REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents BRONX GOTHIC

She is mesmerising

By Christine Young

Bronx Gothic is a deeply personal performance that is captivating from the outset. In a quiet corner of the stage, which is shrouded by a curtain, Okwui Okpokwasili shakes her butt for the longest time. All the while, her shadow lurks on the curtain and becomes a character in its own right. It’s spellbinding.

Bronx Gothic

The spell is broken with the clamour of a big city soundscape crashing in and Okpokwasili’s body mirrors the traffic, voices and general hullabaloo of the street. This is the world of her younger self growing up in the Bronx, New York City, during the 1980s. Throughout the performance, the music and other sounds enter Okpokwasili’s body at an invisible point and subtly seep out in her lithe movements.

With the scene of her childhood set, Okpokwasili approaches the microphone and picks up a pile of handwritten notes she passed with her unnamed best friend when they were eleven years old. These notes contain a disturbing dialogue of innocence lost with Okpokwasili’s friend revealing a knowledge of sexual activity beyond her years. They are notes that haunt and follow Okpokwasili into adulthood with the realisation that her friend was probably being sexually abused.
Bronx Gothic is richly symbolic and filled with juxtapositions of light and shade; the public and the private; love and hate; perceived beauty and ugliness; and fear and yearning. Okpokwasili evokes the intensity of childhood on the brink of adolescence with carefully choreographed movement, in-your-face poetry and stirring song.

Director and visual and sound designer Peter Born helps artist Okpokwasili reach and create her vision by deftly synchronising the lighting, sound and choreography. Bronx Gothic is clearly the result of a creative partnership where two minds click in all the right places. This is experimental theatre at its best.

Bronx Gothic is playing at the Arts House as part of the 2015 Melbourne Festival and an exchange between the Arts House and Performance Space 122 in New York.

Venue: Arts House, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Dates: Until October 12, 2015
Tickets: $39 Full / $25 /$15 students

Image by Sarah Walker