Dance review: Embrace

The lived experiences of people with disabilities conveyed by their singing, dancing and acting.

Embrace, which is performed from the perspective of people who are often not given the platform to share their narratives, did an excellent job of exploring the cast’s shared experiences of isolation and social prejudice, as well as the joy that comes with finding a community, and embracing a passion for dance.

The storyline concept was curated collaboratively by Denzal Van Uitregt, one of the performers, and disability activist Rosanne Stuart, mum and manager to international supermodel and Embrace cast member Madeline ‘Maddy’ Stuart. As everyone in the cast had a disability, they portrayed their characters authentically without any stereotyping.

Embrace was the professional artistic debut for many of the cast members, who ranged in ages from 19 to 31. The production showcased a wide selection of dance genres, from hip hop to jazz, to some epic booty-shaking by Trent Porter with his hilarious rendition of ‘Sexy and I Know It’ by LMFAO.

The captivating opening scene introduced the audience to the energetic star-spangled cast and made me long for the lunch breaks I spent playing with my friends as a child. The cast members’ personalities shone through beautifully and the joy they shared on stage was enthusiastically mirrored by the audience as they clapped and sang along with the cast.

Everyone brought different talents to the production. Well-known around Brisbane’s street-dancing scene, Van Uitregt’s hip hop moves were executed to perfection as he pulled off sequences that would have had Michael Jackson tipping his fedora. Saara Goodwin, Jessica Wilson, Shoshoni Benning gave amazing performances by conveying the emotions of their characters beautifully through dynamic movement and emotive facial expressions.

In his own words, Charley Escher’s greatest strength is that he, ‘just feel[s] the music [and the] loneliness and happiness in dance’. Escher’s amorous contemporary duet with Stuart brought a smile to everyone’s face and was imbued with nostalgia about first love.

Feeling isolated and lonely is a human experience most of us can relate to. As the cast members were drawing on their real-life experiences, it was evident the emotions they were portraying were raw. Kalamoana Sawtell, who also worked as the production’s visual media and graphic designer, shared that she embodies the characters she plays by pouring her emotions into them and loved being able to move an audience – believing she has succeeded as a performer when she can see her audience crying while she cries as she dances.

Jade Ebner, who growing up was rejected from most mainstream dance schools due to her disability, wanted audiences to know that ‘there is always a community somewhere’ and that ‘everyone should follow their passion and not let a fear of judgement stop them from following their dreams. It may be hard work but…it[‘s] all worth it in the end’.

Read: Book review: Nothing Bad Ever Happens Here, Heather Rose

While the production showcased the sometimes heart-breaking realities of living with a disability in a world that’s not always accommodating, there were strong messages of hope and excitement for the future. My overall takeaway from Embrace was that you can do anything with friends by your side.

Embrace by InsideOutside Dance,
Fringe Brisbane HUB
Producer/Director/Playwright: Rosanne Stuart
Concept/Storyline: Rosanne Stuart and Denzal Van Uitregt
Head Choreographer: Nicholas Maguire
Associate Choreographer: Shane Dechavez
Costume/Set Design: Rosanne Stuart
Sound/Music: Rosanne Stuart and Nicholas Maguire
Graphic Designer/Visual Media Designer: Kalamoana Sawtell

Embrace was performed as part of Fringe Festival Brisbane from 28 October – 5 November. It will tour to Wynnum Fringe in December 2022 and Adelaide Fringe in 2023.

Meg Henry is a Brisbane-based student who likes to see as much live music as her university workload allows. As a third-culture-kid who grew up on the island of Borneo, she brings a unique lens to the arts, music, and performance scene. When she's not sprinting to make it in time for her 8am lecture, you'll find her at an Op shop, and hunting for 80s memorabilia.