Restless Dance Theatre has a reputation for presenting Adelaide Festival shows that are intriguing, intimate and beautifully reflective. Some will recall the 2017 Ruby Award-winning, Helpmann-nominated Intimate Space, which unfolded in a series of hotel spaces, and 2021’s Guttered, a playful performance exploring the dignity of risk through the game of 10-pin bowls.

For this year’s Festival, artistic director Michelle Ryan and her team of creatives and dancers are venturing into hitherto uncharted territory: sex, love and desire.

Private View – to be presented at the Odeon Theatre in Norwood ­– invites audience members into “a world of secret desires and dreams” as they witness a series of stories play out across four separate rooms, with singer Carla Lippis acting as kind of host and “chief voyeur”.

Restless’s ensemble includes dancers with and without disability, and Ryan – who has led the company since 2013 – acknowledges that for often inexplicable reasons, the subject of sex and disability can make people uncomfortable.

“It [Private View] is highlighting that we all have these universal needs and wants – finding love and finding a partner and all those things – but also doing it in a way that’s not all sad and serious. You know, sex can be fun, and so it’s looking at all aspects of that whole person rather than just stigmatising…

“People with disability are like any other person – they have needs and wants and it’s just people’s perception that can make them feel awkward about that.”

Carla Lippis – singer, composer and Private View‘s ‘chief voyeur’. Photo: Matt Byrne

Ryan is co-director and choreographer of Private View, working alongside creative producer and dramaturg Roz Hervey and assistant director Daisy Brown. As with all Restless works, the dancers are an integral part of the creative process and have contributed their own ideas and opinions about love, sexuality and desire.

The involvement of intimacy coach Eliza Lovell has been especially important in the development of the show, Ryan says.

“We’re making sure that everyone feels safe and comfortable because we can only have those discussions in a place where you feel safe… and it’s not just for the performers, it’s for all the creatives as well.”

During rehearsals, everyone wears a Restless T-shirt as a way of creating separation between the performance and real life.

“That’s part of the process. So they arrive from their outside worlds, they have their Restless shirts which they put on when they’re in character and then at the end of the day they de-role, take their shirts off and they return to normal life.”

When InReview visited Restless’s CBD headquarters in Gilles Street on a sweltering afternoon last month, rehearsals were in full swing and there was a feeling of energy and excitement as scenes were played out, choreography finessed and props wrangled.

it’s really up to you whether you look or look away

In one room, choreographer and rehearsal director Larissa McGowan (a former member of Australian Dance Theatre) was working with Restless ensemble members Darcy Carpenter and Charlie Wilkins and guest artist Rowan Rossi on a scene that opens to a soundtrack of Lippis’s sultry vocals. Carpenter and Wilkins portray two young people sitting on a pair of joined sofas, playfully interacting and exploring closeness as a third character (Rossi) acts as a kind of gatekeeper, switching on the lamp they have turned off and pushing their couches apart.

“It is about two young people who are on the cusp of exploring what it means to be attracted to each other and how that could turn into a physical relationship,” says Ryan.

“It’s that idea that people with disabilities should be allowed to be together, and a lot of people try and push them apart.”

Elsewhere, long-time Restless dancer Michael Hodyl and guest artist Bonnie Williams are playing out two separate scenes with rehearsal director Sarah-Jane Howard (also ex-ADT).

Private View sees Michael Hodyl portray a man looking for romance. Photo: Matt Byrne

Sitting by himself at a small round table with a candle and two chairs, alongside a retro record player and a couple of old vinyl records, Hodyl embodies a character named Lyle Tatum ­– a romantic with a Hollywood-inspired view of love who is looking for the lady of his dreams and has a vision of how their perfect date might unfold. To immerse himself in the character, the dancer wrote a series of love letters to this future partner, with his heartfelt words to be incorporated into the set design.

A charmer himself, Hodyl can clearly relate to Lyle. “My star sign is Gemini, so I believe in love… I believe in romance and love,” he tells InReview.

Bonnie Williams – who is also a burlesque artist ­– performs a solo piece telling a very different story. It is a raw and heart-wrenching portrayal of a woman struggling after the end of a relationship, from the initial feeling of being completely broken and lost, to the point where she finds an inner strength to keep going.

Audiences peeking through the blinds of another room will find two young female friends (played by Jianna Georgiou and Madalene Macera) sitting on a circular couch exploring their own desires and learning from each other. “There might be a hotline,” Ryan hints.

As they watch the scenes unfold in each of the four rooms – with the dancers seemingly unaware they are being observed – audiences will be taken on a journey through a rollercoaster of emotions. The rooms will feature some projected content, with set design and lighting crucial to creating the appropriate atmosphere for each private world.

“For each scene we’re trying to find a different viewpoint,” Ryan says. “And it’s really up to you whether you look or look away. The audience has to take some responsibility for their involvement in it.”

Lippis has collaborated with her composer husband Geoffrey Crowther to create the original soundscape, which Ryan says “holds the space” and connects the rooms. She also sings live in some of the scenes.

“We talk a lot about Carla Lippis as the energy – she’s the chemistry that is between all the rooms, so she’s like the chief voyeur but she also lets you into these worlds that you may not see.”

Discussing one of the scenes, Ryan mentions a US documentary she recently watched about two older people with intellectual disability who had been in a loving relationship for a long time and got married, but their support homes would not allow them to live in the same room or even the same house. It highlights the fact that real-world scenarios underpin the themes explored in Private View, and that as a society we have a long way to go in addressing our preconceptions and prejudices.

“Hopefully audiences will be charmed by all the performers, which I think is what normally happens,” Ryan says, when asked what she hopes people will take away from the show.

“But also I hope there’s something in there among everything that might just make them question their own perception of who we are as humans and how we include or exclude people. That’s always what we try to do.”

Restless Dance Theatre will present Private View from February 29 until March 9 at the Odeon Theatre, Norwood, as part of the 2024 Adelaide Festival. Restless will join Adelaide Contemporary Experimental (ACE) in co-hosting a discussion about creativity and disability on February 23 as part tof he Festival’s Time to Talk series (details and registration here).

Read more 2024 Adelaide Festival stories here.

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