Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre, Perth
Reviewed May 21
Created by Natalie Allen and Sally Richardson, and presented by Steamworks Arts and Feisty Dame Productions, JULIA is a one-hour solo contemporary dance piece which reconstructs the experiences of former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. With sexism and misogyny as its focal point, this performance not only shines a light on the difficulties faced by Gillard during her term, but the difficulties faced by all women in positions of power. Performed by Allen, the work is separated into three distinct sections, roughly moving from the past into the present.
The performance space, a rectangular stage surrounded by the audience, is a distinct choice. Much like Gillard, Allen is watched from all angles, invoking a sense of vulnerability and aloneness on the stage. This sense of aloneness is further developed with the choice of props; only a long rectangular table and a singular chair appear on the stage, representing both power and the isolation that comes with it.
The performance begins with upbeat funky music and Allen appearing in a bright multicoloured jacket and sparkling heels. Allen grins and struts about the stage with confidence, making eye contact with those in the audience. She trails a rack of clothes behind her and eventually places it in the corner, changing into a well-fitted white suit jacket. In this first section, it is clear that Allen is depicting a time of simplicity for Gillard; a time before the disproportionate criticism began. Allen’s sharp high kicks (notably, whilst standing on the table) shows off her strong technique and poised extensions. Her energy and personality are a joy to watch.
The second part is far darker, depicting a time after the criticisms roll in. There are portions of erratic movement, contrasted with moments of calm and contemplation. A particularly striking moment occurs as Allen walks around the edge of the stage, balancing a stack of papers on her head. The papers eventually fall off, and the more Allen tries to pick them up, the more scattered and widespread they become. Allen stuffs her clothes with the papers until her body is disfigured, and eventually removes the papers, picks up a broom and sweeps it all under the table. This segment is a unique depiction of how destructive criticism of women in power can be, particularly criticism of women’s bodies. Allen and Richardson’s creation of this scene is both clever and thought-provoking.
While the performance’s audio (designed and composed by Joe Lui and Annika Moses) consists of mostly electronic-pop-like music, in the final segment it is a loud, busy combination of electronic music and Gillard’s iconic misogyny speech – a complete shift from the rest of the performance.
In this last scene, Allen embodies the fury and defiance exhibited by Gillard while delivering that speech in 2012. Allen picks up the broomstick and rides it cackling around the stage: a nod to the fact that Gillard had been called a witch by critics. Allen’s commitment to the role, and to each moment, is outstanding. She jumps, falls and thrashes in and around the table, apparently erratic but in fact displaying incredible amount of control.
It is a delicate thing, mixing art with politics. However, the themes in JULIA are far broader than one woman’s experience, making the performance entirely relatable. This is thoughtful and unapologetic, a truly fine creation.
– ALANA KILDEA
Photos: Two scenes from 'Julia'. Photo: JLG Photographics
Did you see our video interview with Natalie Allen? You can find it here.