Toronto dancer, choreographer and acrobat Joey Arrigo had it all and one dream was coming true after another. At 19, he had already won three Dance Masters of America championships and had made a splash on national television in So You Think You Can Dance Canada. His biggest dream had also come true: he was travelling the world as the main character of KOOZA by Cirque du Soleil. Everything was going perfectly as Joey followed the starry destiny promised to him. Until that day in 2016 when he received news that would redefine his person and his art forever. The artist behind the delicious Vita Love, sister of Priyanka, sends a message of resilience to people affected by HIV by sharing his own personal story.
Vita Love is smashing and sexy, but she also shares a strong and positive message. How was she born?
I had been thinking about the idea of performing as a drag for a long time. In the midst of the HIV crisis of the 1980s, drag shows had a big impact on the collective mood by keeping communities laughing and dancing. It’s a role that resonated with me and I wanted to use my art to tell people infected with HIV that they can have a happy and exciting life despite the disease. I wanted Vita Love to act as a symbol, a character that this community could relate to. That’s why the colour red, which represents life, is very present in her universe, and why the “T” in her name is presented as “+”. Besides, since I already knew Xtacy Love well, it was natural for Vita to become her daughter, joining the “Haus of love” alongside Priyanka and Veruschka.
You learned that you had contracted HIV in the most difficult circumstances. Can you tell us how things went?
Vita Love : It was in 2016. At that time, I was on tour in Latin America and I was barely 24. I was sick, but the language barrier and the probable lack of specialized resources in the country where I was meant that I left the hospital without a diagnosis or precise medication. I quickly recovered, but fell ill again when the tour arrived in Australia after South America. It was there that I was told that I had contracted HIV, on the other side of the world, all alone, without family or loved ones. So, I returned to Canada, where I was able to receive adequate support.
How did you feel when you received the news?
Vita Love : I thought I was going to die, but surprisingly I moved on to acceptance immediately. I thought I would sink into a dramatic telenovela and burst into tears, but no (laughs)! I told myself that I had travelled the world, that I had achieved my dream by landing the role of my life, so I could die in peace. When I met my doctor upon arrival in Canada, I shared my conclusion with her.
That’s when she announced me that I wasn’t going anywhere and that I would live a long and pretty normal life. I couldn’t believe my ears! I was relieved but still very sad during this period. My mother, who’s a pharmacist, is very familiar with the disease. So, she came to me one day and said: “enough with this pity party! Get up, and go do some shows! “. She was referring to Cirque du Soleil, which had started the creation of a new show at that moment. So, I came to Montréal and I was able to create and play the main character of the show VOLTA.
Why is it important for you to share your story?
One day I was in Montréal and a guy came to confide in me because he saw my HIV status online. He shared that he had just received the same news and was thinking about suicide. I then understood that it was crucial to be visible and to speak publicly. As artists, I believe that if we’re given a microphone or a stage, it’s our responsibility to try to make a difference. If Vita Love can bust her ass and rock that stage despite her status, then so can you! We, as human beings are resilient. We can make the choice to live another day, we have to!
Do you have a message to share with the younger people?
Few of the younger generations know anyone who has died of AIDS, so they may feel that the disease is less present or less dangerous, but that’s not true. You have to be informed! You’re never too good for education. On the contrary! The more we know about the risks related to the transmission of STBBIs, for example, the more fun we can have in complete safety.
Do you have future projects to share with your Montréal fans?
I’m currently performing all over Toronto, but I can’t wait to come back to Montréal! I recently won Best Video for my very first music video at the Toronto Arthouse Film Festival, so there will be more surprises to come on that side! You can follow me on Instagram (@TheStarVitaLove) if you want to stay in touch!