For his birthday this year, Year 5 student Callum Macgown wanted more than anything to see Sydney Dance Company perform on stage. His parents decided to take him to a performance of ab [intra] and a behind-the-scenes Company Class Viewing.
“I loved it so much. Especially the idea of showing feelings from within by dancing. Feelings that words can’t show,” he said.
Callum was so moved by the performance that in the same week, he wrote a short story inspired by the performance and the history of the Wharf in Walsh Bay.
The story, which went on to win gold in the annual NSW WriteOn competition, tells of a dancer and his brother who becomes paralysed when their scheme to see Fred Astaire in Sydney goes south.
A familiar smell of oily wool that once covered this old wharf’s floor, like clouds, reminds me I’ve danced here before. Now it’s home to the Sydney Dance Company and I am its newest dancer.
This is my stomping ground. I grew up here in Walsh Bay with my brother, Jack. We thought we were real gangsters. We were crazy, but we were boys. We’d creep down to the wharves, sticking out like a hobo’s gapped teeth in the black mouth of the bay. The guard, big as a piano without any sharps, never cottoned on to our nicking wool from the shed floor.
We had a scam going. Sell the wool to the dodgy old lady on Windmill Street, and we’d have enough for tickets to the big show. We were mad about dancing. We had seen every Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire movie going, but our hero was Fred and he was coming to Sydney. We reckoned we’d die if we didn’t see him.
We got a few coppers busking our version of Gene Kelly and that other bloke doing Moses Supposes from Singin’ in the Rain. We leapt about like beggars on hot sand.
Things were desperate. Two days to go and we were short. Jack was tired, but I was the boss. We needed one last run to the wool shed.
The ships moaned, rubbing against the wharf. We tiptoed between the gaps in the corrugated iron fence, into the shadows with our sacks over our shoulders. Needles of harbour lights pricked the thick air into uneven rays, painting us leopard coats. We had stuffed our bags to busting, dragging them like corpses, when the beam of piano man’s torch flashed us.
A whistle, shouts. I legged it, but Jack was too slow. Then, just like in the movies, a bang.
I pulled him to me, feeling his warm blood against my clothes, drooling in puddles around us from his leg, torn by the bullet’s blow.
Jack looked different after, apart from the wheelchair and the Frankenstein leg bolts. There was darkness in his eyes. I was like a gypsy with a mortgage. This was my fault.
We never saw Fred, and Jack never walked again, but I couldn’t stop dancing. It saved me. Dancing unleashes the sorrow of Jack not dancing beside me. I dance for both of us with his shadow partnering me. We carve shapes around each other expressing vivid rhythms of emotion in music. Our movements call out to one another from within, unspoken and fleeting. Only Jack and I can truly understand.
Tonight, Jack won’t miss the show. He won’t need to scam for a ticket. He’ll be front row in his wheelchair, back on the wharf, watching me dance with his shadow.
Sydney Dance Company returns to the stage in November with a captivating double bill Season Two, at Roslyn Packer Theatre Walsh Bay, 1 – 9 November. Tickets on sale now