roya the destroya

This blog comes to you via Arts House in Melbourne where I am performing with Karul Projects on their production Weredingo, which opens the day after next. Anyone who knows me is all too cognisant of my steady descent into madness before a show. Yes, I suffer from stage fright. It’s debilitating to say the least.

Contrary to popular belief, stage fright doesn’t occur in the wings just as you’re about to go on stage. Not for me anyway. It’s like a catch 22 situation for me. If I don’t get a case of the jitters, I get nervous that I’m too calm and inevitably I have a bad show. So panic stations it is.

But yet again I digress, because in this blog I want to celebrate an incredible performer in roya the destroya. We initially rubbed shoulders so to speak in the foyer of Arts House as the permanent inhabitants of the building officially welcomed us on site. Roya was on the far side of the impromptu circle, hidden by a pylon, so I had to crane my neck to catch a squiz of her mug (face).

Right off the bat I had a feeling her presence packed a punch far exceeding her diminutive stature, which I would later discover within the contents of her show The Birth and Death of a Physical Artist, is around five feet. Roya was introduced to us as the current artist in residence.

Sadly, I didn’t catch Roya’s show live but was fortunate enough to be given a Vimeo link. The recording of the intimate two hander was just what I needed to inspire me to do my best in the very same venue a week later.

In The Birth and Death of a Physical Artist, Roya was joined by Peter Sette Aka Bboy Sette in a performance that also felt like a roller coaster ride in that it was an autobiographical narrative of sorts, charting the trials and tribulations of making a career of what is still not considered a real job by many. The death that Roya alludes to is the inability to perform which Modern dance pioneer Martha Graham articulated so succinctly,
“A dancer, more than any other human being, dies two deaths: the first, the physical when the powerfully trained body will no longer respond as you would wish.”

For those of us in the biz of showbiz, whatever it’s manifestation, we can empathise with Roya’s regaling of endless practice, bad pay, and ridiculous requests. We are all too aware of the precarity of our chosen station and the comparatively short shelf life. This of course is compounded by Roya’s disability, as her already laden arms, which are otherwise engaged with walking sticks, are made to carry extra props as part of a ridiculous costume, ironically designed to celebrate inclusivity and diversity.

Through the integrated use of her walking sticks, Roya has built an extensive movement vocabulary. In The Birth and Death of a Physical Artist she performs hip hop moves that even I recognise, such as the crazy legs, the head spin and other ballistic inversions including popping from a single sided shoulder stand into a handstand and much more including a vast array of fast moving hand, leg and torso isolations and gestures.

It was nearing the end of the show that I began to think about the logistics of Roya’s training pathway. Up until this point I had always thought my training was unconventional and I have regaled people with my history, owning it like a badge of honour. As an Indigenous contemporary dancer I began full time training later in life at a special college dedicated to giving Blackfellas a chance to learn what was for most out of our economic reality. In a matter of minutes my perception was shattered as I realised that most of the classes I have attended and taught would not accommodate Roya’s needs.

Fact – The real estate in a dance studio is tight, something we became all too aware of when we had to distance ourselves at a 1.5 metre radius from one another when the Covid rules were introduced shortly after isolation.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Roya’s preferred dance genre would almost inevitably be hip hop dancing, as it can be performed in unconventional spaces. Tricks and sequences are either self taught or shared through the community which accommodates different learning needs. To a certain extent the added temporal and spatial flexibility can also be attributed to the realm of physical theatre, which encapsulates the gymnastic feats integrated into Roya’s performance. There is an egality that exists within the street-style performing community that the black box demographic is yet to fully realise.

I am yet to ask Roya as to whether she has lined up a tour of her latest work but I am just going to put it out there to the powers that be who publish this blog, maybe there’s a spot in our annual Dance Bites program, or better still, maybe my compadres at Legs On The Wall, of which I am an associate artist could host Roya in some capacity. Heck even the guys at PACT, of which I am currently part of their artistic directorate, could host this award winning artist. Yes, Roya is the 2022 recipient of Creative Australia’s (formerly Australia Council for The Arts) National Arts and Disability Award for an Established Artist.

Until next month,

Vicki Van Hout
FORM Dance Projects
Blogger in Residence

P.S. Opening night of Weredingo ‘went off’ and I live to tell the tale (one day).