As we enter the new year, I like to reflect on what I have been doing and am about to do in my work and attempt the ever difficult task of articulating this in words. Despite everything that is going on in the world and the precarity of working in this medium, I am committed to dance. I have been on this path for most of my life, such that for better or worse it feels to be inescapably intimate with who I am and what I have to offer. In my optimistic moments, to dance is to be in contact with a feeling of being truly present. Dance has offered me powerful experiences of connection and meaning in moments that escape words. The simple act of witnessing someone’s movement is a source of great power.
Developing my choreographic practice has been about understanding myself within a constellation, rather than as an individual. Firstly dance is for me primarily a social practice. I work in collaboration and develop ideas through dialogue, so there is inherently something about my dancing that is not of my own body. It is in relation to those I have danced with in the past and those around me now. The research I have done in recent years on my connection to the Ausdruckstanz lineage through my teacher Ruth Osborne has fuelled my dancing in a significant way. I was fortunate to learn more about this history from the remarkable dance centenarian Eileen Kramer and dance academics Carol Brown and Thomas Kampe. Giving space and focus to the embodied wisdom of my mentors, absorbing this information and bringing it into dialogue with the other material in my body today feels to me particularly precious work. Through understanding where I am coming from, I now see my practice as not overly concerned with inventing my own aesthetic but as being part of a conversation and a timeline which is unfolding. This is a theme that will continue in my practice in the coming years.
Last year I had the opportunity to develop works with ensembles, discovering how to expand scale and amplify my choreographic ideas across many bodies. The theme of intergenerational embodiment continued, as I developed parallel processes with students at the Victorian College of the Arts in Naarm/Melbourne; Gesturing Weaving Unfolding and the mature-aged dance company GOLD in Canberra; Leaning Rippling Breathing. I also created a new work Event for the company Norrdans in Sweden. I enjoyed stepping back and not performing in these works, as with much of my career to date I have performed in my own choreographies. Being able to sit with the audience and feel the energy from that position feels like a welcome shift for me.
While it was exciting to work with so many new people, through the touring of Shortcuts to Familiar Places, Hyperspace and Deepspace I also really appreciated my loyal collaborators Bek Berger, Morgan Hickinbotham and Chloe Chignell, that I have worked with now over many years. I am immensely proud that the works we have made, some of which are now 6 years old, are still touring and resonating with audiences. The strength that I draw from when working in unfamiliar environments, are the relationships which go deep both on a professional and personal level.
Qi Gong has become a major focus in my training, as I have been drawn to this ancient practice as a means of energy cultivation and movement meditation. Besides regular practice, this has also resonated in my choreographic work. The Daoist principles of flow and balance which Qigong is rooted in, have been wonderful ways to approach choreographic and dramaturgical questions, but also as a means of staying calm and grounded in these times. I have also found that the rounded and silk-like movement quality of Qi Gong aligns satisfyingly with the emphasis of breath and waves in the expressive dance style, which has been a fruitful intersection in my choreographic exploration.
On a technical level, an interest in repetition and variations has lead to a distilling of my choreographic language in recent years. I am drawn to work that employs a high level of awareness, expertise and attention to the moment. I value patience and extended periods of time and rehearsal to develop work. Dramaturgy is also very important to me and the experience of the audience, as I wish to create an experience that is clear in its intention. I don’t see my work as being particularly about me, I see it as a meeting point. An opportunity to be present together, to share attention and indulge in the beauty of the moment.
Pushing forward with dance in these times feels simultaneously essential and foolish. Despite the passion and commitment that I surely have, I regularly ask myself; how much longer can I keep going with this anxious feeling of precarity? I know many of us working in the arts are familiar with this question at the moment. I take heart from the emotion and power in performances I have attended lately, that as a constellation we are doing good work. I remind myself to remember the joy and freedom that dance produces and be more in the flow of things.
I believe that the notion of expressionism - asking what can dance express has returned as an important matter in dance. Another reason I am presently drawn to the expressionist lineage is that it feels necessary in this time to find form for expression and emotion. These words from Alice Heyward’s essay Shortcuts and Loops written in response to Shortcuts to Familiar Places feels very resonant with me still as I commit another year to dance:
“Each era of history is produced by a response to what came before, and in dance history, time is always curving, collecting, reappropriating, recycling and regenerating dancing; our bodies and subjectivities as processes themselves, making and sharing knowledge.
What are we rejecting and reaching toward? How do we produce subjectivity now? What, and how, are we ‘expressing’? How are we feeling?”