Born in 1987, the year in which the greatest number of people died in Australia and the U.S. as the result of AIDS related illness, and after learning that a number of his friends had become HIV positive, dancer/choreographer James Welsby created his dance work, HEX, in an attempt to make sense of the epidemic, and to hopefully better understand the present rise of apathy towards HIV/AIDS amongst his peers.
Utilising three dancers, himself, Chafia Brooks and James Andrews, together with a dramatic soundscape by Claudio Tosco, sensitive lighting design by Rose Connors Dance, a dance vocabulary drawing primarily on popular club dance moves, together with a good deal of chutzpah and imagination, Welsby has created an intriguing work, which, even if it does not provide answers, will certainly go a long way towards achieving his secondary aim of creating an inter-generational conversation about AIDS history.
The work commences with a recording of Peter Allen singing Everything Old is New Again. Towards the end of the song the recording grinds to a halt, as Brooks and Andrews take the stage, separated from each other by two corridors of light. Welsby, wearing a Grim Reaper costume and mask, appears and menaces the others. After a few minutes, Welsby discards the costume with the exception of the mask, which remains a constant through-out the work, suspended centre stage.
The three perform a long series of complicated disco moves, moving in unison. Then follows several intriguing sections, which, although the significance of what they attempt to convey was not always clear, were none-the-less interesting for their theatricality and staging.
In the final startling moments of the work, the choreographer exposed his anus to the audience in a gesture, perhaps of insult, invitation or maybe a reference to the source of the epidemic. Not all the ideas in HEX work, however, it is an admirable attempt to address a difficult topic through dance. One looks forward to seeing more of Welsby’s creations.
Director / Choreographer: James Welsby Performers: James Andrews, Chafia Brooks, James Welsby Lighting Design: Rose Connors Dance Sound Design: Claudio Tocco Production/Stage Manager: Jennifer Spiers Costume Design: Bryn Meredith
The Street Theatre, Childers Street, Canberra
Performance: Sunday 1 March 2015
For more information, visit: www.jameswelsby.com for details.
Image: James Welsby in HEX – photo by Gregory Lorenzutti
Review: Bill Stephens