Wednesday 20 March 2019

Biladurang - Live Art Review

What: Biladurang
When: 19 - 24 March 2019
Where: Sofitel Melbourne
Created and performed by: Joel Bray
Composed by: Kate Carr
Joel Bray - photo by Pippa Samaya
I love hotel rooms and I love live performance which thinks and feels and makes me do the same. In Biladurang at the Sofitel Melbourne Bray gave me a hour and a half of what I consider to be the best things in life (plus a touch of the bubbly to get us in the mood...) Let's face it, who hasn't always dreamed of being invited to a hotel room party with all it's potentials for ups, downs, outrages and intimicies?

22 random people (us) have been invited up to Bray's hotel room. The room looks like there has already been a bit of a wild party in motion and it seems as if Bray doesn't want to be alone even though the other guests have left. Eager to be a good host, he has hotel dressing gowns for us all to don, welcomes us all individually in a futile attempt to remember our names, and rearranges the furniture to make sure we are all comfortable and have a good seat.

Of course, 22 people are a lot of bodies, so he enlists help from us to do things like hand out the robes, pour champagne, turn lights on and off and other random and unexpected tasks. This is the first indication that we are not just an observing audience. We are here, in this world with him for however long this party (?) lasts.

To be in a hotel room is a very intimate thing. For those of us who have experienced extended stays they are oddly impersonal whilst also becoming your safe space - your home away from home - for as long as you are there and until you can make it back to your real home. By bringing total strangers into this oddly liminal residence, Bray is also beginning the journey into his life as a 'white' Wiradjuri man.

The conceit begins with Bray explaining he is newly single. This tells us everything we need to know about why we are about to experience a stream of consciousness journey which travels the bounds of times and realities - from the dreaming to quantum physics, from Orange to Narrm, from boyhood to manhood, from the bed to the bath, from him to us and beyond.

As we all know, great loss (be it love, career, home) is always a catalyst for us to look at who we are, how we got here, and where we belong. Bray begins this exploration in nothing more than a pair of tighty whities and an open dressing gown, the shutters on the windows are closed which gave Bray permission to be more open. Writhing around as if his skin doesn't quite fit right, Joel talks about his father who says his totem animal is the sand goanna although with so much language and history lost to the Wiraduri it is impossible to know if that is true. Regardless, Bray's spasming and writhing mimic the shapes and tempo of this iconic Australian reptile.

Bray is a dancer and his work in what is such an intimate space filled with so much furniture (and people) is surprisingly dense and impeccably executed. Not just relying on his ability to tell stories with his body though, Bray also speaks to us with his words. He tells us the story of Biladurang the platypus. Stolen and raped repeatedly by the water rat until she fell pregnant, she eventually escaped but could not return home because firstly, it was her fault for wandering too far from home and secondly because her babies - hybrid children - could not survive in the climate of her native home. As Bray builds the dense analogies which alone give us so much to think about, his body struggles to find its place and space and form in which he would be comfortable to share himself with us.

Biladurang is moving, funny, personal and interpersonal. Making us laugh Bray takes us through the agonising efforts to access gay porn in a small town and then the pleasure and pain of ecstatic masturbations. A land creature, at one point he leaves us to find solace in a bubble bath and we watch on CCTV as he emerges to rest on the edge of worlds before girding his loins (literally) with bubbles. Thus armoured he returns and asks one of us to roll him a smoke before beginning an almost post-coital rambling.

This is where Carr's sound track really starts to dominate. A dripping tap exciting an urge to action which is never satisfied later merged into ambient music as Bray continues to interrogate how he got here, his body splayed at the end of the bed as if exhausted.

At this point the performance turns to us. Bray dresses and then doles out hotel toiletries before offering hand massages with the fragrant hotel body lotion. Kneeling at people's feet, he asks about their heritage and it is surprising, rewarding, and astounding the stories which emerge in the space of a gentle tenderness. I think it is the human connection which causes people's truths to leak out just as Bray's truths have leaked out for us all.

Bray's work is always very sight specific and whilst it has met all of those conditions magnificently so far, he takes it one step further. After a very lovely slow dance, in our very own choreographed cannon Bray has us open the shutters to reveal what has to be one of the most magnificent views of  Melbourne to continue his story of being between worlds, between realities, as he overlays Narrm's history too.

Biladurang is an hour and a half of souls meeting souls. It is safe sharing of the most personal and intriguing kind and is one of those rare pieces of art which allows us to share our humanity as we explore the paths of how such a diverse group of people could find themselves in the same place and the same time struggling to make a community. Oh, and I think I am finally beginning to understand what a songline is which is a great gift indeed.

5 Stars

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