Director Sally Richardson has taken Julia Gillard’s landmark 2012 speech about misogyny and, together with dancer Natalie Allen, created a dance solo. First performed at Strut Dance’s 2018 “Short Cuts” season, #thatwomanJulia has been developed for presentation in Strut’s “Next” program, as part of the MoveMe Festival this September. Nina Levy caught up with Richardson to find out more.
Nina Levy: Tell me about your new work, #thatwomanjulia…
Sally Richardson: #thatwomanjulia takes as its inspiration the transcripts of the parliamentary record, reportage and public commentary around the political life of Australia’s first female Prime Minster, Julia Gillard, referencing directly her famous question time response to the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott:
… I say to the Leader of the Opposition I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not. And the Government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever…and …if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That’s what he needs…
– Julia Gillard, 2012, Canberra
Julia Gillard: Kentucky Fried Quail: Small Breasts, Huge Thighs, and a Big Red Box.
– Young Liberals Party Dinner menu
This powerful solo work, by the experienced creative team of Natalie Allen and myself, is a response to the terrible things we see and hear, spoken about and to women in Australia; a way to overcome our feelings of helplessness in the face of the ongoing vilification and sustained abuse, the appalling sexism, misogyny and violence that is continually directed towards women at all levels of public and private life in this country.
Apologise to the women of Australia, apologise to me…
– Julia Gillard
NL: Why have you chosen to make this work now?
SR: This project is a response to the wider cultural movement of #metoo, to a growing powerlessness I feel as a woman, as I continue to see, read and hear on a daily basis the horrific, appalling and violent acts targeted and enacted towards my sex in Australia (and the rest of the world). The work is a way to challenge these feelings of helplessness in the face of the sickening and unspeakable sexism, misogyny, discrimination and violence that is continually directed towards women at all levels of public and private life.
Julia Gillard’s speech, made in 2012, was about a party leader pushing back. She set out to attack what she felt was an unjustified claim of misogyny that had been directed at her by the then leader of the opposition Tony Abbott.
Gillard’s fifteen minutes of rebuttal to this accusation, delivered in parliamentary question time, went viral, and the rest is history. Her words took on a life and agency of their own, and in researching and working with this source material six years later, it has been fascinating to unpack the mythology, while recognising what has become regarded as a historic landmark moment for feminism in Australia, with millions of views recorded world-wide.
What interests me, and is a focus of my research, has been to consider the impact of this historic moment; to ask has anything changed since then, in terms of the entrenched sexism and misogyny that exists within the fabric of our culture? Never before in the history of this nation has its leader “been portrayed as someone who should be burned at the stake…” (Tracy Spicer, in “Bewitched & Bedevilled”, p 280)
So then how do we, as women artists, work with and adapt this material to speak with a potency, a currency, and with a voice that is our own?
NL: Talk me through the creative process of making the work…
SR: Collaboration with other artists is at the core of my process. It is on the floor, in the studio, together, that we develop, devise and shape the work.
Primary source material that provided impetus for improvisation included numerous wide-ranging articles and analysis of Gillard’s prime ministership, the live recording of her “Misogyny” speech from question time, transcripts of this speech, photographs by Sydney Morning Herald press photographer Andrew Meares (taken while delivering the speech), various anthologies of YouTube presentations; including “The Bullying of Julia Gillard”, and several key publications, in particular the compilation of essays “Bewitched and Bedevilled”, edited by Samantha Trenoweth.
Initially I created a set of deliberate choices around the material to provide a clear framework and template for us to work from. We would use only “the speech” as the core material from which to draw choreographic and sound content.
The setting would be an imagined form of parliamentary “question time” and include as its centrepiece a large solid wood table. This decision to utilise a board room-style table came very early in our studio explorations and proved to be a key to the overall aesthetic and design of the work.
Costume was also an effective early trigger that assisted the development of character and range of movement choices. Black high heeled shoes, a “shiny” corporate-styled suit, and a “flaming” red wig introduced early, significantly informed the work’s content and structure.
The initial score for rehearsal was the recording of the actual speech, and Natalie used this as a basis for long-form improvisations, responding directly to the spoken word, tone, repetitions and key physical gestures, as made by Gillard. We then analysed this material, making selections and re-framing the scene.
I drafted a score that focused around key sentences and key repetitions in the transcript of Gillard’s speech, with the idea of the hashtag driving my selections; the lines, combinations of words that are recollected and readily recalled, and potentially take on a life of their own after the actual event. Natalie then developed a set of gestures around these words and sentences.
NL: What excites you about this work?
SR: I think contemporary dance can, potentially, present powerful and overt responses to current political issues. In this sense, #thatwomanjulia is deliberately feminist and provocative, exploring topical issues that many in the audience will have some familiarity with, while at the same time offering our own response to the rising sexism and violence directed towards women at all levels in our society. In its first presentation, as part of Strut’s “Short Cuts” program, the work generated passionate audience responses and conversation, not necessarily a typical response to contemporary dance. We are looking forward to presenting an evolution of this first version, and to a wider audience.
NL: What are you looking forward to seeing at MoveMe?
SR: There are so many new works on offer, so I am aiming to try to see as many premieres of new local works I can, including works by Kynan Hughes, the Co3 WA Dance Makers Project, soloist Yilin Kong [also in “Next], amongst others. I am particularly keen to catch the award-winning Cockfight by The Farm, who are, in my view, some of the most exciting dance theatre artists currently making work in Australia.
Pictured top is Natalie Allen in “#thatwomanJulia”, at Strut Dance’s “Short Cuts”, earlier this year.