On Friday, July 28, 2023, Highways Performance Space demonstrated that it continues to be Southern California’s boldest center for new performance with the production of the autobiographical FRAGGMONTS choreographed and performed by Joey Navarrete-Medina. Seen performing with Rosanna Gamson/World Wide, Jobel Navarrete-Medina and others, this was Joey Navarrete-Medina’s debut as a solo performer. Having sat through several extremely personal solo works, FRAGGMONTS was one of the best because it revealed the person’s very personal experiences and emotions without coming across as a sensationalistic memoir.
Utilizing onstage theatrical pulleys and rope to hang his wardrobe, beige heels, a burgundy gown, a long white tank top, and a teal colored gym suit became the set and a way for Navarrete-Medina to change costumes without leaving the stage. Seen first in a beige jacket with a sequined back, and matching pants slit up the inseam, Navarrete-Medina provided moments with hints from the sections to come and asked the audience repeatedly “Did you get it?” The answer was silence and he went forward to reveal more of his story.
Navarrete-Median voiced that he believed that he was the first openly gay man in his first generation Hispanic family, and shares with the viewer how that struggle to be himself manifested itself throughout his life – secretly wearing his mother’s and sister’s clothes and putting a white t-shirt on his head became a substitute for long tresses.
The work was built in three sections: Men and their Macho; When A Phoenix Burned – They Came in Heels; and From Masc to Femme, My Way. It is my opinion that Navarrete-Medina’s journey of finding out who his true self is has aided him at a very young age to develop his own movement style. Throughout FRAGGMONTS, he questions stereotypes and labels such as what it means to be, not just a man, but a Mucho one. Within a single phrase he glides seamlessly between his feminine and his masculine side.
In one of the tenderest moments, Navarrete-Medina puts on a white petticoat, a very ornate burgundy colored skirt with black netting and a gorgeous matching top that has an Elizabethan style collar. Instead of moving around, he stands on his head causing the dress to fall to the floor exposing his body from the waist down. While we listen to a recording of his father playing the accordion and singing in Spanish, Navarrete-Medina’s legs perform various dance and pedestrian movements. He then sits and the dress falls around him while he lip-syncs to a recording of him reading a beautiful letter to his father. This was made even more moving because both his parents were seated in the front row.
Removing the dress, Navarrete-Medina creates numerous “designer dresses” as he presents a fashion runway. Here he alternates between being appropriately feminine and straight forward masculine proving again that he is also a wonderful actor. My favorite part of this section comes as Navarrete-Medina ties the waist of the petticoat around his knees and moves around the stage like those gliding Russian folk dancers who appear to be floating on air.
Navarrete-Medina’s FRAGGMONTS is very relatable to all members of the LGBTQ community who have struggled against stereotypes, family, and society to become their true selves. Once he decided to come out, he was fortunate enough to have the support of a loving family, a very talented and supportive husband, and the inner strength to show the world exactly who Joey Navarrete-Medina is.
FRAGGMONTS was choreographed and performed by Joey Navarrete-Medina. The wonderful lighting design was by Darren Carter and Joey Navarrete-Medina. The costumes were by Andrew Wroblowski Palomares and Joey Navarrete-Medina, with digital art by Jonathan Torres. Music for FRAGGMONTS was by Jiryius Ballan, Jose I. Navarrete, Los Pregoneros Del Puerto, Mariachi Oro Juvenil, and Nina Simone.
At the end of his work, Navarrete-Medina quotes from Nina Simon’s song, “Let it be known that I did it my way!” I agree and also thrilled that he had the good fortune to be born at a time when it was a possibility. Now, we all must work to keep social acceptance of our true selves moving forward instead of backwards in time. Now that we know his personal story, I look forward to seeing what new directions Navarrete-Medina’s discoveries take him.
For more information about Highways Performance Space, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: FRAGGMONTS by Joey Navarrete-Medina – Photo by LADC.