Liz Lea RED - photo by Lorna SimHow remarkable that such a painful affliction as Endometriosis could inspire such a beautiful work as Red. Endometriosis is a condition which affects a woman’s reproductive organs. Current Canberra Artist of the Year, Liz Lea, has suffered from this condition for the last 20 years, though few outside her closest friends would have known.

During this time she has pursued an extraordinary career as a dancer/choreographer and mentor. How she managed to achieve this, and the price paid, is revealed in her astonishingly personal, and occasionally confronting, new dance work, Red, which premiered in the QL2 Theatre.

Lea’s career as a professional dancer has ranged through commercial dance, Indian classical and contemporary dance. All these styles are represented in Red, which despite encompassing input from many collaborators including three choreographers, a dramaturg, a composer, various designers, and a cinematographer, in addition to her own contribution, emerges as a remarkably coherent, powerful and moving dance-theatre work.

Red commences gently with a beautiful filmed sequence featuring Lea, red silk billowing behind her, slowly moving across a bridge to a haunting version of Gluck’s aria from Orpheus and Eurydice. A male voice-over intones “She thought she could have it all, love, family, travel and a white picket fence”. This striking introduction morphs seamlessly into a series of compelling sequences, some involving Lea addressing the audience directly as details of her struggle with Endometriosis begin to emerge.

A powerfully athletic sequence, choreographed by Vicki van Hout, expressed her frustration as the undiagnosed symptoms began to appear. Virginia Ferris choreographed a flirty, defiant showgirl sequence to Ricky Martin’s She Bangs, while Lea herself choreographed a quasi-nightmare sequence in which twelve mature dancers in sparkling black dresses carrying red fans circled around her as she succumbed to the effects of prescription drugs.

Each section involved costume and hairstyle changes which were skilfully accomplished by Lea, whose professionalism shone through every element of her performance, from her arresting narrations, delivered with confidence and humour, to her beautifully polished dance technique, notable for its innate  elegance and impeccable sense of line.

As the performance moved towards its climax, Lea appeared wearing an elegant full-length red coat. She sat down, applied red lipstick to her lips and bright red paint to her fingernails, while gently confiding the advice given to her by doctors treating her condition. Suddenly she stood up, let the coat fall to the ground, revealing an elegant short black cocktail dress with killer-heels Jimmy Choo shoes.

As the haunting Gluck aria from the beginning of the show recommenced, Lea moved to the centre of the stage, where, standing in a tight, bright, spotlight, she began a slow, mesmerising, beautiful and defiant dance, choreographed by Martin del Amo, which allowed the audience a moment to reflect on what had gone before, marvel at the resilience and bravery of the performer they had been watching, and be moved by the determination and grace with which she faced the future.

QL2 Theatre – Gorman House, 55 Ainslie Avenue, Braddon (Canberra)
Performance: Sunday 11 March 2018
Season ended

Image: Liz Lea in Red – photo by Lorna Sim

Review: Bill Stephens OAM