You are immediately drowned in a haze of pink light as you take a step inside the venue. It takes a moment for your eyes to adjust and take in the dreamlike space you have walked into. It is then you spot a figure in skimpy, shiny briefs posed like Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam on a pink cloud of fairy floss and you wonder how you didn't see it earlier. The last in a trilogy of confessional works by dancer/performer Joel Bray, Daddy explores his relationship with his father and subsequently his culture, while also opening up about being a gay man and how he uses sex in an effort to fill an emptiness inside himself.
Bray brings to the surface the relationships, the history and the culture that he has lost due to colonisation. While there’s gravity to what he saying, the fluffy pink set pieces and props (sugar and sweets) are a stark contrast to his words. There’s a link between his childhood and adulthood and culture and identity that is unable to be separated. Not having the opportunity to learn how to speak Wiradjuri as a child from his father, Bray uses an app on an iPhone. This exploration of loss is further highlighted as he struggles to teach himself how to shake-a-leg, a traditional Indigenous dance.
Whether his movements are slow and graceful or erratic and extremely physical, they retain a sense of urgency and desperation to them, as if Bray is trapped inside a routine that is doomed to repeat itself. James Lew's set design simultaneously represents childhood ecstasy and an imposing sexual energy. Eroticism permeates throughout Daddy that is superbly supported by Katie Sfetkidis’ lighting, which is some of her best work. From her playful pink hues to exposing Bray’s later outrage, her sublime design is meticulous in execution.
The disconnect from his culture leads Bray to using sex as a way of connection and what sex means to him, which includes an all-in dance lesson on how to pull the right moves at the club to grab the attention of the man you want to take home for the night. Naretha Williams’ composition and sound design captures the gradual desperation and yearning Bray feels. At a later point, Bray re-enacts an interview for a role in a pornographic film where he is told he does not look Aboriginal enough due to his fair skin that leads to an explosion of disgust and anger. Though this is surprising, it feels like the climax we have been building towards and cleverly forces the audience to re-evaluate what they have been watching.
With a much larger audience than his previous show Biladurang, Bray builds a strong connection with each and every audience member. Even when Bray doesn't interact with them directly, his words and body do. Daddy may paint a sombre picture of someone who is using every possible sugar high to fill the gap in his heart, and while the show culminates in the ultimate high, this one feels different to the other attempts we’ve been told about. It's one that is joyful, loving and hopeful.
Venue: Arts House, 521 Queensberry St., North Melbourne
Season: Until 12 May | Sat 8:30pm, Sun 6:30pm
Tickets: $30 Full | $25 Conc | $20 Students
Photo Credit: Bryony Jackson