Dancer Douglas Wright fondly remembers one night in Sydney almost 30 years ago which changed his life forever.
New Zealand-born Wright was living in Sydney in the late 1970s and working as a prostitute. He was also a heroin addict.
One night, I overdosed in someone’s bathroom in Sydney, Wright recalls. I then went home to New Zealand, fell in love and began my dance career. It changed my life forever.
Wright’s career has since taken him around the world as a dancer and choreographer, with such renowned dance troupes as New York’s Paul Taylor Dance Company and DV8 Physical Theatre.
Now 50, Wright is about to return to Sydney with an all-new dance work, Black Milk, which opens at the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House on 19 July.
Wright says that Black Milk was the result of three years of anguish. Through that time, he coped with the loss of his long-time partner Malcolm to cancer, battled clinical depression and the debilitating side-effects of HIV medication, as well as surviving two suicide attempts.
When I create something, I don’t set out with any particular theme in mind -“ I just tend to follow my nose, Wright says from his home in Auckland.
So I would say this is an exploration of a whole list of things -“ death, love, birth, anger, fear, passion and jealously. It’s about the whole experience.
One of the most confronting sequences of Black Milk is the torture scene dealing with the horrors of the prisoners inside Abu Ghraib.
Wright created a scene featuring naked dancers wrapped in hessian bags, while he makes a cameo appearance as one of the victims. He warns it does not make for easy viewing.
It is revolting, and some people do walk out, he admits. The part I am in is the most harrowing. The reason I am doing it is that I know somewhere in the world someone is being subjected to that kind of torture right now.
On TV, you see violent things all the time, but you get so numbed to it. I wanted to pierce the veil of numbness we have to those things.
The sequence is also a response to the distress Wright felt when he saw the photographs taken by the US and British soldiers depicting prisoners simulating homosexual acts.
I just found that incredibly sad, he says. Homosexual acts were the most degrading things these people could think of for human beings to do to each other.
While the recent years have been a succession of battles for Wright, they have also been among the most creative of his life.
Aside from creating Black Milk, Wright was the subject of Haunting Douglas, a documentary feature about his life in dance, and he also penned two memoirs, Ghost Dance and Terra Incognito.
Ghost Dance told of his life from his childhood in New Zealand through to his success on the world stage. It also dealt with his 1989 diagnosis with HIV.
Terra Incognito is a confronting account of Wright’s battle with depression and the lead-up to his most recent suicide attempt.
Through writing the first book, I felt I had exorcised my past in some ways. The second book was a way of re-living consciously what happened to me, and the most civilised way of communicating it.
I didn’t find it difficult. I found it more therapeutic. Looking back, I realised dance has given me life and I would be dead now if it wasn’t for that. I still get such joy out of making things and I love the experience of my work. I am humbled by it.
Black Milk plays 19-29 July at the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House. Bookings on 9250 7777.