Seen most recently last fall hosting Critical Mascara for PICA’s TBA festival, Kaj-anne Pepper, also known as Pepper Pepper, will be “stage diving right into our hearts with a daring spectacle of dance, glitter and drag” as Pepper says, Friday and Saturday nights at Zoomtopia. Pepper will be accompanied by drag artist Mr. E, and the two will be performing to a perfectly “fabulous” original score by Cabiria Jones.
Pepper is a Portland choreographer, drag artists and MC who mixes dance and drag to address difficult subjects. D.I.V.A. Practice, as Pepper calls his approach, means exploring what it means to be fabulous in the face of uncertainty while questioning the significance of drag and gender in contemporary culture.
I caught up with Pepper via email and asked him/her a few questions.
Who is Kaj-anne Pepper and who is Pepper Pepper? When did you begin doing drag? What drew you to it? What is a drag queen?
Kaj-anne Pepper is my chosen name, my artist name and the name I sign on any painting, drawing or script I make. Pepper Pepper is my stage name, the drag diva, the queen, the feminine priestess. I’ve been crossdressing (whatever that means) since I was very young. I started performing on stage in drag with the now-defunct, gender-bending monster troupe SISSYBOY. Parallel to my nightlife activities I’ve danced with local luminaries like Linda Austin, Tahni Holt and Mizu Desierto’s Butoh Theatre. In the last four years I have produced shows locally, toured regionally and nationally, and even did a tour in Europe, performing at the Budapest OFF! Biennale. Drag to me is a powerful way to engage in a political history of nonconformity a visual, strategic and dramatic reminder of play and identity.
Ultimately, by creating a show that synthesizes my passions for dance and movement and drag arts I’m looking for a way to sustain being fabulous. I want to be more of a full time artist, maker, educator and entertainer. I want to see this vein of critically informed performance art and drag on a national and international level. I want to be part of that magic
What is the diva practice? What inspired the practice and how did you develop it?
D.I.V.A PRACTICE is a research and performance project in three cycles—Ensemble, Duet and Solo. I am premiering the DUET of D.I.V.A PRACTICE this coming weekend and the final weekend of this month. I’m honored to get to work with local drag chameleon and duet partner Mr. E and my long time sound/music collaborator Cabiria Jones.
This iteration of D.I.V.A is a performance about two drag queens dancing in the face of uncertainty. Because being fabulous, takes practice. It is a juggernaut of drag and dance exploring embodiment, identity and physicality.
What is a diva? Is this a self affirming practice? How do you feel now that you have practiced it?
D.I.V.A is an acronym for… (come find out) while practice acknowledges failure and interruption as critical aspects of an artistic process. Practice supports growth and creates space for challenges to be met with less emphasis on pass/fail dynamics and lets me frame my work on a continuum. An important element of D.I.V.A PRACTICE is the quest to know one’s worth, to dance between autonomy and a crippling co-dependency with the audience. There are many techniques, concepts and codes built into embodying the practice of drag and dance. I’ve used the traditions and pedagogy of these arts, embraced them and replaced them and turned them on their head.
This show feels like a juggernaut of drag inspired by queer utopian idealism and strong powerful feminine movers and singers. For me it feels empowering to stand in my questions about drag, feminism, power and gender. The piece is entertaining and incisive with a fair bit of camp emotionality and cerebral moodiness.
Do you need to be fabulous?
My answer is I AM fabulous! But the process of BEING versus FEELING takes practice.
A night of dance and contemporary drag by Pepper Pepper
April 15-May 1
N.E.W. Expressive Works/Studio 2-Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St. #2