Hex explores the pain and struggle of fighting against adversity. Is is also a joyful celebration of what it means to be free.

Image by James Brown. 

For those who remember the HIV/AIDS awareness campaign of the 1980s, the Grim Reaper evokes a powerful emotional response. To this day, it remains a potent symbol of fear in our community.

With that fear, sadly, came much misunderstanding. Gay men in particular were stigmatised and singled out, as society tried to come to grips with a deadly pandemic.

In Hex, dancer and choreographer James Welsby ambitiously sets out to bridge the generational gap between those who lived through the crisis and Generation Y. He is determined that the struggles of activists in the 80s and 90s are not forgotten, and that his generation do not take for granted the relative liberalism they enjoy.


The performance opens in silence and, expecting a dark and difficult journey, the audience are presented with two dancers (Benjamin Hancock and Chafia Brooks), isolated and introspective. Enter the Grim Reaper – an appearance that generates gasps and giggles in equal measure. As the Grim Reaper, charismatically embodied by Welsby, launches into infectious, high-energy disco (to Sylvester’s Do Ya Wanna Funk), it’s clear that Hex will challenge expectations.

Through the prism of disco and clubbing, we are taken on a journey from the joy and freedom of the gay scene pre-HIV/AIDS, to uncertainty and fear as the epidemic took hold. The music is fantastic, the choreography fluid and joyful, and the performances powerful, but controlled. We experience the music and dance moves of the times, with the cool mechanics of Vogue, the shuddering zombies of Thriller and a brilliant remix of Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust, which signposts the beginning of some dark territory.

It is here that the performance is especially moving. Slowing the pace, music and lighting to hypnotic effect, the performers depict the transmission of the disease in an incredible scene, embodying the terrible irony of the condition – that joy can lead to suffering.

Welsby, Hancock and Brooks ably embody the emotional highs and lows of this performance. There are a number of breathtaking moments and Welsby, who taught at Chunky Move and choreographed for Lucy Guerin Inc., utilises pace to great effect.

In manipulating time and its effects, the performance explores deeper realms of death and longing. Some of the symbolism – particularly a long scene involving rubber gloves – may jar a little, but the use of silence serves to heighten the contrasts and contradictions of HIV/AIDS, so ably set out by the performers.

Hex explores the pain and struggle of fighting against adversity and stigma. But, just as importantly, it’s a joyful celebration of what it means to be free.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Directed and choreographed by James Welsby
Performed by James Welsby, Chafia Brooks and Benjamin Hancock.
Sound design: Claudio Tocco
Lighting and stage design: Rose Connors Dance

fortyfivedownstairs, Flinders Lane
Next Wave Festival
7-11 May


Mark Brandi

Monday 12 May, 2014

About the author

Mark Brandi is a Melbourne writer currently completing his first fiction manuscript, a literary crime novel set in country Victoria and the inner suburbs of Melbourne.