Presented by Steamworks Arts and Feisty Dame Productions, JULIA is a one-hour solo piece performed by Natalie Allen. This contemporary dance is a provocative response to the sexism and misogyny endured by former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard. Co-created by Natalie Allen and Sally Richardson, JULIA calls for a cultural reset—for the acknowledgement of discrimination against all women to be felt through this immersive experience.
The audience is ushered into four sections of seats that encompass an empty white stage; the performer has nowhere to hide. A Traditional Custodian welcome is presented by Glenda Kickett, and the Deadly Yorgas from Harvey perform a dance that grounds the evening in appreciation for and celebration of strong matriarchal lines in our Whadjuk Noongar Aboriginal women. The lights simmer down and JULIA is about to begin.
Natalie Allen bounces onto the stage, appropriately donning short, auburn hair. The 5’8 dancer grins in bright red lipstick as she walks around the stage and makes eye contact with all four quadrants of the audience. She’s brought a clothes rack of props and costumes with her and takes out a megaphone, broom and stack of papers, placing them in each corner of the stage. This is in addition to the large, rectangular table and chair that are centre-stage.
At first, Julia/Allen looks at the table tentatively as if she can’t believe she is able to physically touch it, and perhaps apprehensive of what will follow after making initial contact. Speaking to Director and co-creator Sally Richardson of Steamworks Arts, this table “represents power, the domestic, Parliament, the patriarchy, […] it is immovable”. Allen’s interaction with the table, including her clinging to, shoving and kicking of this prop, is a symbol of the immense weight of this patriarchal structure. As Allen throws herself over, around and onto the table (with audible cracks echoing throughout the room when her knees hit the surface) the audience can feel the physical duress this construct has on her body.
The use of a knife shocks viewers, keeping our eyes glued to Allen’s every muscle movement as she bears her teeth down on the metal blade. The slow, sustained manipulation of her weight when dancing with this prop brings many metaphors to mind, such as the former Prime Minister being referred to as the Lady Macbeth of politics and a ruthless backstabber by various sources for the “usurping of Kevin Rudd”. Co-creators Allen and Richardson’s transformation of objects such as the knife “plays with perception in an overt way”, as Richardson puts it. This performance uses object theatre to send the message that, in the words of Gillard herself, we are “all entitled to a better standard than this”.
Allen utilises her portable wardrobe to change into a red suit with red pointy shoes and proceeds to place an enormous stack of disheveled white papers on her head. Less than a metre from my chair, I can see her suit quivering as she executes every step with precision, walking the boundary of the stage whilst precariously balancing the mountain of papers. Every movement is measured, focused and the command Allen has over her body is incredible.
The performance is peppered with the use of different props, each object enhancing Allen’s portrayal of the hurdles Gillard jumped to keep her head afloat in Australian Parliament. This is accompanied by sections of news reportage from Gillard’s famous 2012 misogyny speech and commentary made about her, which saturate the audience in the sexism and misogyny the first female Prime Minister of Australia endured during (and following) her leadership.
Richardson conveys that the body can tell stories differently; she highlights how, unlike other creative mediums, dance can communicate what misogyny feels like. It’s a powerful statement and one that does not fall on deaf ears, thanks to the fiercely dedicated, dynamic duo of Allen and Richardson. The performance garnered a standing ovation, and the pride beaming from Allen on stage was well-deserved.
JULIA is showing NOW until the 29th of May, from 7pm at the State Theatre of WA.
Get your tickets while you still can!