Tess Nichol went to see Biladurang in the Auckland Arts Festival, and found it a moving, funny, vulnerable performance. It's her pick of the festival so far. Bonus for the current situation: the audience has less than 20 people in it.
Joel Bray’s body moves like a snake; fluid and graceful, whether he’s dancing in his underwear in a hotel room in front of 16 strangers, or pulling on a bathrobe.
Bray’s intimate, site-specific Auckland Arts Festival show Biladurang is a moving, funny, vulnerable performance exploring the life of a man who has never quite felt like he belonged. The nowhere space of a hotel room (in this run of the performance, on the 29th floor of the Avani Auckland Metropolis building in the CBD) matches the neither-here-nor-thereness of many of Bray’s formative years.
Growing up as a queer, white passing Aboriginal boy in rural Australia in a deeply conservative Christian household, Bray often felt like a mutant - not unlike the Platypus, or biladurang, in a legend his Wiradjuri grandmother told him when he was young (a tale Bray acts out in charming fashion in the tiny hotel room, Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour sparkling beyond. The visual effect is subtle but impactful, like much of Bray’s clever use of his hotel room stage).
If this all sounds a bit heavy, it’s not. Well, it is at times, but overall the hour-long show is a life affirming, joyful and ultimately quite wholesome experience (despite an extended bit about wanking in the middle). The close confines are at first confronting - what if Bray flubs a line, or knocks something over as he writhes around the room? But as a performer Bray is not only completely in control, he also emanates an easy warmth which quickly puts the audience at ease; like a charming host he knows how to steal the show while making everyone else feel a bit special just for being in his presence.
Without giving too much away, the audience is as much a part of the show as Bray; the wall between artist and audience and between audience members quickly dissolves in a way which turns out to be quite a lot of fun.
In a preview for Biladurang, Metro billed the show as being “about” racism, but this turns out to be slightly reductive. It’s not as broad as that, or as clearcut, and if it’s “about” anything, Biladurang is about the excruciating task of figuring out where you belong in the world, and what kind of life you build from the values you hold and the connections you make. It was accurate of Bray, however, to say the show was going to be "a bit of a romp".
Biladurang is innovative both visually and in its use of audio, and the quirky location is not just a gimmick: Bray has created a genuinely wonderful piece of dance theatre, and if you see only one show in the Auckland Arts Festival, make it this one.
Biladurang is running from now until 22 March with two sessions each evening. Tickets from $45.