- a close-fitting one-piece garment, made of a stretchy fabric, which covers a person’s body from the shoulders to the top of the thighs, worn by dancers or people exercising indoors.
- a right of passage for many young people, particularly dancers and gymnastics
- the bane of anyone going through puberty
- a magical garment that can transform you into the powerful, jazz-handed, charasmatic Sasha Fierce of your dreams
- the place where sequins go to die
- all of the above
Hands up if you’ve ever worn a leotard?
You’ll probably never forget your first one. Bejazzled, three too many colours that don’t quite match, either too few or too many sequins depending on the family budget and their prowess with a glue gun and prone to try to escape the spotlight by sliding up into any crevice where the sun don’t shine. It was a thing of beauty, loved and worn with pride. Often around the house more than on the stage.
Slide it on and you were a Performer. Nay, a STAR! Ready to sparkle your way through your next performance. More powerful than a superhero’s costume, crawl inside and you became some one else ready to pirouette, grape-vine, box-step and tumble your way into the history books. It was the battle armour you wore to sashay your way through any competition that would come your way. Wear it and you were unstoppable
And then comes puberty and every. single. little change is out there for the world to see. Bumps, eruptions, emerging foliage. EVERY thing. If artistic-dance-nastics didn’t end up as being your thing, odds-on the leotards of your youth were either boxed up under the stairs, shredded for the rag bin at home or ritualistically burnt.
But what if we never lost that love, that power, that the leotard brought us in our youth? Would we be a little more fabulous? Would life have a little more sparkle?
Leotard by Bridget Boyle and Neridah Waters and directed by Lucas Stibbard is an ode to the glory of these stretchy fabric costumes and the costumes we put on ourselves, and those forced upon us, by two of Australia’s powerhouse physical comedians. Through a mix of vignettes, interviews with Brisbanites, interpretative dance and even theatre exercises, it’s explores the messy beautiy of the lives of those who have donned the armour of lycra and dared to perform for the masses. And best of all, it’s side-splittingly funny.
Beginning in nude underwear and surrounded by dozens of leotards of all shapes and sizes, Boyle and Waters guide us through the power of the skin-tight wonder suits and the performance of womanhood by climbing into leotard after leotard and taking the audience through a range of characters we all know too well.
There’s Maria and Trisha, televangelists with a special product to sell. Rhonda and Ruth, flirty mum with someone special to share on her daughter’s birthday. Tracey, giving a blow-by-blow commentary of how she single-handedly saved her dance school’s performance. Stephanie and Samantha, performing their talents at ‘Ms Regional New South Wales’. And Anna and Jo, dance mums ready to defend their daughters honour to the death. And so many more. Each character is familiar, notched up to 100, crafted with the right balance of camp ridiculousness and pathos. And each showcases an aspect of womanhood thrust upon kids from such a young age.
Throughout Leotard, Boyle and Waters flit between climbing into new characters in rapid succession and guiding us through important exercises of the world of Theatre. Anyone who did high school drama will be particularly tickled by Neridah’s take on commedia dell’arte. These exercises of complicite and performance techniques are cleverly mocked and form the backbone of the piece.
Every moment of Leotard is well crafted and timed to perfection. Even at their most restrained, a raised eyebrow or furrowed brow from Boyle and Waters has the audience in stitches. For a show in its first run, it feels effortless. So much so that Boyle even incorporates an improvised spiel about some technical issues that were happening on the night into one of her monologues to hilarious effect. Throughout, Boyles and Waters complement each other perfectly. Both having time to gleefully chew the scenary, yet never once overshadowing the other. I can’t take my eyes of either of them and I can’t wait to see Leotard once again.
Interspliced with these vignettes are interviews with women of all ages sharing stories of what leotards have meant to them at various stages of their lives. Many of those interviewed had reconnected with the Leotard through 2019’s Common People Dance Eisteddfod. They share stories of pride and the excitement of receiving their first leotard. Of comparison and body dysmorphia that came when stretchy fabric meant there was nothing to hide during puberty. Of family and what performance can mean to parents and children. And most importantly, of the freedom and power that can come from donning a leotard in any aspect of your life. These stories of how a simple piece of fabric effected their lives are a perfect complement to Boyle and Waters’ performance and add an additional depth to the performance.
Special credit needs to go to the creative team behind the scenes. Under the watchful eye of director Lucas Stibbard, Boyle and Waters utilise every part of the space to milk all possible jokes. Dozens of leotards cover the walls of the stage, each spotlighted as they deserve to be when their story is told. Nathan Sibthorpe’s video design adds an extra flare, particularly spinning close-ups of a range of the leotards, highlighting all of their garish glory.
Leotard is an impressive debut from two of Australia’s finest physical comedians that had the audience in stitches from beginning to end. If you missed this debut season, make sure to bedazzle all your bits in anticipation of its return. Camp and ridiculous, joyous and incisive, powerfully feminist and surprisingly touching, it’s a true master-class in physical comedy and storytelling. Even if you haven’t stretched on a leotard to share yourself with the world or braved a highschool drama class, Leotard is sure to inspire you to wrap your up your bits in all their sequinned glory and show the world just how extraordinary you really are. A must see!
Ads J saw ‘Leotard’ at Metro Arts on 7 February 2020 as a part of the ‘Metro Arts, with love’ festival. ‘Metro Arts, with love’ runs until 15 February 2020.
Performer / Creator | Bridget Boyle
Performer / Creator | Neridah Waters
Director / Creator / Sound Designer / Scenic Designer | Lucas Stibbard
Scenic Designer / Design Realisation | Cameron Clark
Lighting Designer | Christine Felmingham
Video Designer | Nathan Sibthorpe
Cover image by Lucas Stibbard. Show images by Darren Thomas (PhotoCo).