When Indigenous Australian artist Jacob Boehme was diagnosed with HIV in 1998, he reached out to his ancestors in search of answers. Those answers became the basis for Blood on the Dance Floor, a work which combines Aboriginal dance, theatre, and storytelling.

“By sharing my personal story, unapologetically, of being Blak, gay and poz, Blood on the Dance Floor is an opportunity to create a space for our mob to have a voice in the dialogue around HIV,” says Boehme. “Now, more than ever, we need to take our seat at that table, our silence broken and our voices heard.”

A dancer, writer, and choreographer from the Narangga and Kaurna nations of South Australia, Blood on the Floor marks Boehme’s debut as a playwright, in which he has crafted a series of theatrical vignettes in a show that includes elements of movement and dance.

From a gay elder grieving young men lost to disease and despair, to the current culture of hook-ups and casual sex, deeper personal moments between Boehme and his father underscore a legacy of racism, homophobia, and shame both personally and culturally.

Director Isaac Drandic not only felt privileged to help bring Boehme’s personal story to the stage, but also to ask some universal questions about love.

“It’s about relationships, it’s about strength and resilience, it’s about courage, and it’s about hope,” says Drandic. “It’s about our fears of ending up alone. It’s about overcoming
those fears and continuing to take risks, to be vulnerable, in the pursuit of happiness. But are we deserving of happiness? Are we deserving of love?”

Jacob Boehme in ILBIJERRI Theatre Company’s production of Blood on the Dance Floor. Photo by Dorine Blaise.
Jacob Boehme in ILBIJERRI Theatre Company’s production of Blood on the Dance Floor. Photo by Dorine Blaise.

“This work comes at a landmark moment in the history of HIV,” says Jim Smith, DanceHouse’s artistic and executive director. “With the increasing availability of preventative medication, HIV transmission rates are decreasing and life expectancy for those with the virus is increasing. However, in both Australia and Canada HIV rates in Indigenous communities are sadly on the rise.”

Smith goes onto say Blood on the Dance Floor serves to illuminate the stigma, discrimination, and silence surrounding HIV/AIDS in Indigenous communities.

“But the work also embraces our need for community, our deepest fears, our secret identities, and what blood means to each of us; questioning how this most precious fluid unites and divides us,” he says.

Blood on the Dance Floor plays the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts February 6-9. Visit dancehouse.ca for tickets and information.