What’s your first reaction to this picture? Most of us would be lying if we didn’t say we were taken aback, possibly affronted or at the very least intrigued. Why? Because people who are overweight don’t dance. Or do they? And if not, why not? Why don’t we see images of large bodies on billboards, on TV or in movies?
Choreographer Kate Champion kept pondering these questions. “I would see, particularly on dance floors in clubs, that the better mover was often the bigger body. I’d seen dance works that often had one larger person, but it felt token, so I thought of having a whole stage of bigger people,” she says.
Keen to challenge preconceptions about larger bodies, and to celebrate that body through movement, Champion has joined with performer and fat activist Kelli Jean Drinkwater to create the dance-theatre work, Nothing to Lose. The show premiered during the 2015 Sydney Festival and marks Champion’s final work as artistic director of dance theatre company, Force Majeure.
“I’m fascinated by the way bigger bodies, especially bigger women, are portrayed,” says Drinkwater. “I found a lack of images that empowered women of size, so I started being in my own work because I’m the fattest person I know and I felt I could have the biggest impact.”
The show, which includes spoken word, film, music and a large dose of black humour, incorporates the seven cast members’ personal experiences of living in a larger body – and the daily judgement that exposes them to.
“One of the things that’s really amazing about the cast is that everyone has such a unique experience around their bodies and how they move, [yet] when you talk about a show that deals with fatness, everybody jumps to similar conclusions,” says Drinkwater. “One is, ‘how are they going to get through the show? Fat people are lazy’.” Champion adds, “‘What happens if they lose so much weight they won’t have a valid reason for being in it?’”
Champion hopes the show will move that conversation along to explore the complexities of what it means to be inside a larger body, and allow the audience to rejoice in the visual splendour. “I’m curious about why dance is so limited – the body shapes in Nothing to Lose can move really well. Can they be captivating? entertaining? Of course they can!” says Champion, noting the performers have been learning vogueing, butoh, contact improvisation, even twerking.
Champion, who is lauded as an artist whose works are provocative, insightful and always current, is clear on what Nothing to Lose is not.
“It’s not the obesity debate – that’s a subject unto itself,” she says. “I’m not trying to take sides or answer questions about that ... and I’d like to stress, it’s not therapy on stage. It’s about exposing the different attitudes, the many different lived experiences, so there’s less of a one-eyed response.”
Drinkwater wasn’t surprised to see some outraged reactions to the auditions on social media, accusing them of being exploitative, voyeuristic or tokenistic. Instead she was buoyed by the overwhelmingly positive response that balanced it out.
“Body size and body image relate to everybody, regardless of what size you are,” she says. “We have a very narrow idea about what’s OK, but since we’ve been in production, I feel the tide is shifting. The dehumanising of fat people has reached its peak. Bigger people have all the interests and vulnerabilities anyone else has and to explore that on stage is fascinating and relevant and we haven’t seen it before.”
Nothing to Lose is showing at Malthouse Theatre from March 11–21.