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.

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.