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Review: The Other Side of Me at the State Theatre Centre

Review by Hannah Fredriksson

What if there was an enormous gulf between who you think you are and who you were born to be? The Other Side of Me explores this frustration and disconnect. Where it can be hard to put words to something so intangible, dance offers a medium that permits expression in its purest form. This work, by choreographer and Larrakia man Gary Lang, blends First Nations dance with classical ballet, resulting in a raw and powerful performance that reflects on the injustice done to the children and families of Australia’s Stolen Generations.

The performance is inspired by the letters of a young Aboriginal man who was raised in the UK after being removed from his family in the Northern Territory. These letters revealed an internal tension to reconcile a complex sense of duality between two countries, two cultures, and two identities.

On this work, Lang said “I focused on the original crime done to him - the loss of his identity ... what he lost by not knowing the other side of himself. Split in two, each half depicted by a single dancer. Ultimately what this work became is a path to help him travel back so he knows it’s ok to come home where his spirit should be. That way we honour him - and all the others this happened to. Because this story is not just his story - it’s our story. It belongs to Australia.”

Representing two halves of one man at odds with himself, dancers Tyrel Dulvarie and Alexander Abbott are donned in standard-issue orange prison jumpsuits, muddy to the knees as if having just waded out of a murky river. They shift back and forth from performing in unison and as separate entities; from being in fierce conflict to physically supporting each other in a gentle and caring way. The turbulent changes reflect the evolving nature of the man’s relationship with himself, as he feels in and out of sync with these separate parts of his identity.

As much as it is an exploration of culture, heritage, and the justice system, The Other Side of Me is also a study of masculinity and mental health. Often taught to be stoic and maintain a stiff upper lip, it’s not an uncommon experience for men to struggle with navigating heavy feelings and sinking into isolation.

A square screen illuminated with abstract projections anchors the rear of the stage. At one point the projection shows waves lapping on a shore and native trees of the Australian outback. At this point the dancers take turns propping each other up against this screen, almost flattening the performance space into two dimensions to create the simple illusion of swimming into the turquoise water or wading onto the sandy shore. It feels like a homecoming and self-acceptance for this man who had been at sea between the two parts of himself for so long.

The existence of the Stolen Generations is a dark stain on Australia's history, but we can't shy away from the reality of the countless First Nations people who were uprooted from their families under a misguided sense of justice. Gary Lang’s The Other Side of Me allows us to examine what it meant for the children it affected, so that we can learn from the mistakes of the past and work towards a more reconciled future.

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