharin interviewed curators and select artists for this overview.

A close up of the face of a woman of color looking over her shoulder to the right Newspaper streamers are in her hair and silver claws criss cross her forehead. Black painted swirls emanate down her left check from the outside corner of her left eye, while a swirl snakes down her nose from the inside corner of her left eye. Her lips are painted an irridescent green. She wears a ripped yellow garment around her neck
maura nguyễn donohue in Gorgon Lover; photo courtesy of the artist

maura nguyễn donohue, co-curator/co-producer, EstroGenius Festival

Beyond programming women, trans, femme, non-binary (a mission of EstroGenius toward inclusivity), in the social justice realm, what do you look for?

maura nguyễn donohue: I try to bring an expansiveness to thinking around who gets to be on stage. It's about wanting a gathering of folx to feel like a reflection of the worlds I live in too. So, I don't work towards inclusivity, as I don't think it is about me including others, even if that is truly what a curator does, we select and invite in. But I try to orient it around gathering those folx who might reflect a variety of streams that I swim through which includes women, trans, femme, non-binary folx who are primarily (but not exclusively) those of color and might be just starting or around for decades (like me).

What excites you about the dance artists you programmed?

I’m excited that they're excited to join this gathering. Truly. It's a particular vibe and not everyone is open to that.

What aspects of the dance artists’ work that you programmed dovetail with your own performed dance work?

Many of the folx carry forward a deep connection to their root systems and to examining ways to use performance as a vehicle sharing what it means to live in our odd, fragile, powerful, and multi-faceted selves. 

John Robinson, Curator, EstroGenius Festival

As a male voice, what perspective do you bring to this femme festival that compliments or acts as an antagonist to the mission of the festival?

John Robinson: What I am interested in as a curator is a performance or a performer who is an innovator in some way — that stretches the boundaries of the art form in a way I, or the audience haven’t seen or will be challenged by  — at least a bit if not a lot (!) and makes us question things, or see things in a different or new way — sometimes even to the point of feeling uncomfortable.

That is an important aspect of art: to have us feel, see, and experience in ways that make us think or see in a way we might not otherwise see or think about.  I also look to engage as many communities in this festival as possible: in gender of course, but also in genre, identity, community, even geographically.  The more voices we hear, see, experience, I believe, the more open we become.

I see 200+ performances a year, all over the country. And one of the things I specifically bring to this festival are some of the folks who are doing ground-breaking work outside of the NY area.


Questions posed to artists by The Dance Enthusiast included:  In which ways does your artistry support the mission of the festival?  What are you exploring in the work you are performing? What has remained a constant in your work? In which ways does the short form change or influence your work?

Excerpts follow:

Solo Voce: I Need A Hero
By Kayla Engeman
Thu March 23 at 9pm & Sat March 25 at 7:30pm @ UNDER St. Marks (or via streaming)

Kayla Engeman: Womxn are notoriously mislabeled as overdramatic, and I aim to subvert that being extremely overdramatic. As an artist I want to exploit the ways society makes womxn grin and bear all the burdens placed on us.

The last couple of years we've been globally traumatized by going through this pandemic, and yet we are expected to carry on...carry on with our jobs, our aspirations, our traditions and holidays, seemingly as if the pandemic never happened.

"Business as usual," is what they say in my office. I am constantly ruminating on how this cultural lack of acknowledgement is so gaslight-y, and that turned into a show about all of my experiences that have felt that way. Such as going through a financial recession and still having to go to bridal showers and bachelorette trips, or not sleeping from having disturbing nightmares and still having to go to work the next morning, and mostly losing someone you love and being expected to "move on" because "that's what she would have wanted." My work has taught me I don't have to be "fine."

A woman of color dressed in black with a serene look on her face turns to a constellation of small white lights
Marina Celander in The Tale of An-Noor; photo by Linda Van Egmond

The Tale Of An-Noor
Written and performed by Marina Celander
Sun March 19 & 26 at 11am @ The Kraine Theater
Intended for young audiences

Marina Celander: I was interested in talking to younger audiences about borders and belonging, and I showed it first as a 5 min snippet in LaMama Playdate in the summer of 2019. It evolved into this little children's show. By using the concepts of Night and Day/Dark and Light in my story I am hoping to challenge the preconceived notions with those words, so that in my story both Light and Dark can be both scary and beautiful. I am interested in how the natural elements, that are seen as characters and friends in the story, can help calm anxious children? I am hoping that while the young audiences are inside the theatre, they feel safe and calm, while still knowing that they have the strength to deal with the world out there...

A male performer, chest bare, wearing long pants is compressed with his partner, her body behind his. Both are wearing bright pink long pants. They are leaning to their right grasping a rope. The color of the photo is purplish.
c/s movement projects will present Develop(ing) Together: BEAR; photo by Peter Raper

Develop(ing) Together: BEAR
Created by c/s movement projects
Sun March 19 at 2pm @ The Kraine Theater (or via streaming)

c/s movement projects: As a female identifying choreographer (Claudia-Lynn Rightmire) creating in collaboration with her life-partner (Simon Thomas-Train) she sees her work as a small act of daily defiance of gender norms and stereotypes. Claudia (lives to build and step) into roles of strength, ferocity, rawness and power, too-often deemed masculine.

We see what each of us has been asked to bear in their distinct identities and we ask ourselves if we can ally ourselves with this burden. In a time when we are often asked to leverage advantage against one another in a zero-sum game of societal competition, we seek to create work that explores stripping the extraneous through effort, sharing fully through exhaustion and asking for support in the places that our shared humanities align.

Effort (has remained a constant in our work) – not simply in the pursuit of creating spectacle, but also in seeing what is left after. There is something fascinating in seeing what emerges from effortful repetition, athletic abandon, and what then happens in the space of necessary recovery. We use effort to strip the extraneous, creating small artistic experiments in compassion, support, and community-building in intentionally manufactured strife.

Chinese woman wearing her hair in a bun on top of her head, looking out to the audience. Her body is folded into a cement structure shaped in a V. She wears a long-sleeved red costume. Her legs are bare. She wears above ankle sneakers.
Yvonne H. Chow of H+ | HOUSE OF CHOW will present #UnapologeticallyAsian; photo by @AK47Division

#UnapologeticallyAsian & PRN (an excerpt)
Artistic Director and Choreographer: Yvonne H. Chow of H+ | HOUSE OF CHOW
Sat April 1 at 7pm @ The Kraine Theater

Yvonne H. Chow: #UnapologeticallyAsian serves as a theatrical platform for each performer to allow their own stories and personal biographies to inform the characters they play.

We follow a character named "Ruby" as she unearths her Asian identity in the US. It explores cultural traumas both experienced and inherited, their effect on the current generation of Asians, and the paving of a bold path towards a life unapologetically lived.

What has remained constant is a commitment to the preservation, evolution, and proliferation of the art form of Hip-Hop Dance. Having been trained at H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory for 10+ years, every character I have played and every piece I have choreographed, is an honoring of the knowledge and education that has been poured into me by the Hip-Hop community. I do not take lightly my role as a guest in this culture created by Black & Latino cultural heritage in the US.

What has also remained constant in my work is an honoring of my own cultural heritage, of being a 1st generation Chinese American, queer woman. And always allowing my full identity to be represented accordingly in the work.

Latina woman facing the audience dressed in a white shroud that bear the words, CLASS, ARTIST, etc. The woman's fists are clenched and she is angrily shouting.
Anabella Lenzu in The Night You Stopped Acting; photo by Todd Carroll

Solo Voce: The Night You Stopped Acting
By Anabella Lenzu
Wed March 29 at 7pm @ UNDER St. Marks (or via streaming)

Anabella Lenzu: My work & My Mission Statement (excerpted):
Art is a political act.
Dance is discipline and revolt.
My body is my country.
I react to my environment and use the body as a receptacle and messenger of the multiple realities that we are immersed in.

My aim is to wake the creative impulse in others. Like an artisan, with each choreographic endeavor, I refine my ability to explore ideas through movement and examine how to communicate. When I choreograph, I declare my views on a particular topic. Some ideas need to shout, some whisper, and some require a clear, firm voice. As I build a choreographic repertory, I continually solidify and purify my choreographic style.

Transmitting my ideas as a choreographer is a delicate process. Precision, clarity of ideas, and effective synthesis help the dancers grasp my work and find the focus of their creative and interpretive search. Sometimes I need to be sincere and tell them “I am confused, I am lost in my own creative process! Help me find Ariadne’s golden thread and get back to safety!”

A trans woman looks up to the camera, wearing sun glasses, with a broad smile on her face. She is wearing bib overalls, a tan satchel over one shoulder and sneakers. The background is a wrought iron fence.
Portia Wells will present Inside Flesh Mountain; photo courtesy of the artist

HOME-WARMING: A short collection of works by Rachel DeForrest Repinz, Black Enough by Muriel "Murri-Lynette" Peterson & Inside Flesh Mountain by Portia Wells
Sun March 26 at 2pm @ The Kraine Theater

Portia Wells: As a trans nonbinary artist, my life and my work disrupt gendered prescriptions. My artistic practice prioritized personhood and autonomy, taking root in lived experience. Through conversation, storytelling, theory building, and movement research, dance making provides a structure to develop and build a deep connection and understanding with myself and the people I collaborate with, creating and supporting community.

Inside Flesh Mountain is an ongoing series of inquiry surrounding the physicality of transness, (im)permanence, and kinship. Part 1, performed last year, is a solo rumination on gender dysphoria and isolation. I invite the audience into the dysphoric mind and body. Part 2 is a new section performed by and created in collaboration with three artists. Tinged with grief, they flow through and wrestle with complex joy. 

A constant in my work is change. For me, dance making is puberty; it is the multiple puberties of my transness with all of the messiness and confusion that bubbles to the surface no matter how much planning. I am and my work is, as Audre Lorde conceived of the poem, that which is felt first and given name and form later.

White woman with soft brown, chin length hair, in a 3/4 profile, casting eyes downward, with hands caressing her neck, dressed in a white blouse
Petra Zanki will present PROPHECY FOR 22ND CENTURY INSTEAD OF MANIFESTO; photo by Tim Summers

Created & Performed by Petra Zanki
Sat March 18 & 25 at 1pm @ 721 Decatur Community Garden, Brooklyn (or via streaming)

Petra Zanki: I aim to co-create dance with dancers, generating choreography and dance making methods that are inspired by, and mirror back those practices, in order to create artwork that gives back: be it by concretely bettering in-situ (e.g renovating the garden, feed the community, create community space) or further inspiring community towards more ecological and sustainable possibilities (performance content and specific work methods with dancers, so both in content and form).

As artist, immigrant, and New Yorker, who lived here entirely throughout pandemics I have been passionately interested in connections between dance and ecology, social justice and environmental sustainability. Since the beginning of the pandemics, I have been engaged in food growth practices/food justice. Due to circumstances, and loneliness, the garden across my house has become the center-space for my healing and sanity and place to make new friends (that otherwise I wasn’t able to make being a NY newcomer at the beginning of pandemics).

Growing up in Croatia during the war, my main interest and mission remains the transformation of pain into landscapes of beauty for the benefit of humanity.

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