“Clock That Mug or Dusted” opens this weekend at Velocity Dance Center and stars veteran Seattle drag performer Cherdonna.
Cherdonna Shinatra is used to attention. If her drag name — a mashup of what she calls “uber drag references” Cher and Madonna, topped with a dollop of Ol’ Blue Eyes — was not enough to grab notice, her exaggerated physical appearance, with makeup and wigs gone amok, certainly is.
The “gender fluid” drag performer, whose latest one-woman show, “Clock That Mug or Dusted,” opens this weekend at Velocity Dance Center, has been performing drag in Seattle for about seven years.
That was when bio-fem expectation shaker Cherdonna, aka Jody Kuehner, began working with the “female-bodied” — the term she uses for a human in a woman’s body — drag king Lou Henry Hoover (aka Ricki Mason). Together they began asking questions about queer bodies and what it means to be a queer person.
Cherdonna Shinatra presents ‘Clock That Mug or Dusted’
7:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday, June 3-5 (June 4 sold out) and June 10-12, Velocity Founders Theater, 1621 12th Ave., Seattle; $17-$50 (206-325-8773 or velocitydancecenter.org).
“Cherdonna is an amazing outlet for me to explore my own femininity,” she says. “I consider myself queer, and not so much a lesbian, because lesbian to me says that I’m a female person who would only date a female person. I’m open to dating someone who’s more gender fluid or gender queer or trans, so the definition opens up a little bit more with queer, although my history is dating women. I’m currently in a relationship with a person who identifies as ‘they’ and is basically gender queer.”
Cherdonna’s act attracts an audience who has discovered her in a variety of contexts, from dance, cabaret, performance art and variety to burlesque. “Maybe it’s a testament to Seattle, but I haven’t had any pushback about what I’m doing,” she says. “Usually people are really interested and curious.”
She says that everyone comes away with a different take on what they’ve seen.
“Cherdonna can just be a funny clown, and use physical humor at its best,” she says. “But then there’s the other side of the dance community that can recognize the craft of how I’ve choreographed that awkward movement, and see my improvisational skills.”
Those skills will come in handy for “Clock That Mug or Dusted,” which is billed as an homage to feminist performance artists such as Janine Antoni and ritual-dance artist Anna Halprin, and their focus on “the body as a canvas for social change, rebellion, community and personal expansion.”
“ ‘Clock that Mug’ is a term in drag culture which means ‘I’m going to notice it, or take it in,’ ” Cherdonna says of the title. “My drag persona relates to that phrase. So much of our political struggle is about what we see — people’s race, gender, age.
“There’s so much judgment centered around people looking at other people and assuming things about them. It’s judging a book by its cover, which I find is at the root of a crapload of our political problems. That’s why I like to work with high persona and high costuming. I love to play with people and win over people who think Cherdonna is too much.”
“Dusted” is a drag term for face or makeup. But to Cherdonna, it also invokes the reality that as humans, we all return to dust in the end.
“The title has this kind of low-stakes/high-stakes aspect where you can look at it on these different levels,” she says. “I feel my work is the same way. It can be really great and fun on the surface, but there’s always an underlying darkness or importance or political message.”
So what can the audience expect at the show? As much as Cherdonna insists that she wants attendees to “not expect,” and go along with “whatever ride I’m on,” she did drop a few hints.
In addition to exploring life and culture via her high drag persona, she loves to play with duration and what she calls “the envelope of time,” so that what may initially seem boring is repeated until it expands to encompass a wide range of emotions, and sometimes becomes “the funniest thing you’ve ever seen in your life.”
“I think there’s something really poetical and magical about staying in one moment of time for a very long time, especially in our age when everything is flashed at us so quickly, and there’s an immediacy to everything,” she says.
During the show, Cherdonna will also do a live painting on Danial Hellman’s costumes and sets. Every night will begin with a blank 16-by-18 canvas on the floor that Cherdonna will paint as she moves her body through “the score of the piece.”
“It won’t really be like me with a paint brush,” she says of canvases that will be saved for possible transformation into new costumes. “It’s a way more abstract painting. My body is basically the brush.”
Cherdonna’s initial model may have been the traditional male-bodied drag queens who have performed in gay bars and other gathering places, but her approach eschews the traditional dishiness and verbal play favored by some to embrace what she calls “high aesthetics and performance.”
“I generally feel accepted by other drag performers,” she says. “But I don’t really feel that I fit in. Maybe I’m too sensitive.
“I use elements of drag, but the sassiness and verbal play of traditional drag queens is a hard atmosphere for me to be in. That’s kind of where Cherdonna exists generally; she doesn’t really fit in.”