These artists were asked to reflect on their own making because I respect and admire their creative processes. But of course they are not the only dance makers for whom I have such respect and admiration. As with most things like this, these artists have also self-selected to a certain extent. Writing about what is usually danced is not something everyone has the time or the inclination to do; and the artists you read here were those who could accommodate such reflection within the day–to–day, week–to–week vagaries, demands and expectations of their artistic existence. Some I caught at an opportune moment—between projects, with a little time to spare. Others were already engaged on something for current or recently completed creative and academic doctorates, and yet others had writings they were prepared to revisit and allow to be published in this public forum.
I did not approach every Australian dance artist I admire and respect as I do hope this will not be the last time I get a chance to edit the writings of a group of such creative individuals; I have enjoyed this process immensely. We often lament the lack of published writing on Australian dance but there must be something in the air, as by coincidence or serendipity there are a few publishing projects in development or which have come to fruition of late with Australian dance history and practice as their central concern.
One such project is a new book by Ausdance National and Routledge (Singapore) on Australian dance, with interviews and articles by and with Australian dance artists, academics and critics; this is due for publication in 2011. Already published are Erin Brannigan’s new Platform Paper for Currency House, Moving Across Disciplines: Dance in the 21st Century and Alan Brissenden and Keith Glennon’s long awaited book Australia Dances: Creating Australian Dance 1945 – 1965 was published this year and is reviewed here by Garry Lester.
One of the major drivers behind the proposal for this edition of Brolga, was not only a lack of publications by Australian dance writers but also my experience as a historian working in archives. When we scour the archives (official and not so official) for evidence of dancers and their dancing in the past, one of the great frustrations is that the dance makers themselves can rarely be found exploring or explaining their own practice. So often historians must rely on the words of others, and rich and rewarding as these words sometimes are, it makes such a difference to see the creative musings of the artists on the page. There are some who have taken the time to tell us what they thought they were doing and there are many autobiographies, and these writings and books demand from the historian the consideration of how an artist would like to be remembered.
But it is still the exception, as opposed to the norm, that contemporary, independent Australasian dance makers can find themselves with the time and the support to write and/or publish memoirs or treatises on their own work. I recall picking up the New Zealand choreographer Douglas Wright’s book Ghost Dances (2004), and turning it over in my hand; such a rare object, a book written about an Australasian contemporary choreographer by that same choreographer. I do hope one day some of the artists represented here court or are courted by publishers and produce memories and creative writing projects to supplement the legacy of their performance practice.
In the articles that follow, Shelley Lasica, Martin del Amo and Narelle Benjamin talk candidly and elegantly about the way they make work—how they begin, how they collaborate with others and how they get things done. The Fondue Set—Jane McKernan, Elizabeth Ryan and Emma Saunders—offer up a fascinating response to a set of provocations. They reveal their process in a three-part harmony that speaks to the particular concerns of this group of female artists.
Helen Herbertson, Trevor Patrick and Tess de Quincey provide poetic reflections that speak to the nature of the work they produce. This results in beautiful, powerful prose that evokes, rather than explains, the why, when and how of their devising processes. But what I like about this more figurative approach is the way in which their writings help me re-imagine the sensibility of their performances. Brain Lucas gives us a generous, reflective musing on how even established artists are in a constant and continuing state of development and growth, and Julie-Anne Long takes us on a journey, through the inspiration, creation and realisation of a working process. She reflects on collaboration and the influence of place with a word skill that replicates her expertise as a dancing devisor.
All the artists represented in this edition of Brolga have been making work for long enough to know that process and practice have a temporal quality. They understand that you can say/invoke what, why and how, but only for now. Talk to any of these artists in another five years and their concerns, their process and their manner of reflection may have changed. What you read here are the writings of a brave band of dance makers who were prepared to explain themselves, in their own words and in their own way. They are all, to varying degrees, concerned with time: time passing, the need for time, changes over time. Most believe it takes the time it takes. Some are experimenting with repeating time again and others are concerned with being timely. I for one am very glad (and grateful) that they all took the time to write a little bit down for us so that we can read what they have to say in their own words in our own time.