SNEAK PREVIEW: ‘Chiron in Leo’: Reflections with J. Bouey
Listen to a sneak peek audio clip from choreographer and performer J. Bouey’s creative process for the world premiere of Chiron in Leo on May 28-29.
The full transcript of this audio clip is available below:
Yo, what up? This is J. Bouey here and we’re talking about Chiron in Leo. All right, let me take you down a trip on memory lane. I have been working on Chiron in Leo since the fall. No, literally the last days of 2017.
I was in the studio with Du’Bois A’Keen and Yeman Brown, two collaborators that turned out to be friends later on. We were at Gibney rehearsing on the last days of 2017. I think our last rehearsal was December 31 and we were collaborating under this question that I had around Black masculinity. I just finished working on The Space Between Words, which is a collaborative performance piece with Wendell Grey II and I, where we explored intimacy between Black men. At that time, I was identifying as a Black man, so it felt appropriate and I was dealing with a lot of mental health challenges: suicide ideation, anxiety, and depression. In the process of making that work, I learned how the teachings of being a man that I followed and Wendell as well kept us from exploring or expressing physical intimacy, or intimacy in general, with other people outside of the realm of sex and aggression.
So, in the process of making that piece, we were consulting these things, tearing some things down, exploring some new possibilities with contact improvisation, and so on and so forth. After we premiered that, and got to get some distance from it—after I was granted the Movement Research Van Lier Fellowship, I had an opportunity to think about what else was on my mind. And the what else that was on my mind was: where did I experience intimacy with other Black men where it wasn’t only in the realm of sex or aggression? And with my two younger twin brothers, Najee and Majee, who some folks might assume that we’re triplets based off of how we look, how we walk, how we talk, and the fact that we’re also dancers, Black and queer. So I wanted to make a piece about us, all three of us, actually and this is where Yeman and Du’Bois came in.
My brothers weren’t living in New York—aren’t living in New York at this time either. So I would love to collaborate with my brothers, but at least I can start to work on an idea of what intimacy between us looked like. Brothers. Black, queer brothers. So this is where Yeman and Du’Bois came in. We were rehearsing under that question as well.
What started to really emerge—and this is where Chiron, honestly, was birthed—what started to emerge was that a lot of the intimacy that my brothers and I experienced was in the experience of trauma; in our experience of being homeless or poverty-stricken; in the experience of our parents arguing; in the experience of, again, just literally like in a world of trauma and the roles that we played for one another became really important.
So to create that work with Du’Bois and Yeman meant that I had to really take an outside look at who I was in that scenario. As an older, and actually oldest in that scenario, the oldest sibling trying to make sense of the world, which was very dangerous and scary as a child, but also protect two younger people that I loved more than anybody in the world. When Du’Bois and Yeman no longer could continue with the process after just three days of rehearsal. Some of the best three days of rehearsal I’ve ever experienced because we immediately felt like Destiny’s Child on day one. I hadn’t ever rehearsed with them or worked with them or really seen their work before. It was more just like we are in a community together. I know your people. Your people know my people. We’re basically cousins. Let’s get in the studio.
After they were no longer able to continue on with the process, I was left with myself. I was reminded about the time I was actually separated from my brothers for the first time. It was when I was kicked out and when I was 14. This is the story that I share with Chiron for Chiron in Leo. Kind of like the pivotal climax moment. That is the story that I shared with Chiron so we can communicate what we need to communicate in this film together, and I honestly have to go through my own fire, my own traumas—so many other things came up that aren’t in Chiron in Leo. In general, my trauma was staring at me face to face and I felt like Chiron was there to say, ‘You need to go through this. There’s no way you can help anybody through their shit unless you go through yours first.’
Now, Chiron, as a Greek myth, is a centaur who was born from Uranus. Pretty sure it’s Uranus—the sky. Probably not. Probably Kronos. Yeah, Kronos/Saturn turns into a horse to chase down a nymph, who turned herself into a horse, to get away from him. Kronos, in horse form, essentially is chasing down a nymph to have sex with her without her consent. She’s clearly trying to get away. So, unfortunately, horse Kronos succeeds and Chiron’s mother ends up giving birth to Chiron, who comes out looking like a centaur, except Chiron’s front legs are human legs, and their hind legs, the back legs, are horse legs. So very different centaur in general. Just very different but more so in the eyes of Chiron’s mother, Chiron looks grotesque. Ugly. Doesn’t want to spend any time with Chiron. So what Chiron’s mother ends up doing is asking for the gods to essentially take Chiron from her, to not have to be burdened with such a child, and Chiron’s mother, Philyra, ends up being turned into a tree. Phi-ly-ra. Phi-lyra. I think it’s Phi-lyra. So she ends up being turned into a tree so now Chiron is without father or mother. And what ends up happening, I think, is Hermes ends up taking Chiron to Apollo.
Under Apollo’s tutelage and parental guidance, Chiron ends up becoming well adept in all things Apollo has dominion over. Now that is music, the arts, medicine, and, in some respects, tactician, tactical warfare. So the first wound that Chiron has is being abandoned by their parents. Chiron has three wounds total but, being known as the wounded healer, what Chiron does with these wounds as he tries to heal them is he ends up helping many other people. So Chiron is quite famously the major trainer like if you remember Hercules the movie like Phil the… I don’t know what the… it’s like a half-goat… I forget what they’re called… but you know he’s there. Phil… being like a ‘Phil’ to Hercules. Well, instead of Phil think of Chiron because Chiron was that same person to Hercules, to Achilles, to Adonis, to Jason also. Any Greek war hero that you can think of Chiron trained. The reason why Chiron was able to train them was because he had all of this knowledge from Apollo and had a lot of loving nurturing energy and behavior from trying to give that to themselves as a result of being abandoned by their parents.
So, in astrology, Chiron, known as the wounded healer, wherever we find Chiron we find our deepest wounds, and sometimes specifically trauma depending on how the asteroid in astrology is aspected. And in my chart, because I learned this, I learned that my Chiron is in Leo. And that’s where we birth the name for the piece Chiron in Leo. Up until this point, and I’m about, I don’t know, months in, like six months into the process, I hadn’t named the genius that is now Chiron. Well, I don’t wanna say that I’d name them. I didn’t learn the name of the genius that was guiding me as an artist. My Chiron being placed in Leo in my chart let me know that I have some moons about showing up performance-wise. Also, around children and childhood. Leo, as a sign, rules childhood, children, play, romance, performance, and sex in some ways as well. So that’s where I started to do a lot of investigation of my own traumas. What I ended up doing as a performer over the years, doing work-in-progress showings, and so on and so forth for Chiron in Leo, rehearsals, and so on—collaborating with many different people like, Peter/DJ Teardrop, was learning which parts of my traumatic story were valuable to Chiron, as a genius who I’m collaborating with in creating this process, because not all of them were. There was one scene that I had in for a few years, up until the end of 2019, that was a sexual assault scene where I remembered the time being sexual assaulted, molested as a child. Every time I would perform it, it felt really cathartic to do so, like yes it is amazing to let this out, to share this story, to engage in the conversations about Black men and Black boys being assaulted and harmed in these ways. It helps to bring some more nuance to Black masculinity and to destroy some of the patriarchal binds that do bind Black men.
And, ultimately, what I learned was that for the sake of the story, it was not in alignment. It was great for me, J. Bouey, as the artist to get through that. But looking at the story, it didn’t help. And as I listened to Chiron more clearly, Chiron was telling me there’s a clearer spine or arc to this story that we can get to once I get out of the way. And I feel like I’m wonderfully out of the way [laughs] now.
So yeah, the way that this film is going now, and how it’s going to be shared honestly, is like a modern-day Black queer adaptation of the Greek mythology that is Chiron’s mythos. I took and looked at Chiron’s stories and life and the three traumas that they’ve experienced. The other two were after becoming a god, getting God status, being shot, interestingly enough, being shot by Hercules with a poison arrow. Because Chiron was shot by another God, they were wounded but, because they also are a God, they could not fully heal from the wound. Chiron spent the rest of their days being wounded, but not being able to heal.
So again, the second time they go on this journey to learn how to heal their wounds and, all the knowledge that they acquire about trying to heal their wounds, they end up turning it sharing it to the world as this traveling healer being greatly wounded themselves, but wonderfully being able to help other people. I really loved the depth and the meaning of a character like that. I think many of us might be able to identify with that in some parts of our life, which is why I love astrology for being able to support us in this. Because I think there are many parts of our lives where we feel like we can probably never really heal from that wound. Where the wound would probably still bleed sometimes and we might need to still need to cry over it. We make peace with how that is still going to hurt for the rest of our days, like, it’s still just going to hurt. But from that place, we often can guide many people. I feel like elders have done that with me most of my life. I can hear when they tap into a pain of theirs to say, “Hey, young one. Take it from me,” and those have been some of the most valuable pieces of knowledge that I’ve ever acquired.
As I’ve been learning about Chiron and making Chiron in Leo, I’ve been really eager and excited to share some wisdoms and some perspectives from my pain that kind of makes the pain useful in my life. Going back to when Chiron was telling me if we’re going to do what we intend to do with this work, which is to share with other people the importance and the value of facing their traumas head-on, which is exactly what I knew to be valuable, then I’m gonna have to do it first. I understand why now being on the other side of this because the less I go through the fire I won’t be able to let anybody else know what they might be able to expect or the value of it.
So the last major wound for Chiron was that they ended up giving up their immortality and their god status to free Prometheus. Prometheus was the Titan that stole fire from the Olympic gods and he gave it to man. So in many ways, Prometheus is kind of like the Greek Titan/God that took man out of the dark ages—very important character here. For Prometheus’s crimes, Prometheus was subject to—I kind of want to say subject to but I guess I’ll say imprisoned, shackled, I believe, to a rock and they were meant to have their liver devoured and eaten by a crow every day for the rest of eternity.
So Prometheus is a God that doesn’t die. Liver grows back and is subject to this terrible fate endlessly and Chiron understanding this and learning about this decides to take Prometheus’s place to free Prometheus from this torment. And that’s Chiron’s last major wound. All of these things from someone who has been so abandoned, neglected, traumatized in their life gives and gives and gives and heals and heals and heals and liberates and frees in many ways. When I thought about Chiron, not as a specific Greek mythology, but Chiron as an energy, as an idea, as an intention, as a guide, but more specifically, as a Black person, as a Black queer person.
I saw a lot of parallels in my life and in the lives of other Black queer people that I grew up with and the Black queer people that I’m around regularly now, which is within our community of Black people, our community of artists, our families’ community. We are often wounded so deeply [chuckles], so deeply by these systems of oppression and yet we return back with our wounds to try to heal those same communities that harmed and wounded us.
I think part of that reason why, and this is my assumption, is because we understand that it’s not often their fault similar to how Hercules shot Chiron. Hercules wasn’t trying to shoot Chiron. Chiron just kind of got hit in the line of fire, some friendly fire. The mother wasn’t trying to abandon their child. They just suffered a very terrible trauma and didn’t have the capacity to be with their child the way that one might assume a mother would.
Ultimately, there’s a sense of self-sacrificing that I experienced us going into which is to go back, to have found freedom, to have found like Godly status, and then go back to essentially free someone else but resume—I won’t say resume but I guess to go into a pain of our own. Somehow, I’m assuming and this is something I’ll be spending some more time with Chiron after this film has premiered and I get to watch it and have more conversations with Chiron.
I’m really interested in why they did; what value they might have found in going back to mortality to free someone else. I can understand my intentions of doing it. You know I understand me but really interested in why Chiron did that. The impetus behind it. What wisdoms. I’m assuming that it’s because they had experienced so much trauma at this point, they were like, you know, it’s nothing [laughs]. Maybe it’s not nothing but like, maybe they’re resilient to it now, or they trust that they will find another wisdom that will be able to help them. Maybe this isn’t the end for them. It’s another beginning. Maybe death for Chiron is another beginning.
We have to remember that Hades exists in Greek mythology and the underworld is a really—you know, I’ve been studying Greek mythology since I was like a little baby nerd. The underworld is not nearly as bad as most people assume it to be because it’s not like the Christian hell, fire and brimstone. Hades is a pretty cool dude. Hades is one of the few Greek gods that hadn’t raped somebody and I think that’s the major important thing that I’m saying like he’s a pretty cool dude. He hasn’t raped anyone. He’s been with one wife. Hasn’t cheated on her and he’s actually really like—what’s the opposite of infidelity? Fidelis. Fide-. Fi-. Whatever. That word. Faithful! So a lot of people who end up getting down into the underworld tend to have a pretty nice time unless otherwise disrespecting the marriage between Persephone and Hades.
All that’s to say, this is where I’m currently at with Chiron and I’m really happy to have shared my relationship with Chiron with you in this form. I really look forward to hearing and knowing how this film sits with you impacts you what questions it brings up. I would just love to be in dialogue with you. Please enjoy Chiron in Leo as much as you can. Share it and be with your traumas. Be with them. I think they have something to teach us.
Photos of J. Bouey by Phil Mahabeer and J. Bouey