This is going to be tricky. As a journalist, my responsibility (apparently) is to report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all facts (according to the Australian Journalists Association’s Code of Ethics). But my first instinct, when reporting on the Mardi Gras Physique Event, is to dispense with objectivity, let rip with hyperbole and paint the whole shebang as a freak show.
You’ll understand my predicament. The bodybuilding circuit is one of those few environments in which freakishness is not just tolerated, but celebrated openly. Well, a certain type of freakishness, at any rate: a freakishness of maximum muscle mass and minimum body fat. The competitors are not like most people: they have transformed their bodies to a sometimes-extraordinary degree, out of sheer hard work and bloody-mindedness. (Of course, some could perhaps use artificial assistance to grow their slab-like muscles, but I wouldn’t know. My ability to identify a steroidal tit seems to come unstuck every Mardi Gras season. Weird, huh?)
The Mardi Gras Physique Event seems to sit on the periphery of the festival program, like some relative of dubious origin. The event itself is one of the few points at which the festival reaches beyond its core audience/community to connect with another: in this case, the Sydney bodybuilding community. The audience mix at Monday night’s event seemed about half gay and lesbian and half straight. Many of the lads in the auditorium appeared to be devotees of the science of bodybuilding. A few of them could have challenged the on-stage competitors for mass and surface area.
The Physique Event formula is a unique mix of competitiveness and entertainment. Twenty-five percent of a competitor’s final score is based on a compulsory group posing round; a further 25 percent is based on a group symmetry round and the final 50 percent is made up of a freestyle individual round.
The individual round gave competitors the opportunity to indulge in all manner of theatrics, and many inflected their routines with a camp twist. This year’s competition was split into three divisions -“ short men, tall men and women -“ but for some inexplicable reason the short men seemed to go to greater lengths to put on an entertaining show for the crowd.
Highlights of the short men’s individual round included T.R. Keller’s routine, which included the splits (eye-watering), a handstand and a somersault, and Rocco DiCesaro’s routine, a gag-filled homage to his adopted country, performed to the strains of I Still Call Australia Home. In the women’s individual round, Marina Nestoriadis’s routine, which fused traditional Greek music with Moloko’s Sing It Back, and Linda Webster’s homage to Moulin Rouge (complete with two female dancers) were both favourably received by the crowd.
The final event of the night brought all the competitors on-stage for a mass pose-off that sent the enthusiastic crowd into a near-apoplectic frenzy of catcalls, whistles and screaming. On stage, muscles bulged and veins popped while competitors slowly gyrated their bodies to show off the fruits of their sweaty labours. I was struck -“ momentarily, of course -“ by the elasticity of the human body and its capacity for transformation.
There is a little element of freak show about the Mardi Gras Physique Event, just as there is an element of sexy smorgasbord and an element of serious competition. It’s partly the competitor’s night and partly the spectator’s night. It’s a little bit straight and a little bit gay. It’s a soup. It’s a melange. It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And, apparently, we like it like that.
MEN’S SHORT COMPETITION WINNERS
First: George Hallit
Second: Zoren Dimovski
Third: Paul Hitchin
MEN’S TALL COMPETITION WINNERS
First: Bruce-Lee King
Second: Carl Silvestro
Third: Robin Goeransson
WOMEN’s COMPETITION WINNERS
First: Michelle Gilham
Second: Leza Boradman
Third: Linda Webster
Marina Nestoriadis and John Hicks