From Shakespeare in Hindi to tackling human trafficking: the best of OzAsia festival

One of the best offerings from this year’s OzAsia festival was Vertigo 20

Sometimes the weather simply won’t cooperate. Between a state-wide blackout, monsoonal rain, and the worst winds ever, Adelaide’s OzAsia Festival, which finished on Sunday, faced a bumpy ride in its tenth anniversary year.

For some, this meant missing out on Japanese choreographer Hiroaki Umeda’s pixelated video storm in Split Flow and Holistic Strata, cancelled amid actual howling gales and pelting rain.

Yet despite the meteorological conditions, the festival was a convincing celebration of the vitality of an Asia of which Australia is increasingly a part.

For us, six performance works stood out for their bold placement of the body centre-stage: Softmachine Rianto, an Indonesian-Singaporean dance and video collaboration; Skin, a challenging work from Malaysia on human trafficking; Cambodia’s Phare Circus, in which performers perform the seemingly impossible; As If To Nothing, a Hong Kong dance piece on the mutability of memory; Twelfth Night, a Hindi version of Shakespeare’s beguiling gender comedy; and , an astounding blend of previous work by Israeli choreographer, Noa Werthheim.

Softmachine Rianto
Softmachine Rianto.

Softmachine Rianto, directed by Singaporean Choi Fa Kai, features the kinesthetically brilliant and versatile Indonesian dancer Rianto. Each of Rianto’s dance sequences was followed by a self-revelation, conveyed through direct address to the audience and snippets from Choi’s documentary on the dancer.

Rianto entered the stage wearing the refined female facemask used in Javanese topeng, enacting the dance of a princess pining for her lover. At first the point seemed to be just seeing a strongly gendered female role danced by a man with such precision. Yet successive segments asked us to question how gender is presented both onstage and in real life.

We saw Rianto, variously, as a sexy woman in a popular Javanese dance form, a brilliant contemporary dancer, and a male dancing sensually for an audience of men. Along the way, we learnt that he works in Japan, is married to a Japanese woman, and lives a life as complex and fluid as his dancing suggests.


Skin

Skin.

Skin, by the Malaysian collective Terryandthecruz, placed the audience in the stage work itself. Malaysia, currently home to more than 90,000 refugees, is a significant destination and transit point for human trafficking in the region. Rather than showing us “the plight of the refugees” and seeking a “sympathetic” response, the show put us in the skins of those being processed at the hands of strangers.

Patrons assembled at a pre-arranged point and filled out forms that ominously released the producers from any liability, and asked participants, now in the role of refugees, to assess their looks, intelligence, tax contributions, and willingness to learn the Malaysian language.

All personal effects were surrendered before we reassembled in another building to be interrogated individually, then arbitrarily placed into two groups and prohibited from speaking. One group was singled out for harsher punishment and provided with yellow blindfolds. A single individual was escorted from the building wearing a red blindfold.

Both the yellow and favoured “green” groups were led into a shipping container, and faced a large opening. The wall of an adjacent container then opened, revealing a stark, white tiled room. Three dancers presented abstract, yet emotionally resonant images of bodies experiencing privation, abuse, and pain. The container filled with bodies, sometimes swallowing up the solo dancers, pulling them back into the undertow, appearing to devour them.

Further details are best not revealed here, as Skin is likely to tour round Australia next year. Though it exposed us to the experience of human trafficking in ways some might find confronting, the audience debriefed in a safe space before returning to the “real world.”


Phare Circus

Phare Circus.

The exuberant and gravity-defying antics of Cambodia’s Phare Circus, presented in the Festival’s pop-up Ukiyo Tent, provided a welcome counterpoint to Skin’s provocations.

Drawn from graduates of Cambodia’s Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus School, the company are among the first generation of circus performers to emerge following the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime and the near-total extermination of the country’s artists. Phare is a success story, with a permanent home in Seam Reap and road companies touring internationally.

This tight, conceptually integrated, spare production featured eight performers, two musicians, and a visual artist who created three works on canvas while surrounded by a riot of rhythm and movement.

The performance is heavy on human pyramids, tumbling, and death-defying balancing acts held together by a percussive musical score, playful interaction with the audience, and clowning. It was a reminder that the trained human body is an amazing machine, capable of communicating across cultures by the simple act of moving.


As If To Nothing

As If To Nothing.

Similarly dynamic was City Contemporary Dance Company’s As If To Nothing, by choreographer Sang Jijia. Searching for the right phrase to describe this production – because what’s art without a label? – we settled on “neo-Modernist”.

It still isn’t right, but it conveys something of the moral seriousness and skill of this contemporary dance masterpiece, which banished superficial cleverness and self-reference to the rubbish bin. A large, white fabric cube in which a cross-section of interior white wall and a corner window were wheeled around from position to position, provided the only set design.

The company of a dozen dancers were relentlessly energetic and precise. Rarely has visual projection, which hogs the eye in live performance, been used so well. In part it was because the images repeated the dancers’ movements, working as visual amplification but always returning us to the true locus of attention – the bodies of the men and women wrapping and warping around the space.

The floor was a smooth white, and the actors wore socks. This choreography was a glissando, and the control required for a high-energy show was considerable.
Yet, as with Softmachine Rianto, bravura display was not the point. Instead, in true Modernist spirit, what came across is a sincere exploration of emotional depth: attraction, relation, sex, anxiety, need, the madness that lurks beneath the surface of everyday life. The show had the courage to end on a downbeat note, confirming the integrity of vision that ran throughout.


Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night.

Twelfth Night by the Theatre Company Mumbai, in the loosest but truest of Shakespearean adaptations, was an anarchic ride into inter-cultural mayhem. We saw it at a schools’ matinee, and the match between the Bollywood energy of the cast and the expressive bent of the audience (to be polite) was perfect.

In a blend of Hindi and English – there are subtitles but one barely needs to glance at them – the show rollicked through the classic oh-my-God-I-thought-you-were-a-bloke-yet-I-found-myself-strangely-attracted-to-you-anyway fable using a mixture of slapstick, song and dance, infectious audience interaction and lots and lots of colour.

Most of Twelfth Night’s plot was paraphrased, transposed, or satirised by actors who stayed on stage throughout, sitting at the back and regularly erupting like a rowdy family. Each one has unique skills: this one a dancer, that one a singer, that one a comedian. Yet all of them were all of these things too, which made the production even better.

The show had its moments of calm and emotional stillness, and they were beautifully effective. The last song of “eternal spiritual search” was one example, which off-set the high-fives energy to communicate the deep humanity of Shakespeare’s original.


Vertigo 20


Vertigo 20.

Vertigo 20 by Vertigo Dance Company is described in its program blurb as a “weav[ing] together [of] twenty years of Vertigo Dance Company’s creations”, which under-states the brilliance of a piece that not so much defied expectations as inhabited a liminal zone permanently outside them. This is only partly a metaphor.

A company of 11 dancers moved in a low-walled grey-shadowed rectangular space with ledges jutting out at waist and shoulder height. The choreography had the assured precision of a dream whose meaning lies just beyond conscious grasp. Patterns constantly asserted themselves yet, just as they appeared to solidify, transformed into other patterns. A group of men became, suddenly, a group of women (how?) A group became a pair; a pair became a line; a line became a cluster.

The basis of the work was the fractal, and the dance overall was a sort of human Mandelbrot set, waves of movements cresting and transforming in the blink of an eye into other movements. There were no beginnings or ends, just a single stream of physical adjustment – falling, leaping, swaying – in sequences that were an uncategorisable blend of the mechanical and the organic.

This show was definitely not a “best of” from past works. This was Noa Wertheim and her dancers actively engaging the act of memory. The piece had the cognitive immediacy of a firing synapse. At the end, we wanted to see it all over again.


The festival sported a wide variety of satellite activities. Anchoring them was the Good Fortune Market, a groovy mini-precinct created on the banks of the River Torrens. On offer were everything from the hipster fusion sounds of Hong Kong band SIU2 and the retro-psychedelic funk of the Cambodian Space Project, to Japanese okonomiyaki (pan fried batter and cabbage), possibly the world’s most comforting comfort food.

As the OzAsia Festival enters its second decade, both the Asian region and Australia’s relationship with it have changed. No longer can the festival be seen by anyone as a showcase for ethnic exotica and performance heritage.

In creativity, accessibility, skill and daring, the productions on offer embodied an energy and imagination comparable to, and at times exceeding, anything prestigious European-focused international festivals might present. This is to be welcomed. Far from losing itself in a sea of globalised mediocrity, the best of live performance from Asia retains an indefeasible identity while responding to cultural influences from all over the world.

This review was co-written by:
Julian Meyrick
[Professor of Creative Arts, Flinders University] and
William Peterson
[Senior Lecturer in Drama, Flinders University]

It’s Time To Make A Move

Chunky Move are a company that have and continue to be at the forefront of Australian dance, often blurring the lines between technology and the physical form, they have deservingly won a place in the heart of many. Now its ninth year, their groundbreaking initiative Next Move, see’s the company commission the work of emerging and independent dance makers, something that is now more crucial than ever. As part of this year line up is Mermermer, a performance that has come from two of Melbourne’s most talented creators, Nicola Gunn who most recently  was responsible for Ghetto Blaster and Jo Lloyd who last presented Confusion For Three at Arts House. It’s a bold pairing, the two possessing a unique style that is each their own, and should make for an amazing performance. Jo Lloyd spoke with TAGG ahead of the upcoming season

What was the genesis for creating the work?

Over the past three years Nicola Gunn and I have engaged with each others works, and one duration piece we made for Melbourne Now (2014) opened up a practice which engaged my movement with Nicola’s words. This triggered us to develop this intersection of languages further, and Mermermer became the continuation of this preoccupation of ours. We also shared an interest in extinction and the premise of entertaining each other.

Visually, what can we expect from the work?

Saturation and landscape have been strong considerations for this work. As well as utilising the physical and verbal languages to stimulate the imagination and shift perceptions, we have worked with concepts of representation and the connotations the supporting elements conjure up.

What has come out of the collaboration between yourself and Nicola?

We have been conscious of engaging in the strengths of our individual practices, so we can augment what we each know how to do. We are more interested in finding modes of performance that are unfamiliar and engage with a liveness in performance.

What has been some of the more unexpected elements of the work?

Ideas and concepts that came up early in the process persisted and came back frequently enough that we became convinced those early ideas were actually the guts of the work. Yet the distractions along the way were a reminder that the process is the piece.

Do you identify with any current trends in dance performance, and do you sit with in or outside of such things?

Dance and the body engaging with a broad range of performance contexts has had a surge recently (movement in galleries, dance in theatre performances and site specific works) which could be referred to as a performance trend. I don’t consciously try to have a perspective on performance trends whilst I’m engaging in a creative process, my focus is perhaps more about consciously working in relation to my own performance trends.

What does being included in Next Move, offer up, being an independent performer?

The rare opportunity Chunky Move offers with Next Move is immersive, the artist is able to engage with the staff throughout the process and create the work in the venue where it will be presented. I have had to remind myself that the support is available, because as an independent artist you are used to taking on many roles, but with this commission, there are experts in their field ready to do the work we often take on ourselves.

For more info or to book your tickets to Next Move, which opens on Friday the 9th of September click here.

Cut The Sky

Cut The Sky by Marrugeku, is easily definable as being crafted to the highest standard, in terms of production, visual imagery and choreography, these elements are almost beyond fault. However, it takes more than this triptych to create a truly memorable experience for the audience. With so many companies and individuals in recent times having turned to climatic disasters as concept for the creation of new create work, the subject matter is in desperate need of a company or individual to come along and approach with an entirely novel viewpoint. Otherwise the subject will continually fail in engaging with and inciting new conversations with the general public. Despite good intentions, and indeed the vital conversation that is communicated here in Cut The Sky, the thing that most dogged this performance, was an over riding sense of having “seen it all before”.

Cast give impressively, however lacked energy and a came across as a little tired resulting in a sense of disconnection, or disinterest that for an audience member is hard to shake. Transitions between individual solos and group choreography were at best jarring, and a greater sense of fluidity should be a constant thought when developing a performance as cross-disciplinary as Cut They Sky.

Not even the inclusion of two of Nick Caves most iconic songs, were able to insight anything deeper than a superficial hook, somehow Cut The Sky also missed an opportunity to provide an emotional connection through the inclusion of such popular iconography, something of which has been employed to great success by many others, a shame as Cut The Sky is a beautifully surrealist vision of a dystopian future, that however bleak as a reality, is one audiences are inherently drawn toward.

The projections that feature throughout this performance are to a degree, successful in painting a foretelling picture, helped by the underpinning music, though at times, some of the images- whole towns destroyed by natural disaster, are so re-cognisable as not being Australian, that it breaks from a visual rhythm, and detracts from the message as a whole.

Many of the production elements could also have been tightened, better use of North Melbourne Meat Market’s impressive size a simple remedy that could of given greater depth of vision, instead with the performance compacted into the furthest corner, the whole experience was a little cramped, and with so much visual noise, it was impossible to take in each element together as a whole. Closing scenes are undeniably impressive, when the sky is literally cut open, and the lithe choreography finds a physical crescendo; closing scenes delivered while water pours down and over each of the performers an image that remains post performance.

Blood on the Dance Floor

Presented by lbijerri Theatre Company, Blood on the Dance Floor is a carefully crafted and well-wrought performance, brutally honest, it drives home a message surrounding the realities faced by those living on the margins of society, and those facing the challenge of living with HIV. For this alone, Blood on the Dancefloor should be praised, it’s a delicately balanced, highly autobiographical all times courageous, solo performer Jacob Boehme.

The performance begins from the moment audience enter the theatre, with Boehme, dressed in a silk kimono ushering people to their seats, the audience interaction here is perfect, it allows, from the outset, a sense of intimacy and comfort to be fostered, which is central to this works success. The dialogue in the opening scene is punchy, full of high camp melodrama, and a beautiful juxtaposition from which the following scenes unfold, centralized on the deaths left in wake of the HIV epidemic in Australia in the 1980’s and 90’s, going someway in giving greater clarity and depth. Its material that we have all been in contact with in some way, but here it is to an extent re-invented.

Aside from this material, connection to place, rejection and ancestry are also woven into this rich and sweeping narrative, reaching an emotional crescendo that is deeply effecting. Blood on the Dance Floor’s is made all the more compelling by the truth that lies behind the story, the connection between narrative and performer is illustrated and made all the more impressive by the direction given by Isaac Drandic. The choreography by Mariaa Randall is suitably emotive, however given Boehme’s impressive background in dance, more time for these segments should have been granted.

The production values are slick, with the use of projections again featuring in this performance, though a beautiful element, their necessity could be questioned, are such elements needed here? Or is this performance already owning of enough merit, to allow for such elements to be stripped back? Blood on the Dance Floor has an important message to communicate, and perhaps the use of such device ultimately detracts from the work as a whole. Music and sound design are equally well thought out, ultimately though these elements don’t really help in propelling the work forward, though certainly do not detract from the work as a whole, perhaps integrating more recognisable sounds or music would of provided a greater emotional hook.

The biggest question that remains is how successful Blood On the Dance Floor is in its wanting to generate much needed conversation surrounding HIV and the stigma attached, perhaps if this work was to be taken out of the somewhat elitist realms of theatre, then it would indeed be successful in its mission.

All in all, Blood on the Dance Floor is a performance driving by a powerful narrative, one which delivers a visual feast that is resonate, deeply questioning and an unflinching representation of the state of the here and now. It plays at Arts House until Saturday the 4th of June book your tickets here

L U C I D

The way L U C I D works not only within the realms of dance and choreography but that it outwardly employs methods that would perhaps be more at home in a theatrical production, all time drawing on “the digital era” as stimulus, yet somehow managing to re-invent the wheel- is perhaps the key to its success. If contemporary dance does choose to continue to embrace and harness the potentials of modern technology to further progress the form, then let L U C I D be the very definition of how to do this right,

It explores some pretty complex subject matter, the way in which humans interact and counteract with each other is central to the narrative explored by both Stephen Phillips and Lauren Langlois who give their all to this challenging performance. Both surrender to this all together surreal and imposed world created by choreographer and director Anouk van Dijk. It is a rich and sumptuous visual affair full of metaphor and recognisable iconography that together creates something other worldly, dense and at times frightening, such is the truth behind this portrayal.

L U C I D intelligently works with technology in a way that forces a sense of duality on our focus as an audience the resulting effect could, in the best possible way be described as testing. At one moment, focus is directed towards the performers, then only a split second later, it shifts to be fixed upon one of several screens that become activated throughout the performance. The lighting and tech here are an intelligent force that in no way compete for attention instead offering the most fluid accompaniment to the work as a whole.

The set is impressive, a simple white circle marks the boundaries of the performance space, with a pivoting screen offering a central continuum for the performance, with the use of LED lighting offering the greatest and most versatile outcome for what this creative vision demands, in a word, the production values in L U C I D are flawless. The various cameras that are used to capture and reflect the performance in turn offer greater depth of field, duality, and multiple points of perspective.

The choreography here is everything one would expect from Chunky Move and a work of such high calibre, it pushes passed the imposed limitations of the human body to deliver a clear focus on the nuances and subtleties of the human physique.  it could perhaps be argued that this work is in direct response to Complexity Of Belonging- a performance that to a degree explored similar concepts, narrative and through line, however L U C I D has, in stripping away so many of the theatrical bells and whistles, and having reduced the cast to only two performers, delivered a work that is further thought through and stronger as a whole.

L U C I D is a must see, it solidifies the reputation that this company has built for presenting work that is on the precipice of dance and theatre as it moves boldly into the future. It would provide a perfect entry point to those not so well versed in the form, whilst offering just enough to satisfy even the most discerning dance go-er. It is playing at Chunky Move’s studio down at South Bank until June 12th you can book your tickets here

Desert Body Creep

Desert Body Creep performed by Angela Goh is brilliant, no two ways about it, it’s the kind of performance that makes you want to go back and revisit a second or even third time, imaginative, quirky and down right bizarre it is everything and more. Opening with a scene underpinned by the music of Willow Smith, it’s decidedly gen y, youthful and full of vigour.

It works intelligently with various forms and device, vocals, sound and lighting to name but a few. The resulting effect makes you want to get inside the mind of this brilliant young performer, unpacking her thoughts as you go along your way and that’s the joy, trying to pin point exactly what is the genesis behind the work. Desert Body Creep is measured, composed and full of decidedly attractive sense of self assurance.

It’s humorous and wild yet somehow restrained, a difficult balance to strike when creating performance work. Here presents not so much as a clear narrative, but just enough to envisage your own story line. As your imagination runs wild through through a world which borders on the realm of comedic horror, a beautiful young girl is swallowed whole by a giant worm in the desert, only to emerge a naked heroin, taking the remains of this creature and vacuum packing its soul into oblivion.

It seems to fly in the face of so many trends currently witnessed in contemporary dance here in Melbourne, by employing them to a degree, then only to turn sharply away, just at the precise moment you think you know what’s going on. The choreography here is in an intellectual sense somewhat impressive, though if anything it is more anti-choreography, focused on moving about the space and interacting with the various devices at play.

Desert Body Creep Is great introduction to the form, this is a performance that offers an “in” for audiences that may not have connected or found resonance with contemporary dance. Perhaps art does not always need to push an agenda, and indeed if any question posed in Desert Body Creep, should surface it would surround how valuable dance, as a form can be, when wanting to entertain or offer an elusive moment of pause, from the pressures of our menial existences.

Next Wave festival exists precisely to offer not only the opportunity for emerging artists to develop and present new work, but also the chance for audiences to be introduced to the next crop of fresh young talent we have as a society, collectively help produce. Desert Body Creep, is a clear and fine example of their work at play, not so much as a direct response to the here and now, but something even more special,  do yourself a favour and see this work, it’s playing till Sunday the 23rd of May at Northcote Town Hall, book your tickets here

Camel

Camel continues within the trend of minimalist work so often presented in Melbourne, but here we have performers not even necessarily engaging in the choreographic form, reacting in the first instance to computer generated sounds and technology. It’s a stark work, most often choosing not work with an underpinning score, which is fine, but for audiences, more is needed to effectively create an engaging and thought provoking work.

It starts with the greatest of intentions, in fact opening scenes, bordered on being side split-tingly funny, but unfortunately, the material here wears thin, then only to border on the simply tedious before too long. It seems to be nothing more than a performance that aimed way too high to be squarely positioned in the realms of the obscure for the sake of anything close to resembling a plot, continuity or through line. It threw the most random of objects into the ring and hopped for the best, delving deeper into some pretty un-imaginative and bleak territory. Costuming, or as described in the program notes as being “anti-costumes” here are blue morph suits, unfortunately the resulting effect was as if audiences where watching four Smurfs engaged in some bizarre art-house film you may stumble across late night on SBS…

However, James Andrew provided some much needed relief, proving the antidote to this soupy mess of an ill-thought and poorly devised work, the deathly silence mid performance interrupted by his loud slurping from an empty cup, from this point of introduction he continues in the role of provocateur, almost emanating a sense of boredom.

The first thing here that could be corrected is the run time, clocking in at an hour and fifteen minutes, condensing some of the overly long sequences and drawing on what moments of quality where present- sections of the drum kit, seemingly sliding across the stage away from precisionist Michael McNab- would do wonders for the overall work. Better use or further activation surrounding site, reducing the size of the performance space would perhaps tighten the work visually, or more importantly bring audience and performer closer to each other. What moments of music present, where the perfect accompany- such device would do well being further incorporated into the performance.

Camel is a work in need of further development and time in the studio, perhaps not ready for public presentation, though opportunities or experiences such as those provided by Next Wave Festival are important stepping stones or lessons that should prove invaluable in the development of an artist. It would be interesting to watch future development unfold, and though at present, Camel is perhaps a little confused, a second presentation would be an idea not without merit.

Camel has finished it’s season

Photo credit: Sarah Walker

 

An artist’s job is to reflect the times- Jacob Boehme

Opening at Arts House on the 1st of June is Blood on the Dance Floor presented by ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and performed by Jacob Boehme, taking no prisoners, it opens the door on some pretty personal subject, cutting through the politics of gay, Blak and poz identities through a melding of forms and visual metaphor. At The Space dance studio, nestled just off the ever bustling Chapel St, writer Jessi Lewis met with creative team and sat down for a chat with Jacob about the work.

Tell us more about the performance, what was the genesis for wanting to create Blood on the Dance Floor?

Blood on the Dance Floor is an autobiographical story, but in saying that it’s been fictionalized to a certain degree just to make it a bit more universal and accessible, it comes from my experience of being HIV positive. I’ve been poz now for around 18 years. You know, we’ve been dealing with HIV in Australia for 30 years, but the stigma and discrimination around being positive still exists, and detection rates are still rising.

We are lucky enough in Australia to have access to free medication and services so for us at least in this country and some of the other more developed western countries, we don’t have the problem or the issue of dying from aids, so much as there are a whole heap of other issues about living with HIV. Like relationships and love, I meant it’s hard enough navigating love, partnering and giving over to potential rejection and all that kind of stuff, but when you have the whole added issue of having to disclose your health status, it becomes this whole other area

But in the broader sense Blood on the Dance Floor is about fear and love, and the fear of loneliness that we can all suffer from from time to time. But in searching for those answers, I draw on my cultural strengths and my blood ties. My mother’s fifth generation Australia, English Irish stock, and dad’s aboriginal from Narangga and Kaurna from South Australia. I started to base the whole thing about blood, how, HIV which is a blood born virus, how blood is a symbol, a substance that’s used to divide unite empower, weaken, drawing on my own blood to find some kind of strength.

So is it fair to say that you believe in art having an important role to play in communicating ideas or further pushing agendas, and is this something you’re looking to achieve in Blood on the Dance Floor?

Well, I’m a firm believer that the art we make should at least say something. I don’t know if I have a clear agenda with this one other than asking “Why have we stopped talking about HIV?” or “Why are we not talking openly about HIV?”, other than the same old rhetoric, you know about demonization and fags.

I do believe in a quote Nina Simone gave “An artist job is to reflect the times” and that’s I suppose what I’m doing, I don’t know if I have an agenda other than to bring hiv into that world, because there is not that much in the way of theatre or performance that address the issue. If it does it generally memorializes it, so we have to go through yet another aids death from the 80’s and we are not living in the fucking 80’s it’s 2016, there is a whole range of other issues we have to address.

What do you think it would take to see such a gravitational shift surrounding the stigma of HIV in this country?

I don’t know, other than creating space for conversations, and I suppose that part of the reason I’m doing this work, because I don’t have the answers, it’s just creating a space for some of this stuff to be talked about.

Getting back to the performance, let’s talk visually, what can audience expect from Blood on the Dance Floor?

Well, it is movement theatre, text and we have a video artist, there’s a whole lot of visual elements. We have the most insane-almost like an Imax screen as part of this performance, it’s very rich, our spatial designer Jenny Hector has created a wonderful space, and a very slick looking show. It’s got a lot of different story telling elements can draw on, there text there’s movement cinema and lighting.

What’s been your journey so far as a dancer and creator, tell us more about your background, and how did you come to create this work?

I started in dance very late, I was only 21, I went to NAISDA in Sydney, so I did my training there, in all forms, ballet, jazz, contemporary techniques and tap but a big part of that was cultural dance, so we would have elders from around Australia and the Torres Strait Islands, come and do traditional dance with us, that was the foundation of our dance practice. From there I ended up coming back to Melbourne, and I ended up being an arts administration assistant at Polyglot Theatre, and it was their director Sue Giles that got me into puppetry, I went on to study a masters in puppetry at VCA, and through being mentored and doing training with Phillippe Genty from France, it was actually his wife that got me back into movement, cause I’d just turned my back on dance.

I started really exploring the relationship between dance and visual theatre, which is not a new practice, it’s so ancient, it’s not innovative or hybrid at all, it’s just a really old, ritualistic form. So from that form, working with elders taking some of our old stories into that, I did a masters of writing for performance at VCA. Just taking all of the tools I’ve gathered along the way, it comes to this point where I’m ready to make a work about this.

Does traditional dance influence or own a place in this work at all, or how do you see this being contemporized?

A little, I mean suppose, even when we do pure contemporary dance, because its indigenous dancers performing it, people will read something cultural in it, that’s that other thing, where’s that gravitational pull to get people’s minds to go somewhere. I mean god you make a dance piece about being in the shower, and someone will go “Oh, I can see you going back to country there” but no actually, I was just rubbing myself with soap, imaginary soap.

But some people will see or read of course, that there is cultural dance in there, and to a certain degree there is a bit of traditional movement that choreographer Mariaa Randall has pulled from. But, she’s a contemporary indigenous choreographer making a contemporary indigenous work, so there are flavours but it’s not purely traditional at all.

Do you recognize any recurrent themes in contemporary dance, and how do you feel your performance work fits within or possibly outside of such trends?

Particularly in Melbourne, I suppose media and technology seems to be really infiltrating dance quite a lot and the use of text is being seen more and more. Which I think is a good thing, as it’s a great way of giving audiences and “in” so they don’t feel alienated from it. Even myself as a trained dancer I’ll go and watch dance but I’d have no idea of what it was about, what they were trying to say, or why I’d just spend money to watch that, they haven’t made me feel anything, and we go to the theatre because we want to feel something.

This is what we are trying to achieve with Blood on the Dance Floor, for us it’s about giving the people who don’t normally go to dance a way in, making it accessible, when we trained back at the one rule was, if you don’t have your story, you don’t have your dance, and that’s how dance has been practiced on this country for, at least for 75,000 years or more.

This promises to be a though provoking performance, as rich as it is visual, it closes on the 5th of June, you can book your tickets here

True North The Inaugural Annual Dance Affair

Dress3

Put on your dancing shoes, your best outfit and hit the dance floor at The Inaugural Annual Dance Affair at St Gabriel’s Hall Reservoir on Wednesday 11 until Saturday 14 May 2016.

Part ‘theatre performance’ / part ‘get up and dance’, this is an all ages performance event that immerses everyone in an evening of old time and new time dance floor magic.  From the two-step to the twerk, tango to a cheeky cha cha, a waltz to funky free stylin’ grooves, The Inaugural Annual Dance Affair go-go’s its way through a celebration of decades of dance.

Featuring a heart stopping musical mash up by cracking live band Sex On Toast, a charming MC, light footed guest stars and heart-warming real stories from local community legends, this is funny, exhilarating and energising.

Througout the night you will go-go your way through a celebration of decades of dance, mixed with a sharing of heart-warming real stories from local community dance legends.

The Inaugural Annual Dance Affair has unearthed some local dance treasures who will share their love of dance in story and performance; local Bollywood dancers, participants from powerhouse local dance studio, Dance Explosion including little ballet nymphs, mature tappers and broadway babes, local ballroom champions, members of the Italian Seniors community who come together to dance monthly, indigenous dancers plus more.  The Inaugural Annual Dance Affair will also revive the memory of Reservoir’s very own 1960s rock star, Merv Benton with a very special Go Go dance tribute.

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Dancing has always been a part of Australia’s cultural fabric, from country-dances, to city ballrooms and lavish dance clubs. In their heyday, attending dance nights was a vital form of community expression and an engine room for romance.

Inspired by the rise and fall of the social dance scene, from the 1920’s to today, The Inaugural Annual Dance Affair is a celebration of not only who dances but why we dance.  The wordless language of dance means it is the very act of dancing that speaks for itself.

There will be prizes, supper and of course, the meat tray raffle.  No dance experience necessary, this is a great night out for everybody.

Kate McDonald, Ian Pidd and Bec Reid created this joyous work via a community residency, researching local dance history, recording interviews with local dance legends and recruiting a large cast of community dance champions to share their stories and dancing styles.

True North is a celebration of community within the culturally diverse suburb of Reservoir. The diverse, year-long program seeks to celebrate all that is unique about this thriving suburb and will capture the essence of living, working and being creative in Reservoir.

Darebin Arts presents The Inaugural Annual Dance Affair, St Gabriel’s Hall, 1 Viola St, Reservoir from Wednesday 11 until Saturday 14 May, 7.30pm.  Tickets: $25.00 / $15.00.  Bookings:  www.truenortharts.com.au

In Conversation with Ghenoa Gela

The winning piece of this year’s KEIR choreographic awards Fragments of Malungoka- Woman of the Sea, bought to audience in both Melbourne and Sydney a performance that modernized traditional dance from the Kala Lagaw Ya language group in Western Torres Straits, presenting the melding of old and new. Created by Ghenoa Gela, it was perhaps the one performance that sublimely rebelled against a program that otherwise had all eyes ahead, keenly set on the future of dance, sole focused and eager to embrace only the extensions of body through technology and device.

What was the genesis for the work you created, what where you hoping to explore or perhaps even answer?

I was really interested in my female ancestry on my mother’s side, and I wanted to explore what that was, so I had conversations with my mum’s older sister Aunty Agnes, she gave me insight and stories into what happened up in the communities up in the Torres Straits. See I was born in Rocky (Rockhampton), I’m a mainland born Torres Straits Islander and I was very interested in what the community was like up there, so that was where it pretty much started.

The contemporizing of your work, what brought you to use technology in the work?

Well, we live in a technological era, and go-pros seem to be a pretty fantastic thing at the moment, they’re easily accessible, and I was interested in what they could do with live streaming, that’s kind of what we are looking at now, every time we turn on Youtube somethings going on like that. I was trying to join the traditional world with the modern world, right now.

With so much conversation surrounding The KEIR awards as perhaps being to tech-heavy, what’s your perspective on this?

I think people can do whatever they feel they want to do, or use whatever they feel they want to do, in terms of telling their story or sending their message, we are definitely living in a technological era, we all have a mobile in our pocket everybody’s got their laptop in their suitcase. I don’t think it’s a weird thing, for me I was just trying to connect the two, I was interested in what it is use to live streaming. In terms of my exploration wanted to see how I could bring audiences into the performance.  What can I use, because there are different types of audience participation, some people don’t really like to get out of their seats, I don’t want to force people out of that, but I also want to try and see if I can give people a different perceptive, I’m pretty interested in my arts practice to see what that is.

Do you think that’s a tipping point with choreographic work and the form right now, and do you feel we will see more tech heavy work moving into the future? 

To be honest, I’m not sure I can’t really assume or speak for anyone else in terms of their artistic process but I’m very interested in trying to see what more I can do with it, mostly because I’ve never done it before. I want to see what it’s like to play around with the ever modern world but also attach it to my traditional roots.

Is it fair to say that you were trying to perhaps expose what traditional dance becomes when performed by someone else outside of that circle?

I wanted to push it toward the audience, I wanted to question them, I wanted to see what they knew was or what they thought was traditional dance, or what wasn’t. I feel like most people in the industry don’t really know that in traditional Torres Strait dancing there is technique and form and I wanted to question whether they knew that or not.

I feel like it’s an interesting thing do it, from it thankfully I had a lot of questions and conversations after the show, there were about four out of five people that I spoke to who never knew there was a Torres Strait flag, and that the design of the head mask was actually based on a Torres Strait head dress, and the easiest symbol to define that would be on the Torres Strait flag.

Those conversations are exactly what I wanted to provoke and it was great outcome, definitely pushing it to the audience.

So what’s next for you, has winning spurred you towards creation of new work at all?

I’m actually working with Force Majeure in a few weeks as a performer, what I try to do in terms of arts practice is I just try to learn as many things that I can from anywhere, and it hopefully help me tell whatever story I choose to when I do want to create something again. The KEIR awards have been pretty amazing, I actually can’t wait to get a new work started from this process.

(Photo Credit – Gregory Lorenzutti for Dancehouse)