White guilt. That’s the shame at the core of the Salvation: Shamanic Striptease. In just under an hour White African performance artist Daniel P. Cunningham seeks to confront his past with his present, explore his white identity, and ultimately reconcile that with his queer sexuality. It’s a lot to pack in.
As Cunningham bursts into snippets from the musical Chicago, descends into multi-character Kate Tempest-esque poetry, and finally takes his clothes off and performs the billed lap dance, issues around race intersect his own sexuality in a climatic performance that at points makes you feel like Cunningham is somewhat possessed. It’s full throttled, all-consuming, and perhaps most importantly, irresistible watching.
That said, you are far from a passive bystander. Eventually Cunningham reaches out to you, asks you to breathe, chant along with him, and search for your own shame or burden that weighs down upon you. This becomes even more interactive when he passes around fake money to rub against any area in need of healing on your body. The piece culminates with Cunningham dancing his, and your, worries away as he performs a highly charged, energetic, and, frankly hypnotic, lap dance to one chosen audience member who places the money in the band of his only remaining piece of clothing. This fairly surreal process acts like a form of catharsis, and admittedly, this frenzy of activity kind of works.
However, Cunningham, although the lone performer, is indebted to the brilliant music that accompanies his writhing chants. Musicians Azi Khatiri and Lilac Taie set the tone and without them this piece wouldn’t be half as powerful as it is with them. It evokes Africa and reunites the two themes of race and sexuality in a subtle yet powerful way. In fact, without this music, Salvation could easily lose its thread.
Salvation may sound like an intense proposition, and in many ways, it is. Cunningham offers his whole self to you: voice, body, and as he chants incantations to you, soul. Poetry, drama intertwined with lap dance, Salvation offers it all. A lullaby on fast forward, Salvation drives you headfirst into catharsis, and in doing so borders on the remarkable. It’s powerful stuff.
Salvation: Shamanic Striptease played Camden People’s Theatre on 12th September.