Phil Sanger, the queer performer who questions gender and conformity teaches us why “coming out” is important

Phil Sanger is a queer artist who has ventured into many forms of performance. For Phil the persecution of the LGBT community in Chechnya was part of why his latest work “For Only An Hour” work came about. “When I first started reading about it I was deeply hurt, it’s a devastating reminder to read that in 2018 there are still people who want gay men dead. My heart was breaking for the victims, then I was angry, confused, then I felt helpless. I went on rallies and protests and donated money, but I felt that what I was doing as person and an artist wasn’t making any difference to life at all. Then it was a life coaching process that started to get things moving. After working with my coach, I came to the realisation that I could focus my efforts here and start doing more to support the people around me. By contributing to a strong, healthy LGBTQ+ community here in the UK I could stand in solidarity. ”

Phil Sanger in ‘For Only An Hour’. Photography by Brian Slater.jpg
credits: Brian Slater

Performed by Phil Sanger, For Only An Hour is a pseudo-glamorous, one-man romp through childhood dreams, pop culture and queer art, danced to an eclectic soundtrack of Angela Lansbury, Delia Smith and Mary Poppins. Revealing itself as a ‘coming out’ story this is a journey into what it means to live out loud.

The show then became a celebration of gay culture and it champions the ‘coming out’ story, urging people to live out loud which simultaneously is celebratory but also an act of defiance against those who want to silence us.

For Only An Hour is a manifesto about what we want to be when we grow up. It addresses the limitations placed on us in our youth in terms of gender, conformity and specialism. We are encouraged to specialise and succeed at one thing but For Only An Hour looks at what it means to be allowed to dream and succeed at multiple things.

The work also highlights the need for more visibility of LGBTQ+ art and aims to bring together audiences from both within and without LGBTQ+ communities through public engagement activities that inform and educate audiences about the world of queer art and lives. The initial drive to create For Only An Hour came from Sanger’s frustrations at feeling helpless in the face of the torturing of the LGBT community in Chechnya and around the world. Working with his own life coach, Sanger decided to use the life-coaching principles to explore the politics of the issue and to create a work that would be both defiant and celebratory.

In his career, Sanger has ventured into many forms of performance and movement research such as yoga, martial arts, vaudeville, tango and butoh and subsequently has performed works by some of the UK and Europe’s most established choreographers including Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Robert Cohan, Philip Taylor, Charlotte Vincent, Luca Silvestrini, Richard Alston, Aletta Collins, Rui Horta and Ivgi & Greben.

Between 2007 and 2016, Sanger performed with many companies including Slanjayvah Danza and Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company and he joined Phoenix Dance Theatre in 2009 until 2014. Most recently he has performed with DeNada Dance Theatre, Yorke Dance Project and Vincent Dance Theatre.

Phil Sanger in 'For Only an Hour. Photo Brian Slater.jpg
credits: Brian Slater

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

When I’m at my best I’d say that my practice is curious, rebellious, open minded, intuitive and messy. When I’m at my worst I’m messy, intuitive, open minded, intuitive, rebellious and curious.

What makes the dance theatre work “For Only An Hour” so special and what shall we expect to see?

For Only An Hour is bit of an emotional rollercoaster, it definitely keeps me on my toes as a performer and I think that translates for the audience experience too. It was important for me that the show started on a high so within the first few minutes the audience are laughing and playing along, after that it’s becomes a moving, daring, heart-wrenching, promiscuous account of a life lived to the extremes.

What is the message you want to spread with this performance?

Celebrate yourself, believe in yourself and don’t listen to them when they say you shouldn’t, or couldn’t do something.

Do you feel LGBTQ+ art is unrepresented these days?

Not unrepresented but underrepresented. Change is starting to happen, I think LGBTQ+ art is starting to get the visibility it deserves but we are still in a place where it’s sort of deemed controversial just because it’s of a queer nature. So, we have a small foothold now and it’s about keeping the momentum and refusing to be satisfied until it has equal status.

Phil Sanger in ‘For Only An Hour’. Photography by Garry Platt.jpg
credits: Garry Platt

Are the rights of LGBTQ+ people at stake nowadays?

I’ve had this discussion a lot recently, and the baseline on this for me is to do with safety. We are making some progress locally and nationally but until I feel safe to hold my boyfriend’s hand anywhere I go then there is a lot of work to do and we must start thinking globally on this. So, yes, world affairs are very precarious right now and our rights are at stake.

What was the initial drive to create this theatrical work?

This builds on the previous question because the persecution of the LGBT community in Chechnya was part of why this work came about. When I first started reading about it I was deeply hurt, it’s a devastating reminder to read that in 2018 there are still people who want gay men dead. My heart was breaking for the victims, then I was angry, confused, then I felt helpless. I went on rallies and protests and donated money, but I felt that what I was doing as person and an artist wasn’t making any difference to life at all.

Then it was a life coaching process that started to get things moving. After working with my coach, I came to the realisation that I could focus my efforts here and start doing more to support the people around me. By contributing to a strong, healthy LGBTQ+ community here in the UK I could stand in solidarity. The show then became a celebration of gay culture and it champions the ‘coming out’ story, urging people to live out loud which simultaneously is celebratory but also an act of defiance against those who want to silence us.

What do you feel most proud of?

I’m most proud of my family and friends who are raising their children to be compassionate, open-minded, courageous individuals where things like gender and sexuality are not even a consideration.

Phil Sanger.jpg

What are your future plans?

Well, this show seems to have a life, and a will, of its own now. There are already about 30 performances booked for next year with lots of workshops and research activity attached to that, so I’m just letting that flow and doing what the work asks of me. It’s hard to predict and I also have teaching commitments at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, where I expect I’ll be for some years, so the next twelve months at least are very exciting.

Beyond that I’m also looking forward to some collaborations with the other Sardoville artists. They have had some time out to start families but conversations are now happening around what future projects might look like.

 

 

LISTINGS INFORMATION – Sardoville presents ‘For Only An Hour’ in 2018

Friday 16 & Saturday 17 November at 8:00 pm (LONDON PRESS NIGHT Fri 16 Nov, plus post-show talk 16 & 17 Nov)
Blue Elephant Theatre, LONDON
Tickets: £12.00 / £10.00 (Concessions) / £7.50 (Southwark residents)
Online booking (incurs 10% booking fee) Ticketweb
http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/only-hour
To avoid the online booking fee please ring the box office on 020 7701 0100

Saturday 24 November at 7.30pm (plus post-show talk)
Trinity Community Arts, BRISTOL, presented as part of IGNiTE
Tickets: £11 Standard / £9 Concession
http://www.3ca.org.uk/activities/ignite/whats-on/ignite-shows/For-Only-An-Hour or 0117 935 1200

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