I am a Gong Girl

Image: Ana Otero photograph by Simone Coleman

I am a Gong Girl. Well really a Dapto Dog.

It is nearly a week since I fulfilled a dream dear to me: to perform in my hometown, on my home turf. Thanks to Lisa Maris McDonell I was able to do that in a work aptly titled Home Truths, at the Merrigong Theatre as part of the studio sessions initiative, with four other superb performers including Chylie Cooper, Robina Beard, Ana Otero and Lisa herself.

Lisa first approached me after I attended a showing at Critical Path of research she had been conducting in a residency early last year about smaller movement and the importance within the framework of the older dancer. I distinctly remember 3 subjects, a very young and nubile female dancer, who moved with the ease and virtuosity of myself (when inhabiting my dreams), Robina, who communicated wonder through a series of very graceful slow and deliberate sweeping arm gestures and Lisa herself, who toyed with the idea of deconstructing the vocabulary of Flamenco with what seemed like double the passion and intensity.

When Lisa first worked with me, it was via email. She asked me what “home” meant to me and got me to describe it by filling out a short questionnaire. Innocuous enough. I didn’t think much of it until the first rehearsal of our first development.

What unfolded were visceral autobiographical vignettes. This was like therapy. Although I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted to delve too deeply into the construct of my past. Like many children growing up in outer suburbia, we had a lot of time on our hands. We were demonstrative. Our play was imbued with an unspoken volatility, an undercurrent of pre-pubescent physical warfare so singular, under a guise of self-directed public performance.

On that first day Lisa recorded an interview. I was to treat the work of my 11-year-old former self as my seminal masterpiece. Instead what became clear was my uncanny ability to mobilise the neighbourhood. Friends and family alike were railroaded into submission; participation.

Opening night was done and dusted. I lived through it. My cousin was coming with her daughter for the second. My trek to the Gong and back each night was transformative, it was like entering a surreal portal. She featured in my trip down memory lane and was forewarned with an apology in advance. With what I thought was all bases covered, I strode out of the wings to take my place, only to discover my other childhood victim sitting directly behind the first.

Oh shit.

Too late to halt proceedings and preface with yet another apology before my vocal memory of her ability was annihilated too. And she was sitting with her family, husband and mother flanking her either side I noted, while I was just managing to keep a tenuous grip on the movement in play.

I needn’t have panicked, after the show I found my cousin and my former cohort commiserating together, bonding over their former pitfalls.

Each performance resonated with members of the audience, Robina seeing snow for the first time, Chylie, the uncertainty of a domestic future filled with new life, Lisa and the diverse cultural climate of 1970’s Punchbowl and Ana bringing her Flamenco mastery to each place, making home a place of cultural duality. Each performer’s personality was buffed to shine brilliant on stage.

We welcomed a baby in the interim. Marlo, Chylie’s second boy sang top note and the remnant of a faint cry could be heard from the dressing room in the changeover. He was just upset he was relegated to lying prone in the pram on the outskirts of action. Robina would regale us with titbits of dance history, every night an old adventure told new. Ana and I found/made connections through the audience and relished announcing local landmarks with a shared vernacular.

Choreographer/Director Lisa made it all happen.

Dance in my hometown. Check.

– by Vicki Van Hout