‘Blood Baby’ explores queer parenting with dance, theater and installation

Meg Foley’s multisite, multidisciplinary festival puts queer parenting on par with shifting tectonic plates.

Dancers rehearse a movement called ''Rock Family,'' part of Meg Foley's multifaceted presentation on queer parenting called ''Blood Baby.'' The dancers are (from left) Fox Whitney, Kristine Angelica, Zara Martina Lopez, Charli Brissey, Majesty Royale-Jackson and Meg Foley. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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When Meg Foley first got pregnant 10 years ago, so much in her life changed: her relationship with her body, her social circle and the wider world. As a queer dance artist navigating parenthood, she had questions but not a lot of answers.

“I was grappling with my own questions of, ‘What is this feeling that I’m having as a queer mom out in the world?’” she said. “I also was having my own body transition. So I was trying to figure all that stuff out. I knew I was going to try and do that through dance, because that’s how I think.”

Foley, who has been a fixture in Philadelphia’s experimental dance scene for years, developed “Blood Baby,” an ambitious series of dance, installation and interactive works spread across several locations in Philadelphia throughout the month of June.

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Meg Foley and other dancers perform a dance called ''Carpet Womb'
Meg Foley (front) created ''Blood Baby,''a multisite, multidisciplinary series of events focused on queer parenting. She is rehearsing a dance called ''Carpet Womb.'' (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The centerpiece is a dance piece, “Carpet Womb,” running Thursday through Sunday in the Tree Lab, a wooded vacant lot across from the Imperfect Gallery in Germantown. In some sections the six dancers, including Foley, wrap themselves in large pieces of carpeting. In other moments they don outlandishly colorful costumes and move through a series of intertwined poses that bring to mind geological formations.

“Carpet Womb” brings together three strands of thought: how relationships form in the fluidity of queer dance clubs, how pregnancy gives shape to new life and how the geological forces of Earth create and destroy entire worlds.

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Dancers rehearse a movement called ''Rock Family''
Dancers rehearse a movement called ''Rock Family,'' a dance that is part of Meg Foley's multifaceted presentation on queer parenting called ''Blood Baby.'' Performers include (from left) Fox Whitney, Kristine Angelica, Zara Martina Lopez, Charli Brissey, Meg Foley, Majesty Royale-Jackson, and deejay Elisandra Rosario (right). (Emma Lee/WHYY)

In “Blood Baby,” mom is a rock. But considering Earth’s long timeline, rocks are fluid.

“It’s a story of the Earth being made and unmade at the same time,” Foley said. “Geology is on a timeline of growth and decomposition, just like we are. It just takes a lot longer.”

The other elements of “Blood Baby,” presented by the Painted Bride, approach the same theme through different means. “Primordial” is an immersive film installation with footage Foley and her parenting partner, visual artist Carmichael Jones, shot at various geologically unique places, like the coast of southeastern Maine, mountains outside Denver, Colorado, the desert of Death Valley and Michigan’s exposed layer of North American Craton rock. It is installed at the Painted Bride in West Philadelphia.

“It’s me doing drag as a boulder,” Foley laughed. “But also pregnant, and my kid is in the video. There are all these ways it ties into thinking about our family in the timeline of Earth.”

From the film installation
From the film installation "Primordial" (Courtesy of Meg Foley)

“Communion” is a text-based theatrical performance written by Sylvan Oswald. “Touch Library,” designed by Lucia Alber, is a tactile experience wherein participants can explore the props used in the “Carpet Womb” dance with their hands. Both “Communion” and “Touch Library” are at Headlong Studio on South Broad Street.

Foley may think through dance, but she realizes not everyone else does.

“I want people to feel like they can access the work based on the way that they feel the most available,” she said.

Behind the scenes there is a fifth element of “Blood Baby.” For years Foley has been hosting informal community discussions about queer parenting. It started during the pandemic as occasional Zoom calls, but these are now held in person.

Called “Convenings,” they offer people a chance to talk openly about what they are thinking, feeling and losing sleep over as they navigate parenting through the lens of their gender identification and sexuality.

Foley first created Convenings to discover and build a community of queer parents. “Blood Baby” followed, formed out of the discussions.

“If being queer is intrinsic to your experience of parenting, how does that actually show up?” she said. “How are you teaching your kids about queerness or sexuality? Is your family out? What’s your relationship with your immediate community? How do you frame your kids’ experience for them? How does your experience of religion and your own cultural background influence your family building?”

Dancers prepare to rehearse for ''Carpet Womb,'' a dance performance
Dancers prepare to rehearse for ''Carpet Womb,'' a dance performance that is part of Meg Foley's multifaceted presentation on queer parenting called ''Blood Baby.'' (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Convenings are ongoing. And, like the roiling Earth’s crust, always evolving.

“I don’t think there are very many opportunities that are geared towards queer, and especially trans, parents,” Foley said. “More now. Definitely more than when I was first pregnant. But still not quite enough.”

The elements of “Blood Baby” are available at various days and times throughout June. A schedule of events is here.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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