Natalie Allen discusses her forthcoming solo, 'Julia', with Karen van Ulzen.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s furious repudiation of then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has become famous, resonating around the world. The so-called “misogyny speech” - a 14-minute, passionate outburst in Australian Parliament - has become the rallying cry for a new wave of feminism, such as #MeToo, and is seen by many as a defining moment in Australian attitudes towards women in politics and culture.
In the lead-up to the 10th anniversary of the speech, Perth-based artist Natalie Allen will be presenting a unique, dance solo response.
Called Julia, the work is co-created with theatre director Sally Richardson. It draws on material from the parliamentary record, media reportage and public commentary around the political leadership of Australia’s first female prime minister. It is described as "a portrait of female leadership, personality, power and the body politic".
The solo began life about three years ago when Richardson approached Allen and asked her if she would be interested in developing a piece with her. The first iteration was roughly the same length as Gillard's speech. It was performed as part of STRUT Dance's Move Me Improvisational Festival in 2018 and immediately struck a chord with audiences. Encouraged by the favourable buzz, the pair realised the work had the potential to be much longer.
“It is now more nuanced than the original,” Allen explains. “We realised that there are so many sides to the story. We wanted to respect and honour Julia Gillard but also make her a human being. . . . each [audience member] will enter the work differently because we each have our own experience of sexism, of being silenced or being disempowered. I feel like the work has almost taken a breath out, in the sense of - it's playful, it's funny, it's very serious, it's solemn, mesmerising . . . We've now developed it so there's an accessibility about the subject matter, we're not just telling women's stories for women, it's actually for everyone, because we all have to be a part of making the change.”
One of the overwhelming personal responses Allen had when re-listening to the speech, she says, was rage. “It made me really angry. I didn't know if it was my rage, or past generations' rage. So what do you do with all this anger?” Over time, she was able to temper the anger to something “more in line with Julia Gillard's description of herself when she presented the speech, which is like a 'cool anger'.” She found this seeming contradiction, between hot and cold, fascinating to explore and to express through her movement.
What about misogyny in dance? Does misogyny rear its head in this female dominated artform? Allen believes that misogyny takes form in the required aesthetics – the way women are expected to appear small, slender and childlike.
Julia Gillard was scrutinised for her appearance while her words were ignored or mocked. In Julia, Allen is surrounded by the audience on four sides, completely exposed, while "lighting and sound, a blend of sampled voice, news bite and original composition, recreate both the world of Gillard and the media circus she was a part of".
Allen and Richardson believe that Julia will be a force for action in raising awareness, calling for change, recognising we are “all entitled to a better standard than this”, and we are all part of making it happen.
The new 'Julia' will have its premiere season fron May 20 to 29 at The Studio Underground at State Theatre Centre WA. It will also be presented at the Albany Entertainment Centre in June.
More info and tickets here.
Photos: Allen performing at the Harvey Recreation and Cultural Centre, WA.
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