LAUREN BC’S INTERVIEW WITH P:B’s AESTHETIC ADVISOR, COSTUME DESIGNER, AND DANCER CHRISTIAN SQUIRES
What is your earliest memory of dance?
In first grade I chose to do dance even though it was the only non-mandatory subject, because I was able to say something with my body, even if I couldn’t express myself verbally. Ballet is very structured, and requires kinesthetic and mental discipline that changes how your brain fires. It helped me because I had speech impediments and couldn’t pronounce a lot of words, so I didn’t talk very much. In general, I had a lot of struggles: I had learning disabilities, and I was chubby and gay (though I didn’t know that at the time, just that I was different). My first memory was being in the class and loving it.
When did you know that you wanted to become a dancer?
I was probably 13 or 14 when a ballet teacher at my elementary school saw something in me and asked me to come to an outside studio. Then he encouraged me to go to an arts boarding school to really learn. I realized then that when I started dancing it felt right. I knew I had to be a dancer.
Do you recall your favorite performance?
The best I’ve ever felt onstage was during my most recent show with Diablo Ballet, in Robert [Dekkers]’s Carnival of the Imagination, where I made all of the costumes and was also the lead boy. My character goes on this imaginative journey where each entity he meets teaches him a different lesson. For example, the unicorn represents the discovery of inner beauty, while the dragon helps the boy face his fears. I had just birthed these costumes, so I hadn’t slept for a week and was just on a different plane. I didn’t sleep at all the night before the show, but it was the best dancing I’ve ever done. I was so out of it that I was so in it. The only thing I could do was to make every movement precise because I was so exhausted. Usually I tend to work too hard: I use too many muscles or get too deep in my head analyzing my performance while I’m dancing. But this time I felt completely on during the performance. During the last scene when the caterpillar turns into a butterfly, the boy is supposed to sit down and think about his journey in the last 20 minutes, but I also thought of my journey that got me to being 30, and I started to cry. It felt like the most real performance I’ve danced in. I was in the moment.
How would you describe your visual aesthetic style?
With my costuming, I like to take ideas, textures, fabrics, or styles that wouldn’t normally work together and fuse them to amplify the onstage action while also hinting at more covert details. In the “Family” section from Do Be, we wanted to unite a lot of complex emotions and conflicting experiences, like questioning the rigid family structures a lot of us grew up in, and how we are always trying to push away from whichever societal norms influenced the composition of our family unit. To reflect this, I created a feeling of nostalgia with an overall vintage 70’s feel. Everyone’s base layer of clothing was black, white, or gray to harken to Catholic school garb to give a rigid look. I then threw in some colorful stripes and polka dots to give the costumes a ridiculous, funny clown hue. I topped off some of the costumes with a bishop sleeve, because both clowns and Bishops wore this type of sleeve, and it was a style that was used a lot in the 70’s. It really brought the whole look all together.
How would you describe your personal dance aesthetic and style?
What’s hard about dance is that you do the same thing over and over again. How do you make the choreography as inspired as it was the first time, so the audience can experience it as if each step is new?
I try to come onstage and be very open and vulnerable. Before I go on stage, I ask my higher self to be present and help me be as in the moment as possible. I feel like if I’m present in this moment of a piece, it gives people the opportunity to really see something that’s real. That’s how I’d like to live my life – be as present with each person and each scenario.
For both P:B and me, I feel like gender is something that’s more fluid. I’ve put my stamp on the dance by being an androgynous human – that’s my flair: even if I’m doing a masculine role like Apollo, I embody the fluidity of femininity combined with the structure and precision of masculinity.
How did you meet Robert?
While my friend Raychel and I were dancing at Oregon Ballet Theater, we decided to go to a ballet competition, and needed a choreographer for a contemporary pas de deux. Raychel thought of Robert, whom she’d met recently in Arizona, so we came down to San Francisco. Seven months after that, Robert contacted me when he was starting Post:Ballet. He sent me a contract, and I moved into his two-bedroom apartment for the summer with him, his roommate Jeremy, another P:B dancer Beau, Natalia the photographer, and two cats.
Robert worked the whole summer because the company was just taking off, so we had a very professional relationship. That is, until a week before the show when I was out with all the dancers, and I texted him “Tonight’s the night.” Robert was at home, but he closed his computer and came out with us to have fun and hang out. After the Post:Ballet summer season was over, we began dating long-distance, then after a year, I moved back out to San Francisco to be with him.
What would a great day look like for you in the city?
Having mimosas and taking a hike to Tank Hill, a park you reach by urban stairways. It has the best view of the city, and there are concrete slides.
What is something almost nobody knows about you?
I have a ritual of drinking hibiscus tea out of an old elegant teacup, which I like to do while I’m sewing. It’s a tribute to a friend Robert and I lived with in a warehouse on Potrero Hill. I would go visit her in her nook under the stairs, and she would give me hibiscus flowers for tea. One day, she fell off the roof and didn’t survive. At her funeral, her family said that she would want her friends to have her possessions, so they laid everything out for us. I saw a teacup and remembered the flowers, took the cup, and ever since then I’ve drunk this tea as a memorial to her. It became a really comforting ritual that reminds me to live.
What advice would you give to young dancers aspiring to make a passion for dance into their career?
Always be you, and have fun. Younger kids especially need to know that it’s going to be hard, and that you need to be confident in yourself to succeed, but you should also be vulnerable and keep questioning who you are, because we as humans are constantly changing. So as long as you’re discovering yourself and being open, that will read as being confident. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to understand my body and understand what my strengths and weaknesses are. You’ll get better at dancing and life if you keep asking what makes you happy.
*Christian Squires in Do Be, costume/set design by Christian. Photos of Christian Squires (top to bottom) by:
- Natalia Perez
- Tricia Cronin
- David DeSilva