It's Called Achilles At MELT Festival – Open Letter On Camp And Campiness In The Regions

'It’s Called Achilles' is a solo contemporary dance work, performed by Michael Smith with live accompaniment from composer Felix Sampson.

'It's Called Achilles'

In this dance work, Michael morphs camp archetypes with depictions of self, and puts the body on show in the name of liberation and all that is camp.

'It's Called Achilles' is being presented as part of MELT Festival at Brisbane Powerhouse, a queer festival celebrating all things LGBTQIA+ in the arts and music. The performance is a celebration and sequestering of traditional ideals, in liberation of queerness.

Here, 'It's Called Achilles' performer Michael Smith pens an open letter 'on camp and campiness in the regions'.

“Have you ever seen a lamp that is overrun with bedazzled trimming, nested upon a centre pole that looks a little too much like something you’d buy from an adult store which you thought you could use but actually you’re incredibly intimidated (and mildly under qualified) and don’t have the time to commit to expending that much intimacy on an inanimate object for it to feel ‘good’ eventually. . . *exhales*. . . Of which someone has purchased from a Lifeline store, bulb-less, to then personally insert a pink 'fairy floss' bulb and place the lamp on a bench stool beside their couch as a kind of lounge room feature? That’s called, camp.

Now I don’t own this lamp, but I know it. The audaciously naive sense of style, aesthetic and character. To quote Susan Sontag’s ‘Notes on Camp’: “It is not a lamp, but a 'lamp'; not a woman, but a 'woman'. . . It is the love of the exaggerated, the 'off', of things-being-what-they-are-not.”

This approach to camp, to campiness, is what housed the creation of ‘It’s Called Achilles’ for Dancenorth’s season of ‘Tomorrow Makers 4’ in 2021.

As a queer person currently living in Townsville (Gurrumbilbarra), things are often what-they-are-not, or they are not what they could be. The way I hold, carry and experience queerness differs to how I have experienced it in the past because of overriding structures and behavioural habits/expectations of the dominant culture. Townsville is an army town, Townsville is masc. There is a lack of representation and conversation, a lack of community due to a history of oppression.

For context, in 1999 the CBD office of the Queensland AIDS Council was bombed, a staff member was stabbed and members of the LGBTQIA+ community were stalked and physically assaulted. Now this is extreme, an example of a hate crime, and this was 23 years ago, and we have progressed (thank the Lords). But the constant gaze of onlookers with disapproving mutterings, the subtle fear of putting your same-sex partner's name on a rental application, the reluctance of going to a mechanic (and not because I know little about the inner workings of cars), speaks to something being slightly 'off', and not in the ways that make it beautifully camp.

'It’s Called Achilles' is a response and a rebuttal to this. A liberation and a cathartic, explosive expulsion of a queer body in a regional place. It was an attempt at reaching a community I had not yet located, an attempt at arriving in a place with an unapologetic 'bang', an attempt at revealing a true self within the swirling, extreme, humorous and OTT forms of CAMP.

Think Donna Summer meets Underworld meets club kid meets damsel. Come and play!”

'It's Called Achilles' plays Brisbane Powerhouse as part of MELT Festival 23-26 November.