In part of Donald Shorter’s 2019 production, Genderosity: It’s Messy, Shorter walks across a stage barefooted, on tiptoes, taking elegant strides reminiscent of a woman taking purposeful steps in high heels. Then, Shorter, whose preferred pronouns include he/she/they, explodes forward, arms out and flying back in a burst of power, the feminine shapes turning masculine and back again. As their movements flow, the lines between feminine and masculine blur, causing viewers to consider their own perceptions of gender.
“When we look at gender as a physical form of expression, my work exposes how easy it is to throw the whole gender binary out—but how complex that is, too.”
“Genderosity was the first time I was able to take my words, my voice, and my body and present them in a way that was real and authentic to me,” says Shorter, assistant professor of theatre arts and dance. “It was a launching point for me to say, ‘You know what? I do have a voice in theater.’ It was very cathartic.”
Since creating Genderosity, this interplay of gender expression and identity has been a consistent theme of Shorter’s work, which includes drag, song, dance, choreography, storytelling, and improvisation. Their goal, ultimately, is to draw inspiration from their life experience to bring awareness to social injustices.
“When we look at gender as a physical form of expression, my work exposes how easy it is to throw the whole gender binary out—but how complex that is, too,” they say.
Shorter—a former principal dancer with the famed Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company—has restaged works at universities across the United States and toured in national productions of Broadway shows such as La Cage Aux Folles, A Chorus Line, and Hairspray. Recently, they began exploring filmmaking, first with A Guide to Breathing Underwater, a dance film airing on the Criterion channel, and The Power of We, a documentary film that asks what it means to be visibly LGBTQIA+ in a suburban or rural area.
“This work has become a community,” Shorter says. “It started a community that continues to give me passion and a purpose to continue exploring these narratives in dance and theater.”