Anatomy of a dance work
How often had I thought of a question about the Diaghilev Ballet only to realize that the friends who could have answered it were dead (Buckle, in Dunning 1983, 3).
How often has the same lament been expressed regarding different moments in our collective performance history? All too often only images, the odd critique, perhaps a scrapbook, a costume, a diary, a blog, a website, and memories: Matthew Reasons’ (2003) 'archive of detritus', is left behind.
Very often what Eugenio Barba (1992) has called the eftermaele of a performance (Norwegian for "that which will be said afterward") does not include evidence of the intentions of the makers of these performances. Performers, choreographers and their colleagues rarely leave behind organised, reflective, reflexive responses to the work they developed, produced and presented to the public.
There are many reasons for this: a genuine reluctance or lack of interest on the part of the artist to have their work exist beyond its situated live presence; the relentless onward motion of the ‘market’ for live performance (everyone is always thinking about the next tour, the next work); and the manner in which working in live performance encourages the valorisation of ephemerality.
As Peggy Phelan (1993) identified almost 20 years ago, performance is something that cannot be "saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations" becauseonce it does so, it becomes something other than performance." Ominously (and perhaps prescriptively) she then dictated that to the "degree that performance attempts to enter the economy of reproduction it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology" (Phelan 1993, 146).
Who wants to (or would be game to) betray the ontology of their chosen vocation? Thankfully there are some: Britain’s Tim Ekersall (Forced Entertainment), Mike Pearson and Rosemary Butcher or Australia’s Nigel Kellaway, Claire Grant and Shelley Lasica to name but a few.
But for others, what price this reluctance? Amnesia, inconsequence and potential misrepresentation await—their pasts and their practice forgotten, or interpreted by others. And what of those interpreters? Historians and researchers are themselves hamstrung by the "melancholy realisation that underpins the discovery of historical records and artefacts: so much is lost." (McGillvray 2011, 11)
The paucity of performance documentation has been the motivating force behind this edition of Brolga, an edition which circulates entirely around the development, creation and critique of one work: Anatomy of an Afternoon (2012) created by choreographer Martin del Amo in collaboration with performer Paul White, music by Mark Bradshaw (performed by Jacob Abela, Andrew Smith and Marcus Whale), lighting by Matthew Marshall, costume by Rani Patience, developed with assistance from Critical Path and produced by Performing Lines at the Sydney Opera House.
Our motivation for producing this edition has been to avoid, if we can, the inevitability of amnesia, the possibility of inconsequence, and the potential misrepresentation of this contemporary performance by and for future generations.
Of course we are lucky. We find ourselves with an excess of symbolic and cultural capital through which we are afforded the privilege of getting such a task done. Martin is currently a celebrated performer/choreographer within contemporary Australian dance. He has received sustained funding at a state and federal level over the past 10 years, produced six major works which have all been professionally produced.
Martin has toured these works to other states and countries and he is sought after as a mentor/dramaturge/outside eye. He has two Australian Dance Awards to his name: Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer (2005) and Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance (2010).
Most recently Anatomy of an Afternoon was nominated for a Helpmann Award for Best Ballet or Dance work (2012) and his collaborator Paul White was awarded the Helpmann for Best Male Dancer in a Dance or Physical Theatre Work for the same work. Martin is a regular writer with RealTime and he also has an association with the university department with which I work: the Department of Performance Studies at Sydney University where he is an Artistic Honorary Associate.
All this validates our intent and allows us the time to investigate how Anatomy of an Afternoon was researched, developed, performed and received, leading up to its development showing at Critical Path in March 2011 and the completed work’s first performances at the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre in January 2012. Buckle’s lament encapsulates why it is important to encourage, push, prod and cajole artists and academics into contributing to such a document.
The contributors that you find here could be called "expert-practitioners", "expert spectators", or "expert practitioner/spectators" (Melrose 2007). I have borrowed and paraphrased these terms from Susan Melrose, Professor of Performance Arts at Middlesex University, UK, who has bravely coined such phrases, valuing the notion of expertise despite the (now rather tired) rhetoric that valorises and prioritises (to the exclusion of all else) a democratising impulse in making, performing and presenting avant-garde dance performance.
As Melrose herself has conceded, she has written about expertise for over a decade, "in the first instance for knowledge-political reasons, that relate in part to the widespread erasure of the term" (Melrose 2011). But she has also highlighted the "specific modes of knowledge and models of intelligibility" that come from engagement in and with the process of doing, and watching others do, over a long period of time.
When Melrose sits next to British choreographer Rosemary Butcher to watch dance, she notices the difference between the way she and Butcher watch.
[H]ow I watch, what I see, and what I make of it, will be different from Butcher’s own ways of watching, ways of seeing an experience of ‘the work’. I have become aware, for example, while watching Rosemary Butcher watching ‘dance’, that whereas I can see the work as though it is projected on a screen, Rosemary Butcher, sitting … beside me, also ‘sees dance’ multidimensionally, and through the lens specific to expert-practitioner performance-making. Butcher can see what is going on in those parts of the dance that my gaze fails to reach (Melrose 2009, 23).
Such a distinction is important to acknowledge, and then we need to encourage dialogue between the triad: the expert practitioner with the expert spectator with the expert spectating/practitioner. Of course we can simply watch a dance and like it or not and leave it at that, but for those interested in the form (its development, efficacy and continuation) such dialogues thicken the relationship between workers and witnesses affecting the lives and work of these and future workers and witnesses.
The writers collected here (our practitioners, spectators and practitioner/spectators) offer an unpacking of this singular work in an attempt to keep the record straight (or otherwise); opening up further and future exploration, discussion, reflection and assessment—revealing, however partial, the anatomy of this dance work: Anatomy of an Afternoon.
Martin del Amo offers a detailed, sequential recollection of why, how, where and when things were done in the development of the piece from its research to performance phase. Paul White offers his recollections on the same process, with images from his rehearsal diary as illustration. I offer a short exposition, also on the research phase, touching on wider issues pertaining to the process of researching within dance making.
Academic/curator Erin Brannigan explores notions of the transposition of style through her response to Martin and Paul’s Critical Path showing in early 2011, also considering the wider implications of and for Martin del Amo’s practice as a choreographer.
Dancer/choreographer Matthew Day interviews Martin del Amo, exploring the relationship between inspiration, thematic and choreographic choices in the development of his new work. Another dancer/choreographer, Kristina Chan, unpacks her impressions of Anatomy of an Afternoon as an audience member during the Sydney Festival performances, and in our last piece of writing scholar/designer/curator Justine Shih Pearson explores some of the work’s eftermaele—the anecdotal and critical responses to the January 2012 Sydney Opera House performances of Anatomy of an Afternoon.
But my acknowledgements would not be complete without thanking another expert-practitioner, Heidrun Löhr, for her stunning photos that grace this edition of Brolga.
- Barba, E., (1992). ‘Efermaele: That which will be said afterwards’. The Drama Review, 36(2), 77 – 80
- Butcher, Rosemary
- Dunning, Jennifer, Richard Buckle, Ann Hutchinson Guest and Baron Adolf de Meyer (1983) L’Après-midi d’un Faune, Valslav Nijinsky 1912, Dance Horizons: New York
- Forced Entertainment
- Grant, Claire (2012) Staging the Audience: The Sydney Front, DVD, Artfilms
- Kellaway, Nigel (2008) – University of Sydney e-scholarship repository
- Lasica, Shelley (2010) ‘Retrospective’, Brolga 33, December, pp. 22 – 25
- Melrose, Susan (2007) ‘Still Harping On (About Expert Practitioner-Centred Modes of Knowledge and Models of Intelligibility)’, keynote presentation, AHDS Summer School: Digital Representations of Performing Arts, National e-Science Centre: Edinburgh, July. Viewed March 2012
- Melrose, Susan (2009) ‘Expert-intuitive processing and the logics of production. Stuggles in (the wording of) creative decision-making in “dance’”’, in Jo Butterworth and Liesbeth Wildschut (eds), Contemporary Choreography: A critical reader, Routledge: New York, pp. 23-37
- Melrose, Susan (2011) ‘A Cautionary Note or Two, Amid the Pleasures and Pains of Participation in Performance-making as Research’, Keynote Address presented at the Participation, Research and Learning in the Performing Arts Symposium on the 6th May 2011, Centre for Creative Collaboration, London. Available on Susan Melrose website: viewed May 2012.
- McGillivray, Glen (2011) ‘Performance Archive: Detritus or historical record’ in Glen McGillivray (editor) Scrapbooks, Snapshots and memorabilia: Hidden Archives of Performance, Peter Lang: Bern, Switzerland, pp. 11 – 28
- Phelan, Peggy (1993) Unmarked: The politics of performance. London: Routledge
- Pearson, Mike (2011) Mickery Theater: An Imperfect Archaeology, Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press.
- Reason, Matthew (2003) “Archive or Memory? The detritus of live performance”, Theatre Quarterly, 19 (1), pp. 82 – 89