James Welsby HEX APPROACHING A photo essay by Alice Hutchison
Photographed, written and designed by Alice Hutchison.
Text copyright ÂŠ Alice Hutchison 2014 Photographs copyright ÂŠ Alice Hutchison 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of Alice Hutchison.
James Welsby HEX APPROACHING James Welsby is a 26 year-old dance professional whose engagement with queer culture feeds his creative practice as much as his personal identity. Having danced from age 11, he went on to graduate from the VCA School of Dance in 2007. His professional career to date has included performing in several high-profile productions, receiving mentoring from notable choreographer Stephanie Lake, and co-founding the Phantom Limbs dance company. Intelligent, articulate and sensitive, James engages passionately with the world and through his work strives to contribute to the culture and community he is part of. He takes his dance practice and its thematic content very seriously, admitting he could easily be diagnosed as a workaholic. On the flip side this commitment to being a serious artist never clashes with James’ playful approach to life and sense of humour. Leading a highly active lifestyle, James will often go from teaching to rehearsal, and then to performance and social occasions in a single day. James’ involvement with queer culture is not only a source of personal and creative nourishment, it also directly informs the themes in James’ work. Nowhere is this more evident than in his latest project, HEX, a dance production that explores the legacy of the HIV/AIDS crisis from the perspective of Generation Y. As well as choreographing and directing the show, James performs himself alongside fellow dancers Benjamin Hancock and Chafia Brooks. Part of Melbourne’s Next Wave Festival 2014, it is the most ambitious of James’ works to date and the first to be featured in a major festival. “My generation, Gen Y or Millennials, has grown up in the midst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and in the wake of ‘the AIDS crisis’ and the activism that has surrounded it. Gay men were one of the groups hit the hardest at the beginning of the crisis, so I feel that younger gay men have a responsibility to learn about the impact of the epidemic on our community, both historically and today.” Captured through the lens of photographer Alice Hutchison, this book offers a window into James’ life and documents the period leading up to the debut of HEX.
James arrives at Chunky Move dance studio, located in the iconic ACCA building in Southbank, where he is a sessional teacher. 5
Teaching makes up part of Jamesâ€™ weekly schedule. Itâ€™s not only a steady source of employment, but a passion that he intends to pursue in the future. His class is made up of students with varied skill levels who share an interest in contemporary dance. 7
At Passion Dance Studio in Melbourneâ€™s CBD, James pauses for a moment during a Voguing class taught by friend Bhenji. 10
Voguing is a queer physical language that James draws from in his choreographic practice. 12
Posing for the camera are Bhenji, first time student Matthew, and James. 15
Surrounded by his large book collection, James spends his time between two screens, managing the ongoing admin associated with being a dancer, choreographer, performer and teacher. Bhenji visits James to talk about Jamesâ€™ upcoming Next Wave Festival show HEX. 18
In the wallet is a picture of James with boyfriend Jarred, who performs and tours internationally in Circa Contemporary Circus. 19
After receiving promotional posters for HEX, James begins the task of organising distribution and sets out on foot to make deliveries. 20
Jamesâ€™ first stop is the bookshop Hares and Hyenas, who support and host various queer events. 23
â€œThe gay community has definitely helped me embrace all things camp; I really identify with the space between suffering and celebration, which is the gay community in a nutshell.â€? 25
Continuing on to the Southbank arts district, James drops into Chunky Move and The Malthouse where he bumps into fellow colleagues and friends Niharika and Jimmy. 26
Later that evening, James joins a gathering of friends at an inner suburban home for a screening of the television show RuPaulâ€™s Drag Race. 30
The night revolves around celebrating DIY drag and self expression. James stars beside the clearly unfazed Benjamin, a key performer in HEX. 34
James Andrews, featured right, goes on to perform Benjamin Hancockâ€™s role in a next season of HEX.
The night winds down... 39
The cast of HEX meet for a rehearsal at Lucy Guerin Inc. in West Melbourne to discuss and workshop the showâ€™s choreography. 40
â€œFor me dance is a form of stylised body language, and body language can be an expression of identify.â€? 42
Testing Grounds was the venue for the Next Wave Festival launch party. On opening night, various performances and projections took place. 44
James shows friends the HEX feature in the Next Wave festival programme. This will be the first of his performances to be included in a major cultural festival. 46
Fellow HEX performer Chafia embraces James at the Next Wave launch party.
As the party closes, James chats to Ben and gets in touch with his boyfriend. 48
Only a few hours later that evening, James does a one-off performance at Hares and Hyenas, drawing upon themes from HEX. 51
James invites two audience members onstage and ends the performance with a symbolic gesture - the breaking of the scythe. 53
James visits a friendâ€™s studio in Collingwood to workshop different aspects of the show. 54
Part of James’ research for HEX involved interviewing queer activists, academics, and artists who lived through the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s and 90’s. “It’s been really meaningful for me to meet people who paved the way for my generation to be more comfortable with ourselves. But there are a lot of people I won’t ever be able to talk to, because of the reality of what happened. I’m responding to that reality.” 58
The final HEX development rehearsal takes place at Chunky Move studios. The over-arching narrative of the performance and its execution are discussed. 61
â€œThe cast stayed the same throughout the whole process, which was very helpful, and meant we really got to grow as a team.â€? 63
Opening Night The foyer fills with friends and colleagues and soon tickets sell out.
Backstage James rushes to finish his stage makeup.
James appears on stage as the Grim Reaper, in reference to the notorious AIDS prevention campaign run on Australian television in 1987 (the year of Jamesâ€™ birth). The symbolic use of the Grim Reaper was controversial in that while it lead to greater awareness of the disease, it also created fear and stigmatisation. 67
HEX references iconic dance moves from different eras that overlapped with the AIDS crisis. To a modified version of Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust”, James explores the joy of club scenes throughout this period, until the music fades and the dancing continues in silence. 68
â€œWorking on HEX has been a monumental challenge, but an incredibly rewarding one. The process has been instrumental in my growth as an artist and as a person, and has helped solidify my interest in sparking inter-generational conversations within the queer community.â€?
ONWARDS After critical and popular acclaim, HEX goes on to have another season at the Malthouse Theatre, as part of The Australian Culture Program associated with the AIDS 2014 international conference.
Acknowledgments This project would not have been possible without the help of the following people, to whom I am forever grateful:
James Welsby who let me document his life so candidly and for sharing his personal and private world without hesitation. Youâ€™re an inspiration! Benjamin Hancock and Chafia Brooks who allowed me to document them in the company of James and throughout HEX. Everyone else who features in this book including James Andrews, Niharika Senapati, Jimmy Pham, David Hall, Robbie McEwan and more. Chunky Move, fortyfivedownstairs, Lucy Guerin Inc., Hares and Hyenas and Next Wave. Byron Meyer, for his tireless patience, support and second pair of eyes.