Joseph Mercier is a theatre director, choreographer and performer who is fast becoming known for his erotic, provocative dance. His latest work Of Saints and Go-Go Boys explores party culture through a queer lens. Brave, innovative and interrogative of the explicit, he is building a reputation with fearless and shocking work
Of Saints and Go-Go Boys is said to “explore the world of misfits and sinners”. Where did this fascination come from?
It has something to do with not necessarily my own sexual questioning, but witnessing that of others. As an extension of that, the idea of critical questioning is important to me. I’m always rubbing up against a limit, seeing how flexible it is; hanging out at a challenging place, purposefully shocking and provoking. The state of shock can be interesting: in this show it’s playful.
What can we expect from this production?
Viewers will be invited into a hyper-theatrical flat with three characters and guided through by a narrative. It’s instructive and interactive with a light touch. There’s too much to see and hear, but it’s intimate, with only thirty at each performance. It’s the kind of show in which you can decide your own experience.
You’ve been described as a “choreographic provocateur” – is that an accurate description?
It’s quite delightful! I do try to create provocative art – it’s my reason for making work. In the wider sense of the word, it’s engagement with critical thought in all sorts of ways, not just sexually. I love it – it’s a compliment.
Do you think there are any similarities between the Parisian underworld of the 1940s and queer culture in Britain today?
A sense of hedonism definitely unites them. But now we’re living in a time where our lives are entirely monitored. In a funny way it’s like Foucauldian reverse discourse: now we’ve named everything there’s less room for fluidity. The queer family has been absorbed by heterocentric models. I’m curious about what happens to concepts of the queer family that Jean Genet describes in Our Lady of the Flowers. Our subculture has got smaller, and in this performance we contemplate that space – it’s a fantasy of that space, anachronistic and contemporary at once.
What do you think is the enduring appeal of the erotic, outrageous and explicit?
The erotic has a different appeal to purely that of pornography. We’re not honest as a culture about our bodies and how they relate to each other. Eroticism is important socially, and the body is overlooked. Explicitness is inherently of the body, and Of Saints and Go-Go Boys faces the viewer with the body laid bare. I think nudity is beautiful in all spectrums of the word.
What do you want viewers to take away from this experience?
I’d love for someone to come and start to think about the beautiful in the abject or profane. In Liverpool an audience member avoided the show in horror, but came again the next night – and had the same reaction. She later told us she was repulsed and intrigued, delighted and challenged, which was wonderful. In this back and forth, in and out production there’s a contradiction of emotion, and that’s just it.
Of Saints and Go-Go Boys is at Toynbee Studios, 28 Commercial Street, E1 6AB from 17 – 19 July.