Joel. He’s a beautiful boy. He’s beaming at us from the moment he opens the door and welcomes us into a hotel room in the Johnson. The room is a mess, strewn with clothes, empty glasses, and unmade bed, the spoils of last nights excesses. Joel is bright and welcoming and bubbling around just a little too frantically for this to be quite, ah, normal.
I get a sense of the performers’ urgency to convey. I get a sense he is not entirely sure what he wants to convey. Or perhaps there are so many things that are working themselves out in an agony of art, communication, shame, burning pride, fierce loyalty, giddy joy, utter confusion.
Joel tells us the story of biladurang, the platypus. In this telling, a duck wanders away from her people into a forbidden place. Assaulted by the water-rat, she returns home pregnant, but is banished because she broke the rule that says do not go to other places. She bears her children, strange creatures, neither rat nor duck but both less and more than the sum of their parts. The duck and her strange children journey on and find solace in deep pools farther down the river, a new home of their own. This dreaming story shared is one of tragedy, outcast, confusion, and family. Finding a family with others like you.
Sometimes Joel bounds around the room, his body unable to contain his energy, other times he lays splayed on the floor, divulging graphic stories of hook-ups and memories of teenage lust. Honestly, sometimes I am bored, I want a little more pep, perhaps I want something more I can personally relate to, beyond the strange dissonance of a roomful of strangers and an intimate setting. And yet, I remember that stories like this were not permitted on the stage until such recent times. That stories of love between men was illegal in this state until 1991. As we all know, men and women could only marry each other as of last year, and that right is by no means secure for all time with our increasingly conservative government. As told so fervently here, an Australian childhood for our queer children still comes with a convoluted passport to intense secrecy, shame and self-flagellation. The fabulosity of the Mardi Gras is built on a deep dark river of Pride with a capital P.
The set is intimate. Obviously. The whole room is five meters by ten. We are offered terry-towelling robes and champagne. It is true, I have been to parties and illicit liaisons like this before, these same mundane walls, the art that becomes commonplace in these holding pens, these anonymous rooms where people stay when they are in-between places, meeting nameless others.
These spaces invite the audience to be a little bit risque, a little bit forward, a little bit ‘other’, a little bit more forthcoming, than they would ordinarily.
As I muse on the show after a day or so, I am struck more and more by the story of biladurang. Beget in violence, ostracised, awkwardly seeking a family, making a family of ones own when none other is offered. The sparkling friendly authenticity of Joel, the performer himself and his imagining of himself, the wild mood swings, the genuine interaction, the ultimate lack of concern for other. A spiralling ode to what is lost that will never be found. There is a favourite word of mine, hiraeth, which means a homesickness, a longing, for a place one cannot go, or maybe never was. And that is the word that echoes in my mind in a final dance piece, a call, a cry, to times that will never come to pass.
Nadia Jade attended Biladurang Thursday 13th September. Biladurang is presented as part of Brisbane Festival 12 -15 September at the Art Series Hotels – The Johnson
Creator and Performer Joel Bray
Composer Kate Carr