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Review: Bark of Millions at the Sydney Opera House

Review by Lauren Donikian

Taylor Mac has coined Bark of Millions as an opera-concert-song-cycle-musical-performance-art-piece-play and would know best, given that Mac has written, co-directed, and starred in the 4-hour performance held for one-night only to kick off the Sydney Opera Houses 50-year celebration.

Full of colour, strength and pride, this performance can be summed up in one word ‘queer’. Not only because the cast is made up of members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies, but because it is unusual, funny, and curious. Mac themselves queries how to describe this show and in essence that is the beauty of it. It can be whatever you want it to be.

With 55 original songs played continuously (yep, there isn’t an interval) and performed by a 9-piece band, and an ensemble of 13 artists the music is eclectic. Featuring spoken word, to rhythm and blues and chanting to bop this performance is one that you will never forget. Each artist is a standout, and their voices are so distinct. From the deep baritone of Le Gateau Chocolat to the sweetness of Jules Skloot, you can pick your favourite, but I choose to enjoy them all. When they harmonize it is beautifully haunting and the amount of respect that is shown on stage by all performers is felt throughout the concert hall. With finger snapping, hugs, and nods of approval there is no denying the caliber of talent on the stage.

Not to be outdone are the magnificent costumes that are worn throughout the performance. Machine Dazzle, costume designer and member of the ensemble created an explosion of colour and character with no member of the ensemble looking like the other. There was a Chinese dragon head worn as a belt, clawed gloves, a wig made of fringing, layers of tulle, sparkly dresses and leotards and an oversized jersey worn all in the first hour. The fabulousness continued, but eventually piece by piece, each artist shed their layers and what was revealed was their true selves. Clearly comfortable in the company of the ensemble and the space that was created, they no longer had to hide, they all felt accepted and understood.

The lighting throughout the performance shifted from pinks, purples and oranges to blues and greens. Spotlights were used to highlight the artist singing, and when focus needed to shift. At the very top of the performance the blackout with just Macs’ head in the spotlight was very moving. Props designer, Oscar Escobedo cleverly created cushions for the ensemble to lounge on and were all made of different body parts, as innocent as a foot to as cheeky as a vulva. Unfortunately, the sound quality at the beginning of the performance was poor and a lot of the lyrics were missed. It just seemed to be a jumble and the volume on the microphones also needed to be adjusted. This was corrected, but it did feel like a missed opportunity, as there were jokes and points made that were missed. Over the 4-hour performance audience members could come and go as they pleased, whilst this was necessary as there was no interval it felt like a shame for the ensemble as not all audience members made it to the end. In hindsight maybe an outdoor event would be better placed for this performance.

Bark of Millions was a feast for the eyes and ears. The 55 songs represented each year since Stonewall and whilst it isn’t a history lesson, it does honor those that contributed to the queer community. There is no story to follow, just feelings to be felt and queerness to be celebrated.

Image Supplied


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