Profile: Freya McGrath

27 September 2018

Dancing with Freya McGrath is like dancing with a rock star. Hyper-extended, over the top, each pose seems struck before a stadium-sized crowd of ecstatic fans.

For someone who humbly claims to be “untrained”, McGrath is a dancer of incredible magnetism and style. Her latest work—The 24 Hour Dance Project—promises to be a highlight of the Melbourne Fringe calendar. From 9am on Saturday 29 September to 9am on Sunday 30 September, McGrath will lead a dance party without stopping, unless members from the audience take her place. Although dance has recently become an intense focus of McGrath’s, it forms just one part of a practice that she has built across theatre-making and performing. As the out-going creative arts officer at the University of Melbourne, she is the core of a community of students and artists whom she has energised through her own creative leadership. As we discuss the past year, this interactive performance seems the perfect culmination of McGrath’s work in the Melbourne theatre community. Her daring enthusiasm has collided with her most memorable quality—her unbeatable dance moves.

Dancing with Freya McGrath is like dancing in a cabaret. Her thick brown hair gently rolling off her shoulders, she is sultry and mischievous. As her limbs twist and unwind, she appears totally aware of her body’s power.

Ahead of her upcoming performance, McGrath spoke with me about her own practice, and the origins of the project. “I was thinking: If I did an endurance work, what would I be willing to push my body and my self for?” she asks. “And then I thought: dance.” For McGrath, the significance of dance is based in memory: from family concerts and high school routines, to queer clubs and performance artworks. Part of The 24 Hour Dance Project is about retracing those spaces and memories contained within her body. “It’s so intoxicating to think of sitting in that feeling that I know so well and has given me so many of these moments in my life that I think are so vital and some of the most joyful and sad,” she explains. Built around McGrath’s own playful but paradoxically earnest personality, the project promises not only the frivolity and freedom of a dance marathon, but also something more affecting. “You don’t understand the significance of a 24-hour dance party,” she says, half-joking, half-serious. “There is so much that I feel it achieves … Dance is an inhibition-liberator—it can be. And it’s not always, and we can’t always rely on it to be that. But I have found it to be, and I like the idea of facilitating that possibility for others.”

Dancing with Freya McGrath is like dancing in a music video. Every over-the-shoulder glance, every lip-synced lyric is served to an omnipotent camera crew, just out of view.

Most powerfully, the work plays off of the queer histories that have been grounded in dance. What appears on the surface as “campy irreverence,” actually taps into a deeper tradition of queer bodily rebellion. As a bisexual woman, McGrath and her 24-hour dance party threaten the status quo—taking up space and taking up time in a celebration of the body. “For so many queer identities we express ourselves through dance and that’s really radical. There is this active force trying to squash that often, so it’s actually quite significant to have spaces that allow you to be that, and to just be that to the full.”

The core of this project is a negotiation of risk: the risks that lie in the vulnerability and visibility of dance, collide with the risks of endurance, as McGrath seems determined to push herself and her audience to new lengths in the hope we might discover something on the other side. “I see it now as a defiant political act,” she says. “I see it as connected and an avenue for a lot of the things that frustrate me and make me feel amazing. It’s a radical thing—I see this project as a radical exercise by me and by everyone who joins in. We’re all investing in something that’s so outside of the everyday context for the sake of feeling something.”

Dancing with Freya McGrath is a transformational experience—it is an ecstatic declaration of the power of the body, and in her latest work she asks you to enter that space too. Will you take the plunge?

When: 29 Sept 9:00 AM–30 Sept 9:00 AM
Where: Testing Grounds in Southbank
Prices: Children $14, concession $24 and full fare $27
Who: Freya McGrath, Harriet Wallace-Mead (Producer), Scout Boxall (Marketing/Publicity Manager), Alexandre Guerin (Sponsorship Manager), Kareena Dhaliwal (Lighting Designer) and Sunday Sommerfeld (Stage Manager)
Buy tickets for the event.

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