Daddy. Joel Bray. Arts Centre Melbourne 2020.

Joel Bray’s ‘Daddy’ is immersive dance at its finest

January 28, 2020

Prolific dancer Joel Bray brings his latest work to the Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Midsumma Festival, unveiling an autobiography expressed through immersive contemporary dance. 


Bray’s debut performance at Midsumma Festival comes after a decorated decade that has involved the creation of pieces such as Daharawungara (2018) and Biladurang (2017). 


20-year-old Joel Bray was a law student who felt uninspired with his chosen career path. He soon began a new journey, shelving the law books and giving dance a try. 20 years later, he is still dancing and at the peak of his career. 


Joel attended NAISDA (National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association Dance College) where his roots as a Wiradjuri dance artist came to light. From there, he pursued classical and contemporary dance at WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts). Diving headfirst into a dance career, he relocated to Portugal to join a small dance company, then later moved to Israel where he spent nine years working with multiple dance companies. 


This immersive performance Daddy features his trademark confection of conversation. It explores his journey as a queer man with Indigenous heritage navigating his identity in an increasingly complex world. Despite fond memories of time spent with his Aboriginal father in Redfern, Joel felt that part of his culture was missing. Daddy is a work that appears glossy and divine on the outside, the poster mimicking Katy Perry’s California Gurls as he reclines naked on a cloud of cotton candy. Yet this story is rooted in his search for love and cultural identity.

Daddy. Photo by James Henry.

Daddy is a provocative title but it has serious undertones about the inheritance which I didn’t get from my father. It is like there is a cavity inside of me—a hole, like when you eat too much sugar you are left with this hole in your teeth. We find ways of trying to fill that hole, such as going to the gym excessively or working all the time. My cavity was filled with boys and sex,” Joel explained.


Joel’s perspective on living as a queer man in a digital era is fascinating. He juxtaposes the abundance of immediate pleasures and convenience with the increasingly difficult task of finding genuine connection with other people; a concept that goes beyond the gay community.


The second perspective of Joel’s piece is the cultural identity that has been lost within him. 

My influences are more or less white. There is a sense of trying to find your culture and I keep returning to the shake a leg, which is an iconic Aboriginal dance. It is masculine and strong. I keep trying to find it in my body and I keep giving up. It is a metaphor for this culture that has been lost in myself.”


Daddy, performed and created by Joel Bray, is on at the Arts Centre Melbourne from February 4-8, 2020. Tickets can be purchased here.

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