Considerable Sexual License
Reviewed by: Kamarra Bell-Wykes
The blue-lit theatre space is inhabited only by a giant performance circle, we mill around expectantly trying to distinguish each other through the smoke-haze from the four ensemble members who mingle amongst us. They’re pretty easy to pick in silver Adidas spacesuits, armed with lubricating small talk and charming smiles. As tempting as it is we’re still not sure if we should enter the circle yet but as the funky basslines have us tapping our toes and bopping our heads; one things for certain, it’s gonna get loose tonight.
As the first dance cycle kicks off the ensemble begin to pulsate around the circle, a jerking, sweeping, intertwining organism that holds the compelling, mesmerising energy of a ritual that’s been done a thousand times before but never the same way twice. Over the next 30 minutes we’re transported on a thumping, pumping journey of tantalising grinding beats and intersecting cultural and gender identities. An exhilarating expression and timely reminder of the power of bodies in space.
Cheeky humour, bubble guns, lap dances, and the jaw-dropping reveal of a giant unicorn take us all by delightful surprise. Audible gasps and cheers rise amongst us and we dance in and out of the circle; gracefully ushered by the ensemble in and out of the performance space. We’re little kids in a sexy candy store, our appetites peaked to perfection, devouring the performers with a ravenous hunger, greedily consuming all with our eyes. We’re perfectly primed for climax, ready to go anywhere with our seductive guides, even the depths of Hell if they choose to do so and oh mama… do they.
The haunting sound of mission bells rings through the space smashing our palatable collective sexual energy. We look around uncertainly as we are ushered to take our seats at the circles edge. The ensemble piece together a velvet blue settee as Joel Bray and Carly Sheppard adorn the uniform of domestic servants worn by their grandmothers, once worn by all young Aboriginal women forced to be slaves for rich Colonial families, cattle station owners, sugar cane entrepreneurs. They scrub the floor slowly, painfully, forcing us to witness the excruciating and humiliating duty of the girls who would become our mothers, aunties, and grandmothers. A gut-wrenching depiction of this country’s dirty history, for those who share this legacy, an all-too-recognisable scene of our ancestor’s oppression, for those who have benefited from it, an ugly reminder of Australia’s “fore-father’s” crimes.
What happens next is a surreal and unnerving unravelling of Joel’s personal family history, denied descendants of the Arnott’s Biscuits fortune and the colonisation of Australia’s first people entwine. This courageous and unapologetically ugly demonstration of the collective brutalisation of Aboriginal people by Captain Cook and the violent history to follow.
Our delicious dream-world has come to a crashing halt and we suddenly find ourselves in the depths of a nightmare, one we don’t want to watch but can’t look away from.
Some of us wretch and cover our eyes, others grip hands and lean into each other, compelled to stand strong in the face of this gruesome metaphor of sexual symbolism. We are palatably confronted and exhausted by the excruciating and arresting experience we’ve shared, not sure where to look, many avert their eyes.
The ensemble reach their hands to us offering a way out of the trauma encouraging us to walk the circle together; gathering strength, taking comfort in our shared endurance and survival. We begin to smile at each other, bound by what we’ve been through; broken down, reconstructed, changed. The ensemble performs their final dance, embodying the spirit, freedom and all-enduring-power of a people that have danced since the dawn of time, that have danced through the dark and into the light, of a people that will never stop dancing. No matter what.
Considerable Sexual License directed and choreographed by Joel Bray (Wiradjuri) is a relentlessly delicious rollercoaster ride. A celebratory exploration and explosion of cultural and sexual identity. It’s incredible tantalising ensemble challenges core beliefs you hold to be true. Each dancer more riveting then the next, none more than Carly Sheppard a shape-shifting extraordinaire who changes form right before our eyes, spell-binding in her every move.
Bray’s explorative dance practice and instinctual ceremonial influence is an electrifying demonstration of how to explode boundaries in all the right ways. His potent and efficient use of costume, movement, text and movement dances across the line of contemporary and traditional ceremony performance. This is the razor’s edge of a new wave of First Nation’s performance zeitgeist and Bray is leading the way.
Direction & Choreography: Joel Bray
Performers: Carly Sheppard, Niharika Senapati, Daniel Newell and Joel Bray
Composition & Sound Designer: Daniel Nixon
Collaborating Director and Dramaturg: Stephen Nicolazzo
Lighting Designer: Katie Sfetkidis
Lighting Associate: Rachel Lee
Designer: Nathan Burmeister
Technical Production & Stage Management: Lucie Sutherland
Executive Producer: Alison Halit
Program Producer: Lucie Sutherland
Image credit: Bryony Jackson