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Gala: it's all about dancing for joy

Adelaide Festival

The casting process for Adelaide Festival dance show Gala came with a unique and precise set of instructions – key among them being that most of the 15-strong group of locals should not be professional dancers.

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Restless Dance Theatre artistic co-ordinator Roz Hervey, who was charged with finding the diverse collection of performers for the Australian premiere of French choreographer Jérôme Bel’s work, has described it as more of an “anti-audition”.

Rather than particular skills or technique, obvious enjoyment of dance was the key criteria.

“It’s been a wonderful process,” Hervey told InDaily.

“For the majority of the cast who were not professional, it [the casting process, which included recording a two-minute solo] was quite a daunting process … but they were just fabulous.

“The whole cast have really given it their all.”

Bel’s company gave Hervey a list of the people he wanted for the show: one ballet dancer, two professional contemporary dancers, two children, one teenager, one person who uses a wheelchair, one person with Down’s syndrome, one transvestite or transgender person, one baton twirler or hula-hooper, two retired people who are not dancers, one actor, and two other non-dancers from diverse cultural backgrounds.

After compiling a shortlist through both her own contacts and a wider search – which included visiting amateur dance classes – she sent the recorded solos to Bel, whose final decision was motivated by the overall balance of the group rather than individual ability.

“He’s looking for diverse cultures, body shapes, abilities and ages,” Hervey says.

“For me, it really is a celebration of dance. I feel like it’s this idea of stripping back the theatricality and allowing the simple honesty of the cast to shine through.”

Gala, which is different in each city in which it is performed, features group dances, duets and solos.

As can be seen in the video below from a previous show, the styles are as diverse as the performers – ranging from ballet and contemporary dance, to tap and funk – with dancers given input into music and genre.

Among those in the Adelaide cast with stage experience are Australian Dance Theatre member Thomas Fonua, choreographer and dancer Larissa McGowan, a member of Restless’s senior ensemble, two actors and a professional hula-hoop artist.

One of the amateur dancers is a retiree whom Hervey discovered at a dance class for older people in Stirling.

“He lives in the countryside on a beautiful property and he invited me up to his house.

“We chatted, I helped him chose his costumes and then he took me outside where he had built this little amphitheatre and he performed his dance in that to a David Bowie track. It was just so magical.”

Another cast member is Zoe Saltz, a transgender actor who admits her previous dance experience was pretty much limited to having a boogie in her bedroom or at clubs. She was still undecided about her choice of music when speaking to InDaily, torn between songs by David Bowie, hip-hop artist Blockhead and Danish pop duo Junior Senior.

Saltz, who was in the Adelaide film 52 Tuesdays (while still working under her previous name, Sam) and has been involved in the iView series F*cking Adelaide, only recently began transitioning and says the invitation to be part of Gala came at an ideal time.

“It’s a good opportunity and a chance to be involved in the Adelaide Festival.

“My transition has come at a good time for a thing like this. Now I’m starting to put my name out there a bit… being able to commit to doing something in my new identity is really freeing … there’s a bit more fire in my performance.”

Hervey says audience members will feel an affinity with different dancers in the performance, as their individual personalities shine through.

“They’re honest, they’re funny, they’re beautiful and they’re human – you can’t help but get caught up in that while you’re watching they show.

“A lot of other shows are quite virtuosic but the beauty of this piece is that it’s very human, very enjoyable.

“You can’t help but enjoy it and get engaged.”

Gala will be presented at the Scott Theatre, Kintore Avenue, from March 15-18. Restless Dance Theatre will also be presenting a new work during the Adelaide Festival, Intimate Space, from March 3-19.

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