The arts have always been a sort of haven for LGBTQ people. Creation is undoubtedly a form of expression, and that is exactly why Travis Wall of “So You Think You Can Dance” dedicated his life to performance from an early age. Now 30, Wall has become a gay icon in more ways than one. Not stopping at living his own life out and proud, Wall hones his art in order to tell real stories that everyone — including the LGBTQ community — can relate to personally.
Charlotte’s Knight Theatre welcomes the groundbreaking dancer and choreographer on Nov. 7 for a one-night-only visit of Wall’s company, Shaping Sound. Wall, originally from Virginia, is looking forward to visiting the city and having a day off, for once.
“I used to compete in Charlotte. It’s nice to come back to the city and actually get out of the airport,” Wall joked with qnotes. “We have a day off, so I’m trying to sleep as much as possible, to get my body right. Go find some great food.”
Shaping Sound, the production company that Wall co-founded in 2012 with close friends Teddy Forance, Nick Lazzarini and Kyle Robinson, has been touring with different performances for more than five years. Now engaged to his partner of six years, gymnastics coach Dom Palange, Wall is beginning to transition to a more settled lifestyle.
“The road is very exhausting,” Wall said. “I’m trying to make Los Angeles more of my home base. I think that LA is starving for something where they can sit down for a kind of immersive dance experience.”
More than 20 years after beginning his dancing career at the age of nine, Wall’s travels have put one of his longest-held dreams on the back burner. As a young man, dance was an outlet which helped him deal with the uncertainty of whether the ideal of home and family was feasible for a gay man.
“My number one priority growing up was, ‘I can’t wait to get married and have kids.’ It was a fight over priorities for me,” Wall told qnotes. “As a gay male, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to figure out how to have children. You don’t know whether it’s a surrogate or you want to adopt…it’s something that you have to start thinking about far in advance if you want to see it happen. Hopefully by [age] 35, we’ll have the ball rolling.”
In the meantime, Wall’s dedication to his art continues amidst his planning for the future. The Charlotte show on Nov. 7 is exactly the type of immersive experience that Wall aims to bring to his chosen home in LA. The show, he says, is as narrative as it is personal. In previous performances on the tour, audiences have been moved to tears by the emotions portrayed onstage — and perhaps by the experience of seeing same-sex dancers and relationships for the first time.
“I’m tired of writing stories and portraying stories between men and women when that’s not who I am. I want to create things that I can personally pull from,” Wall said. “I have a platform to speak on. As much as I can, I need to be as authentic as possible. Especially with a story like this that I’m telling during this production of Shaping Sound.”
The story itself is what the choreographer describes the “silent film told through dance” as a “tragic love story.” A classic tale, but with quite a few twists; for one thing, the star of the show is gay, both onstage and off. Stylistically, Wall’s expertise in contemporary and jazz dance will find new life in the performance, which he says combines quite a few styles of music and dance.
“It is very emotional, with a lot of eclectic music inside the show,” Wall said. “There are moments of this in-and-out between what’s happening inside my brain and what’s actually happening in reality as far as my character goes. So there’s a lot of electronic music that feels like the world is crumbling, and like I’m attacking myself, and there’s this beautiful classical stream to come in and it makes you want to cry.”
The emotions of the music, movement and story come together to make a striking impact on any audience — and LGBTQ viewers may relate particularly to the way that Wall channels his sexuality to tell a tale of love and heartbreak between men. He tells these stories in part to stay true to himself, but Wall also says that he strives to play a part that no one filled for him in his youth.
“I try to pull from my personal life as much as possible because when I was growing up I never really had anything to look at like that. I never saw the same sex dancing with each other,” he said. “When I was growing up I was having a hard time understanding whether I was going to be accepted or not. That was very hard and heavy on my heart… think [a gay role model] would have given me exposure. It would have helped me come out of the closet more.”
Becoming that successful, well-rounded gay figure for LGBTQ youth isn’t just a pipe dream nowadays. Even after the past decade’s equal-rights progress, young queer people — especially those drawn to the arts — need that representation more than ever. Wall recalls a conversation he had with an audience member, a father whose adolescent son had come out as gay and dreamt of being a dancer.
“I’m so thankful that he has you to look up to,” the father told Wall.
Recounting that moment, Wall’s voice betrayed the emotional weight of the memory.
“Just to hear that from a parent, especially a dad’s point of view, saying, ‘I totally support him; he has a positive role model in his life’,” Wall reflected. “Inspiring teens is something I didn’t have growing up. It’s so powerful to know that I can do that for somebody else.”