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Theater & Dance

When ‘Queer’ is Not Enough


The Queer New York International Arts Festival troubles convention one performance at a time.

Love it or hate it, the term "queer" has become a virtual catch-all for all things not cisgendered or heterosexual. Though it would seem to be a term of limitless elasticity, some would argue that even one of the least defined descriptors in contemporary parlance is riddled barriers needing to be broken. Zvonimir Dobrovic is one such man.

The founder of what is now Queer Zagreb Sezonom (Queer Zagreb Season) and the Queer New York International Arts Festival, Dobrovic is always questioning the status quo of queerness.

"The point of the festival in Zagreb was to think about queer from a different perspective," explains Dobrovic, who is the artistic director of both festivals. "Beyond sexuality and gender to talk about queer as anything outside of the norm."

Dobrovic started the festival in the Croatian capital over a decade ago and it has since blossomed into a season-long event showcasing everything from performance to film, to visual art to books. "It's the biggest initiative of queer arts in Europe. We have over 100 events throughout the year so every week we have something happening." It was only a few years ago that he wanted to start up a festival stateside.

"After doing the festival in Zagreb for so many years I found out that there wasn't an international queer festival in New York," explains Dobrovic. "I thought it would be good to do it here so to challenge the traditional idea of queer that may be present in New York and to try to open it up a little bit more. I thought that somehow queer had lost its artistic relevance because it became very uniform. We'd like to break those paradigms about queerness."

QNYIAF has been rather successful in terms of blurring the lines between queer and not. This year's line-up features everything from Confusions, a performance piece based Robert Musil's homoerotic 1906 Bildungsroman, to Denuded, a dance piece "about the body, movement and stillness, breathing and, most importantly, constant contact with the audience," to the Earl Dax's Queer Climate Chautauqua--a workshop designed to mobilize people to take part in September 21's People's Climate March in New York City and help construct Queer Planet, a temporary art instillation. Dax is the recipient of a grant named for Dobrovic's late husband, Andre Von Ah.

Dobrovic is quite pleased with how QNYIAF has turned out. "A lot of artists didn't want to be labeled as queer, because they thought it would pigeonhole them or that curators would not take them seriously. I wanted to break this idea that queer art is not artistically interesting and that it's just this kind of representational art. Now after doing the queer festivals in New York, curators come to the festival and they follow what we do."

Dobrovic has big plans for QNYIAF. "We'd like to focus on the local artistic scene, local artists, and local productions. We'd like to connect international artists and local artists to create new work."

Though it may only be in its third year, the Queer New York International Arts Festival has already challenged longstanding notions of queerness with its cadre of international artists and performers. Experimental, exciting, and a launch pad for new talent, QNYIAF may be on its way to becoming a New York institution.

The Queer New York International Arts Festival runs through September 27.

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Alex Panisch