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Masculinity and memory explored in immersive Dalston performance

PUBLISHED: 12:00 18 June 2016

Geist comes to the Arcola Theatre in Dalston on July 2-3. Photo: Alexa Vachon

Geist comes to the Arcola Theatre in Dalston on July 2-3. Photo: Alexa Vachon

Archant

It was on a whim that a 20-something artist jumped in his friend’s car and headed to Berlin.

What could have been a fleeting visit would turn into a four-year stay, and the transformation of La JohnJoseph into alter ego, Alexander Geist.

The performance artist embraced Christopher Isherwood’s 1920s-style Berlin, and was swept into a world of gender-swapping glamour, disco and decadence.

“It was very immersive,” explained La JJ, as the artist is also known.

“A lot of people who I would socialise with and work with – and even have sex with – would just know me as Alex Geist.”

Now living in Hackney, La JJ said they were keen to explore what it feels like to dress like a man, to use a male pronoun, to embody a different character.

“It was totally a departure for me in my own life, it was a first for me,” they said.

“I learnt a lot about how people treat you differently depending on your sex.”

The name was chosen for the word “Geist”, which recalls the German inflections of soul, spirit and ghost.

Despite their complete immersion into the Alex Geist character – La JJ says only a handful of his closest friends knew of his double life – the artist is now ready to turn their experience into theatre.

“I ended up back here – it seems like a reasonable time to unpick this project with a little distance from it,” said La JJ, who has been touring everywhere from Rio de Janeiro to Tokyo.

“It was a little weird [to make the transition back], but I was always aware that it was a performance, so it wasn’t that different.”

A year-and-a-half after returning from the German capital, La JJ has created a multimedia explosion at the Arcola, incorporating live song, onscreen documentary, a fraught turbulence of memory, identity and gender.

The audience is presented with a documentary about this fictional character who is larger than life, complete with interviews with people they met, watching the narrative of his life being built up.

“It’s a fairly complex set-up but it gives a great opportunity to explore memory. There’s a lot from my personal life from people I knew or who died. It’s about memory and people I lost.”

Geist comes to the Arcola Theatre, Dalston, at 8pm on July 2 and 3.

Go to arcolatheatre.com for £12 tickets.

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