Massive showcase of theatre and dance

Contemporary dance festival Dance Massive is back this month to celebrate a decade of showcasing some of the world's most provocative choreography. Over 50 events, viewers can experience theatre, dance, art and discussion that tackles confronting and exciting themes. Highlights include:

Common Ground by Chunky Move artistic director Anouk van Dijk evokes the birth of ballet to turn the stage into a choreographic game of chess.

Mar 13-17, Malthouse, Merlyn Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank

Same but Different disproves the notion that all Indigenous dance is the same by showcasing four First Nation female artists who tell stories through dance, albeit in different ways.

Mar 13-23, Meat Market, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne

First Dance brings together storytellers and performers to combine movement and writing to conjure up varied memories of that first, fateful dance.

Mar 18, North Melbourne Town Hall, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne

The Tennis Piece world premiere is Atlanta Eke's approach to tackling anxieties of technology by combining dance and installation to take the audience to a pivotal event in the French Revolution.

Mar 19-21, Collingwood Town Hall, 140 Hoddle Street, Collingwood

Biladurang is an award-winning confessional solo described as the perfect "theatre-dance one-night stand" by Joel Bray.

Mar 19-24, Sofitel Melbourne on Collins, 25 Collins Street, Melbourne

Wiradjuri dancer Joel Bray’s platypus identity

As a gay Aboriginal Australian who grew up in a largely white world, Joel Bray found purpose and identity through dance. His latest work – the intimate solo performance Biladurang – blends choreography and theatre in a raw exploration of his own very personal journey. “I’ve had people hug me, I’ve had people crying, I’ve had people share their stories of discovering their Aboriginality late in life.” By Steve Dow.


Dancer and choreographer Joel Bray nervously greets 20 of us at the door of his Sydney city hotel suite and ushers us inside. His underwear is strewn about the room and he asks us to put on a hotel-issue black dressing gown over our clothes and take a seat wherever we can find one. His lithe, nude body is sheathed in an identical robe.

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Sydney festival 2019: two of the hottest tickets make the audience part of the show

You wouldn’t dare look bored during Joel Bray’s Biladurang or Geoff Sobelle’s Home.

Joel Bray in Biladurang at the QT during the Sydney festival. Photograph: Victor Frankowski

Joel Bray in Biladurang at the QT during the Sydney festival. Photograph: Victor Frankowski

The QT Sydney is known as the place to go to get laid – at least if you have the money.

I’ve gone back to a guy’s room, and I’m already in a hotel robe getting a hand massage from him. He’s asking me about my family – where are they from? It seems unbelievable but this guy actually seems interested in the fact that I come from Warrnambool.

He’s fresh from the bath, suds still on his face, but at least he’s put on some clothes – it was a bit much seeing him dance around the suite naked. Just as I’m starting to relax, he’s moving on: does anyone else want a massage?

I look around. Any takers? There are 22 of us in robes in the suite, drinking champagne, eating Kit Kats from the minibar. Some people are sitting on ottomans, others on couches. There are people lying on the bed.

Joel Bray is a dancer and choreographer whose small-scale Sydney festival show, Biladurang, is being performed in a hotel room at the QT for 10 nights of the Sydney festival. Scattered around the room are the remnants of big nights: a G-string, harness and condom wrappers. Bray’s been on a casual sex bender – or, at least, his eponymous character has – and when we meet him in his suite he’s burned out and in pain.

He goes and takes a bath (there’s a live feed from the bathroom to the TV in the lounge, where we are sitting) and lets out an almighty primal scream.

‘He lets out an almighty primal scream’: Joel Bray in Biladurang. Photograph: Pippa Samaya

‘He lets out an almighty primal scream’: Joel Bray in Biladurang. Photograph: Pippa Samaya

When he emerges he dances for us covered in suds. Later he brings us into his bedroom, invites us on to his bed and tells us stories of growing up queer and Indigenous in Australia. Then he pairs us up and has us waltzing with each other.

The play is not for everyone, but with a maximum of 22 audience members per performance it’s one of the hottest tickets of the festival.

Chunky Move's Next Move choreography inspires again

Next Move 11
Lauren Langlois and Joel Bray
Chunky Move Studios
Until 17 November

Now in its eleventh season, Chunky Move's Next Move program identifies and supports emerging choreographic talent. Next Move alumni are some of the most interesting and successful contemporary choreographers around, and the addition of Lauren Langlois and Joel Bray to this community bodes extremely well for the future.

James Vu Ahn Pham, in Lauren Langlois' Nether, part of Chunky Move's Next Move 11. Image: Morgan Roberts

James Vu Ahn Pham, in Lauren Langlois' Nether, part of Chunky Move's Next Move 11. Image: Morgan Roberts

Langlois' Nether and Bray's Dharawungara are two very different works in form, approach, physical expression and in the accompanying media that the choreographers highlight alongside their own dancing bodies. However, they both take risks without abandoning a scaffolding of clearly articulated structures. In their own ways, both works are a reflection of lineage and history: for Langlois, through a movement signature that threads through her work, and for Bray, as a reflection on and of his heritage as a Wiradjuri man.

Nether opens the program with sharp beams of light that expand to divide the stage into liminal, malleable and artificial segments. Langlois and fellow dancer James Vu Ahn Pham slip between these worlds, and as they move, it is almost as though their bodies and movements are fragmented by the passages. Langlois toys with the grotesque and the beautiful, but what is most effective in this work is the way she uses the dynamic shifts between stillness and movement in unexpected ways.

Joel Bray in Dharawungara, part of Chunky Move's Next Move 11. Image: Pippa Samaya

Joel Bray in Dharawungara, part of Chunky Move's Next Move 11. Image: Pippa Samaya

Bray's Dharawungara also plays with dynamic shifts, as he draws the audience into his story with humour and pathos. In this work, Bray performs his own version of a Wiradjuri rite of passage, lamenting through movement, story and sound a ritual that was stolen from his family, and therefore one that he has never seen or participated in. Bray reclaims and reinterprets this traditional rite through the context of performance and theatre. He is accompanied by sound artist Naretha Williams, and the journey is deeply emotional to witness.

Both Bray and Langlois are exceptional performers and dancers, and in Next Move 11, both have put forward strong choreographic statements that claim space for themselves as art makers. As Chunky Move moves into a new phase (artistic director Anouk van Dijk will be leaving the company) we can only hope that this important program will continue.

From The Rehearsal Room: Joel Bray on ‘Dharawungara’

‘I’ve been on a journey over the last few years. I’ve always identified as Wiradjuri, as Aboriginal and over the last few years I have been asking what does that actually mean? What does that mean today in 2018? What does it mean to be an Indigenous choreographer and an Indigenous man?’ – Joel Bray and the questions influencing the creative ideas behind his NEXT MOVE 11 work Dharawungara.


First off, tell us about yourself:

My name is Joel Bray, I’m from Orange and I am Wiradjuri.

Tell us about the title ‘Dharawungara’ where does the name of your new work come from?

So for an exact translation of Dharanwungara, you have to break it up between ‘Dharawuny’ and ‘gara’. ‘Dharawuny’ means an archway or a passage and Dharawungara means to enter the passage or to pass through an archway. So it refers to a particular moment in ceremony where a ceremonial archway is created out of two saplings tied together and I was really intrigued by this because that kind of idea actually really occurs in rituals across the world or all throughout history. You know this idea when you get married you pass through people throwing confetti, or Jewish people get married under the chuppah. That kind of idea that represents the transition of going from one state to another. That’s basically what I’ve been exploring, rites of passage in a general sense about the way we all have created these rituals to collectively celebrate the transition from one state to another

Whether that’s unmarried to married or from a child to an adult or from follower to a leader.

This new work has been described as creating an ‘intersection between ancestral ceremonial practice, collective imagination and the realities of colonization’ – what does this look like? Or how does this feel for an audience member?

I think in some ways the work is very much me. I’m performing solo and it’s me Joel Bray son of a Wiradjuri man searching for the rituals of his ancestors. So those three things are that, there’s ancient ritual practice that is still alive, it’s eternal even if it is not right now. Collective imagination is this idea that rituals by their nature are collective and communal they’re things that join us. We can reignite or breathe life back into an ancient ritual by jointly recreating it, and the realities of colonisation is that this ceremony and our language was literally beaten out of us. So it’s the collision of those three things, its an appeal from me to the audience to breathe life into this ancient ritual by being there in the space and to collectively imagine something old as new.

What have you enjoyed most about this development process?

It’s been a wrestle. It’s been hard. Because I’m actually in a bit of a dilemma, because how do you create a ritual that you don’t know? And it’s a solo and I’ve been on my own.  But the best parts have been improvising, reading and writing and then immediately improvising in response to that. That has felt really special. I’ve found something new in the body and I’ve found different movements, different pathways, I’ve found different textures in my body and that’s really nice because it feels really authentic.

You’ve described Dharawungara as a ‘collision of rituals’. What is it about ritual that is inspiring you and which elements of this idea have you been exploring thus far?

This is a kind of new interest for me and it’s come out of a want to learn more about my ancestry and my family. I’ve been on a journey over the last few years. I’ve always identified as Wiradjuri, as Aboriginal, and over the last few years I have been asking what does that actually mean? What does that mean today in 2018? What does it mean to be an Indigenous choreographer and an Indigenous man? And that can mean lots of things, it could mean learning the language, being a political activist, being a community organiser, but because dance is my practice and dance encodes the law, and was past on from generations to generations through ritual I have kind of been looking closely at it and saying yes it is ritual that I am interested in. And the thing that I am increasingly wanting to explore more as a choreographer more than anything else is how I can use my art to bring back ancestral ritual and practice down here in the South East. I’m going to be doing this at Chunky Move which is super exciting!

Joel Bray’s new work Dharawungara  is presented as part of Chunky Move’s Next Move commission NEXT MOVE 11, a dystopian double that also features new work ‘Nether’ by emerging Choreographer Lauren Langlois from 8 – 17 November. Book now here. 

Photography: Pia Johnson.

Dancer Joel Bray grapples with life between worlds as a gay Aboriginal man raised in a white Pentecostal Christian household

When British scientists first saw a platypus, some thought it must be a hoax; when Charles Darwin first saw one, he took it as proof of his theory of evolution — unable to fathom why an omniscient "creator" would make a creature so similar to, yet distinct from, a water rat.


And, delving far deeper into history, there's an Aboriginal songline about the origin of the "biladurang" (its Wiradjuri name), which involves a fateful encounter between a curious duck and a wily water rat.

For dancer Joel Bray, this curious, confounding creature has become the perfect metaphor for his experience as a gay Aboriginal Australian man raised in a white Pentecostal Christian household.

"I identify with this character because I feel a bit like a mutant creature," he tells ABC.

Bray's affinity with the platypus would lead him to develop an award-winning solo dance work performed not on stages, but in hotel rooms around Australia.

First, though, he had to grapple with a life lived between worlds.

'From a very white life into a very black life'

Bray spent most of his childhood living with his white mother and stepfather in the New South Wales regional town of Orange.

"We lived a very white-picket-fence, lower-middle-class, out-in-the-country life, and then in summers or on long weekends I would go and stay with my Aboriginal father," he says.

Bray's father was a Wiradjuri man, an activist, and heavily involved in the land rights movement of the 1980s.

By contrast, his family in Orange were white Pentecostal Christians.

"I would drop from my very Christian, very white life into a very black life.

“My whole childhood was spent flicking between these two worlds, and I never quite felt that I fitted into either of them.”

Compounding this fractured identity was Bray's realisation that he was gay — a reality that his mother and stepfather struggled to reconcile with their religious beliefs.

Bray says he once submitted to an exorcism. "It was a complete failure. I'm the biggest homo ever. The exorcist should have their licence revoked."

A Wiradjuri man in Tel Aviv

Bray got involved in Aboriginal activism on campus while he was studying law. But it was through that activism that he realised how little he knew about his cultural background.

"I talk white, I look white, I have masses of white cultural capital," Bray explains. "I'd always identified as Aboriginal, but never more than saying, 'Yeah, I'm Wiradjuri'."

So he dropped out of law school and enrolled in NAISDA (National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association) Dance College.

“I actually started dancing not because I was particularly interested in dancing but because I really wanted to find out about my culture.”

After graduating from NAISDA, Bray ended up living and working in Tel Aviv with his partner.

For ten years he lived as a gentile in Israel — and then the relationship ended, and he lost his partner, his home and his visa.

"My whole life [I've been] a fish out of water, or a bit like a platypus — not quite fitting in, not quite sure where home is."

With upheaval in his personal life, and without a fixed abode, Bray began work on a performance that would be staged in a space that reflected his feelings of transience: a hotel room.

Hotel rooms become stages

"The work started as a series of writings I made," Bray explains. "I was floating around and sleeping in random Airbnbs and artist residencies and a lot of hotel rooms.

“At the time I literally had one suitcase of stuff and I was wandering the world.”

When Bray was commissioned to develop Biladurang for the Melbourne Fringe Festival's Deadly Fringe program of work by First Nations artists, he initially envisioned a stage designed to look like a hotel room; it was his producer who suggested performing it in an actual hotel room.

"It was one of those lightbulb moments," the dancer recalls.

Inspired, Bray checked into a hotel and set about preparing the work for an audience.

"The first day I walked [into the hotel room], I had nothing. [...] I just walked in, and I threw myself on the bed and I looked out the window and I had a shower and I started by inhabiting the room."

The premise of Biladurang is that the audience are a group of strangers Bray met in the hotel bar and invited up to his room for champagne.

Between awkward conversations, stories from his life and pouring champagne for his guests, Bray suddenly launches into choreographed dance routines that utilise the architecture, interior design and furnishings of the hotel room.

'Every show is different'

Although thematically focussed on his own experiences, Bray uses Biladurang to unearth the origin stories of his audience members.

"A lot of the work is questioning: Where am I from? What are my roots? [But] there's this point in the work where I turn to other people [and ask], 'So who are you? Where are your roots from?' Australia is rich with those stories."

It's a moment that allows audiences to reflect on their own complex identities. It also allows Bray to tailor the performance for each audience.

"When you're on stage and there's lights, there's a big gap between you and the audience.

“Here, it’s 15 to 18 people, I ask everyone their name, I try and remember them — and you do build a mini relationship with each individual person.”

"I don't want my audience to feel uncomfortable. That's not what this work is about. I want my audience to be with me and to like me and to identify with the stories, and to have a chuckle — and to have a cry."

Biladurang will be performed in Brisbane at The Johnson from September 12-15, 2018 as part of the Brisbane Festival.