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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

The House of Lewan presents drag show ‘Transform’

The show included performances by student drag performers, members of Sheba dance troupe and RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 15 finalist Mistress Isabelle Brooks.

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On May 3, the House of Lewan and the Programming Board presented their drag show “Transform” in Kemeny Courtyard. The show, part of Dartmouth Pride, included individual and group performances by student drag performers, members of Sheba dance troupe, Boston drag queen Candace Persuasion and RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 15 finalist Mistress Isabelle Brooks. 

The show began with a group performance by several members of the House of Lewan — Dartmouth’s only recognized drag club — with members of Sheba as backup dancers. Sheba member Olivia Rateau ’24 performed in the opening number and as a backup dancer for Emilia Esperanza, the drag persona of Felipe Mendonça ’27.

“It started with Sheba deciding between ourselves what dances we wanted to bring to the stage,” Rateau said. “We planned the choreo and then figured out where would be the best spot to highlight [performers], and then taught them that part.”

House of Lewan founder Jaime Aranzabal ’24, who performs as his drag persona La Paloma, emphasized the importance of working with Sheba for this year’s show. 

“We always have trouble with background dancers because it’s kind of hard to coordinate,” Aranzabal said. “But working directly with Sheba eliminated that issue and just made it so much more streamlined. … I think we just worked so well together and were able to amplify each other. I think it made such a difference in the show.”

Rateau added that the collaboration between Sheba and the House of Lewan was an effective way to bridge multiple communities.

“It definitely shows that there’s space for individuality and acceptance everywhere,” Rateau said. “A lot of people in the House of Lewan are really big dance fans, and a lot of people in Sheba also identify as being in the queer community … so there’s an overlap for sure.”

Lucas Manso ’27, who performs as Diamond Dozen, said the collaboration and support within the House of Lewan made the process of planning and rehearsing much more enjoyable, especially as a first-time performer.

“We all are such a close-knit family that we help each other while we’re getting ready — we give each other brushes, we zip each other up,” Manso said. “We watch each other and we cheer for each other. It’s so much more support than I even thought coming into it.”

After the opening number, Aranzabal invited Queer and Performance Studies Scholar Hayden El Rafei ’24, whose work involves Palestinian liberation, to the stage. El Rafei spoke about the strike organized by the Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth-United Electrical Workers — the College’s graduate student workers’ union — condemned the arrests of peaceful pro-Palestinian protesters on May 1 and called for freedom for Palestine. 

“I’m sure we can all agree that [College President Sian Leah] Beilock’s violent response to students exercising our right to protest and right to stand against injustice is disgusting, irresponsible and condemnable,” El Rafei said to the crowd. “Dartmouth has the money to invest in a genocidal regime, but not enough to fairly compensate the workers that keep this college running?” 

To conclude their speech, El Rafei acknowledged the inherently political nature of drag.

“To the legendary House of Lewan, may your queer art tonight be an act of political resistance,” El Rafei said. “Tonight, Palestine is on our mind. As we dance, let it be for Palestine. As we lip-synch, let each word take the shape of Palestine. When we cheer, we cheer for Palestine. When we cheer, we cheer for Gaza. When we cheer, we cheer for Rafah. Tonight, let us rehearse a world in which Palestine is free.”

Aranzabal then announced that money amassed at the show — through donations via QR codes placed around Kemeny courtyard or House of Lewan merchandise sales — would go to GOLD-UE. 

In an interview, Aranzabal said that he wanted to use the House of Lewan and Transform’s “solidified” platforms to engage with more political messages.

“I think it’s very easy for a lot of other groups and a lot of other events to just rush over it and maybe even make the excuse that they’re a distraction to what’s going on, but I think at this point in time it’s not about distracting yourself or finding light in darkness,” Aranzabal said. “The most important thing that I wanted to do was make sure that our show didn’t ignore it.”

Other members of the House of Lewan echoed similar sentiments, emphasizing their intention to amplify political messages by bringing them to the stage. Manso said in an interview that the politicization of drag makes the House of Lewan an inherently political organization. 

“We might not be making notices across the entire campus, but we still have a microphone, we have a stage,” Manso said. “I definitely think that the House of Lewan is innately political because drag is being made to be political, so why not just cover all our bases?”

The rest of the show included lip-synchs by members of the House of Lewan, as well as lip-synchs and crowd work by Candace Persuasion — who hosted the show and has hosted several past shows by the House of Lewan — and Mistress Isabelle Brooks.

“Having Mistress was really a huge deal,” Aranzabal said. “Seeing her on TV, not more than a year ago, and then having her here … just really taking control of that stage and really making Dartmouth her own was just so amazing.”

Rosario Rosales ’25, who performed as the drag king Flamboyant, called for more drag king representation. 

“I just wanted to see more kings out there,” Rosales said. “Before Teddy Tux joined the house, I was the only drag king of the House, which at times felt a little isolating. … I hope that there are people out there that I can encourage or motivate to come and do drag.”

Transform began as an annual Pride fashion show sponsored by the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, only recently evolving into a drag show in the spring of 2021. Aranzabal explained that, as a Pride coordinator his freshman year, he turned Transform into a more drag-centered performance.

“I wanted it to be more of a drag show because it was [during COVID-19], and the staging they had was not going to work [for a fashion show],” Aranzabal said. “Since we had to have it outside on a block stage, I was like, ‘Okay, this isn’t [good for] a fashion show,’ so then I made it into more of a drag show.”

Partway through this year’s Transform, the stage was briefly opened to the audience as a runway — a remnant of Transform’s origins.

Aranzabal added that the first drag-centered Transform led to growing interest in drag on campus, which drove him to found the House of Lewan in 2022. 

“I had student performers sign up [for Transform], and I remember being so scared that nobody was going to sign up,” Aranzabal said. “But we did get a few people to sign up, and then I just kept hearing more about people wanting to keep doing drag, more than just once a year when I plan Transform, so that’s why I founded the House of Lewan.”

Aranzabal added that Transform has continued to change as drag culture at Dartmouth has evolved to be more community-based. He said that while the Office of Pluralism and Leadership has continued to support Transform, this year’s show was almost entirely planned by the House of Lewan.

“This year was very much hands-off, so it was almost completely planned by the House,” he said. “At this point, we’ve done it a couple times, and I think it was a chance for me to really have my hands in it all.” 

Because several original members of the House of Lewan, including Aranzabal, are graduating this year, members of the House of Lewan saw Transform as “a way of reflecting on [their] times together as a House,” Rosales said.

Aranzabal added that the House of Lewan “really tried to celebrate the seniors” in this year’s Transform.

“Half of us were seniors, so there’s a clear shift that’s going to be happening from this year to next year, and I also wanted to make that more present in this Transform, highlighting our sendoff,” Aranzabal said. “It changes how you approach everything, and I know I wanted to make my performance very big, but I also wanted it to commemorate my journey so far.”