Documenting the influence of travel on my artistic practice

In This Article

Gabrielle Nankivell dramaturgy research Vienna

The subject of travel and professional development, and the value this experience offers artistic practice, arises regularly in the dance arena. As artists we seek these experiences because we are hoping to find something other than what we know or perhaps even something that makes us finally feel at home—either way, we are seeking something to ignite our imaginations and to deepen our knowledge and empathy. We hope to meet people, build new relationships and share practice. We imagine it will generate energy and feed our motivation. We take to the road to connect with others and to connect with our selves. To paraphrase the sentiment of many a wanderlust quote, travel opens the mind and makes the heart grow... We know and the philanthropists know. Travel and international exchange is a good thing.

International mobility has been key ingredient of my career as both a performer and a maker. My early experiences of professional development as a dancer took place in Europe, as did my formative professional experience as a performer. In 2015/16 the Keith Bain Choreographic Travel Fellowship afforded me the possibility to revisit this fertile ground of influence and memory. This time, through the lens of choreography and making, I travelled a path through Vienna, Munich, Barcelona and Berlin, where old and new influences could shape my practice. The journey allowed me to trace my history as a way of beginning an approach to my creative lineage.

Over the course of my fellowship I revisited places, ideas and mentors from my past. I use the term ‘mentor’ loosely in that some artists were people with whom I have worked, while others were artists whose performances, papers or interviews may have sparked a special interest at some point in time. I took part in workshops, had conversations and attended symposiums, performances and artist talks.

In revisiting these influences, I found myself reframing my work and reconnecting with the hybrid nature of my choreographic practice—which is derived primarily from improvisation and writing methodology. I began to unravel the influence of motion and travel in my work, ideas I have been obsessed with for quite awhile. The time and space we traverse while dancing or writing allows knowledge to evolve. Just like moving through countries, this travel through creativity joins the dots between things personal and universal, or perhaps even between theory and reality.

Physical movement, my own or that of the travel that carries me through time and space, seems to unlock my unconscious. Memory, imagination and invention arrive on the transiting landscape much like moving images on a film screen. It’s as if motion taps the fluidity of my thoughts, creating a place where movement and word can travel together. It is a kind of physical thinking that connects the individual to something more collective.

Most of the artists with whom I worked during my fellowship are improvisers. Improvisation is both the place I began as a young dancer starting out in Europe and the place to which I have returned as a maker. It is a place that informs my social perspective and a site where dancing and travelling seem most alike. Being on the floor in a roomful of dancing strangers teaches you much about the subtleties of dealing with all kinds of combinations of the known and unknown. It’s also a place where words and movements are equally at home.

In improvisation we train to deal with both the unknown and the known remixed and reconfigured. What we generate contains our history, framed by a moment of instant composition. In this instance even the familiar can become new.

The itinerant artist, like the traveller, is also an improviser. Responding in the moment to their instincts and their history framed by their direct experience of the new and unknown. The aliveness this incites, invigorates people. It’s one of the collective notions of travel that draws both artists to the road and first time travellers to a package tour. It is a perfect lure and a perfect truth.

Travel reinforces my desire to engage with my surroundings and when I am engaged I move, I write and I am connected to my practice. As an active witness in the world I am always practicing. I practice to interrogate the way I move and write—exploring the languages with which I communicate. I practice to cultivate my physical imagination and to develop strategies with which to craft this information into something I can share. Travelling continues to shape my history and reveal my lineage. My continued work will be in choosing how I frame this.

Read more in Gabrielle's research notes and workbook from her Keith Bain Choreographic Travel Fellowship adventure.