By Alexandra Gregory
MAARQUII arrives for our coffee meeting having freshly rolled out of bed, and offers a charismatic greeting followed by an equally charismatic apology for running behind schedule. I quickly learn they were up celebrating a friend’s birthday until 5:00 a.m., and realize there’s no way this charming human has clocked more than six hours of sleep, tops.
I last saw MAARQUII at 7:00 p.m. the night prior, as we exchanged sweaty hugs after a vogue dance class. I was a first-time student; MAARQUII, a seasoned dancer, taught the class. On this morning-after, I felt in my body the evidence of the “floor work” routine from class–I learned how to be cute while on my back, legs straight up, and shifting my weight from side to side, and my abdominal muscles and tailbone had something to say about it.
Chatting with MAARQUII, one feels relaxed and engaged at the same time. This is a person who seems to know exactly who they are. I talked to MAARQUII about what matters to them as an artist, the parallels that exist between their personal and performative lives, and how their background shapes their role as a multi-hyphenate performing artist in Portland.
I’ve heard MAARQUII referred to as a rapper, a singer, and a dancer. While these descriptors work, they fall short of conveying the exuberant blend of performance style that MAARQUII is known to deliver.
“As a performer, I am very full-out,” says MAARQUII, who goes on to describe their performance level as consistently amped-up; always turned to a 10.
“I think that comes from living in a small town for so long, and having all of that repressed,” they tell me. Coming from Tillamook, Oregon, by way of Eldorado, Arkansas, MAARQUII found in Portland an opportunity to fully develop their sense of self as an artist.
“I get to share a lot of myself with people who come to see me, and that’s really important for me. I want people [in the audience] to feel like we’re just hanging out.”
“Once I got [to Portland] and I realized I could do that, I never knew how to turn it down,” MAARQUII says. “I was like, ‘Okay, I can produce the kind of art and the kind of show that I want, and be the kind of performer that I’ve always wanted.’” Before living in Portland, MAARQUII had never felt that they had the space in which to do this.
MAARQUII originally performed in Portland as a dancer in local companies, though after two years, began missing their self-professed first-love: making music.
“I still wanted to dance and wanted to incorporate it somehow,” says MAARQUII. It was around this time that they began getting involved with vogue.
“Vogue is a really underground form of dance, in an underground scene,” MAARQUII says. MAARQUII, a queer-identified performer, tells me how they found inspiration as an artist, along with a sense of importance, in this underground scene.
“A lot of times, the queer community finds itself underground, and that was something that I loved so much about being the type of artist that I am. [Having to] perform in these dark spaces–these sketch spaces, as dangerous as that is–that’s what made me feel like, ‘Oh my god, you’re a part of something that has to be underground,’ because we struggle to find spaces for us,” MAARQUII says.
Music and dance have long co-existed as mutually non-exclusive art forms for MAARQUII. “They’ve always been married,” they say. It feels natural to hear about how the two forms came together to create what’s now MAARQUII’s signature stage persona.
“Blending vogue with this sort of underground music by a queer feminine person felt like it made the most sense to me,” they tell me. “It drives a lot of what I do, voguing and the vogue scene. It’s really important to me, because I’ve been able to find myself as a person and an artist, being a part of the vogue scene.”
Courtesy of MAARQUII’s Facebook.
According to MAARQUII, the Portland vogue scene has taken off since 2015, when they first became involved, and has progressed from a steady clip of “not really anyone voguing,” to an undeniable reality of “vogue is happening.” And while the dance form itself is outrageously fun and surprisingly accessible, an equal takeaway is the enduring sense of community it provides for those who belong to the scene.
To this day, MAARQUII remains in touch with the people they first vogued with three years ago, and continues to share stages with them, sometimes calling on them as backup dancers.
“It’s a really interesting collective of people that are here [in the Portland vogue scene],” says MAARQUII. “We help each other and reach out to each other when we need help. A lot of my drive and inspiration and motivation is seeing this community thrive–seeing how vogue has thrived in such a short time. Being a part of that transition and seeing that happen before my eyes, it’s really cool.”
MAARQUII talks about how coming together for the vogue scene is similar to coming together at the watering hole of the jungle. “Everyone gets a sip,” they say. “There’s no bullshit for a moment, and you get quenched.”
When performing on stage, MAARQUII takes care to make sure their audience feels a sense of belonging, too. With live stage setups that are based on the familiar space of MAARQUII’s own home, they are able to get out of their head while inviting their audience into it.
“I spend a lot of my time alone, in my house, just hanging out and performing to myself in my room,” says MAARQUII, which suddenly makes me feel like I’m being let in on an intimate secret. “The comfort of that is what I want to bring to stage.”
Few things feel more sacred than what a person does alone in their bedroom when no one is watching, and MAARQUII shines a spotlight on this as an authentic way to connect with their audience. “I think in doing that, I get to share a lot of myself with people who come to see me, and that’s really important for me. I want people [in the audience] to feel like we’re just hanging out.”
“The shows that I’ve been playing have been the most fully-realized versions of what I want my stage show to be.”
MAARQUII is underway on a new EP project with producers Derek Stilwell and Michael Lorenzo of JVNITOR–with whom MAARQUII collaborates both on and off stage with a release planned for this summer. Whereas their most recent project, Lullaby in Gemini, offered a dreamscape industrial backdrop, the new project will accentuate and expand upon sonic themes from MAARQUII’s HeavyPetty debut. Expect dark, trappy, hip hop. What MAARQUII gave us in lightness with Lullaby in Gemini, they will give us in grit with what’s to come.
“We have a new track called “Cut a Bitch Off,” and it’s so–” MAARQUII pauses for the right words, “it’s, like, the bitch track,” they say. “It’s really rude–just telling someone off–and it’s really fun to perform live. It’s short, and by the second time you do the hook, people can start singing along.”
Over the last three years in Portland, MAARQUII has taken the time and space to discover and define a performance style that feels as personal as it does genuine. And they’re having a good time doing it.
“The shows that I’ve been playing have been the most fully-realized versions of what I want my stage show to be,” says MAARQUII. “Welcome to my house.”
MAARQUII headlines the 2018 XRAY.FM Birthday Bash this month, on Sunday, March 18, at Mississippi Studios. To purchase tickets, check out the Mississippi Studio’s website. It will be amped-up, and there will be dancers.
MAARQUII teaches Open Level Vogue dance class every Friday at (Com)motion Studio. For more information, visit the (com)motion studio website – don’t say I didn’t warn your abs.