The negotiations of relationship—a conversation about dance improvisation

In This Article


Dance Interrogations 2016 is ultimately an examination of the negotiations of relationship, and the expectations, desires, and respite that are therein found. From the tender brush of a gaze, to the flick of a tiny rejection, to the balancing of caretaking, we are all dancing in our relationships. 1

This paper is a conversation about building depth in our relationships with our bodies and our meeting points with each other. Framed within the context of an improvisational dance practice, the authors, Dianne Reid and Melinda Smith, reflect upon their seven-year collaboration, their evolving performance work, Dance Interrogations, and the cultural shifts possible as a result of long-term artistic practice. Acknowledging the interconnectedness and multidimensional nature of artistic practice, these reflections are presented in a non-linear format, shifting across and between timeframes as they unpack the layers of transformation. Their practice itself constantly shifts between artistic formats in both studio and performance contexts, and draws upon a range of technologies familiar within the cultures of screendance and disability. This account is improvisational, an undoing of structure, to encourage other angles and depths of perception.

The present, 2016

D: We are sitting together in your studio/office, both talking as I type. We are building a written conversation with this paper, reflecting back on the different languages we have used to arrive here, at this place with so much shared history and so many big shifts personally and professionally. Isn’t it interesting that we communicated mostly through written conversation using Skype when we first met back in 2010. 2

Melinda Smith lives with cerebral palsy, which has necessitated the use of powered wheelchairs and speech generating devices. Melinda’s dance career began in 2006 when she performed with a small theatre group called Amuse Ability. In 2010 she helped to establish a small dance troupe of wheelchair users, known as Wheel Women, who partnered with Fusion Theatre to develop the stage production ‘Perfectly Imperfect’. Here she met choreographer Dianne Reid, and began to develop her dance practice. This was the first time Melinda had experienced dancing out of her wheelchair and the beginning of a dance mentorship with Dianne that has developed into an ongoing duet improvisation practice.  The pair continued to collaborate as part of Weave Movement Theatre’s production, A Broken Puzzle—a screendance created by Reid with Weave which had a live performance outcome for the 2010 Melbourne Fringe.

M: Yes, when we first used Skype we didn’t use the video, only the text chat. I think if we had used the video it wouldn’t have been so intimate.

D: There wasn’t the pressure to respond immediately, especially because we kept the chat going over a few hours. I could get up and go and get a drink or whatever. I had time to really consider what I wanted to share, the choice of words.

M: and music…remember how we had the same music going?

D: We set up a soundscape like we do now in the studio. Maybe that set up a lot of potential for openness and durational exchange?

M: Yes, and now our conversations are not just language, they are a mix of body language, sound, voice, poetic writing, drawings. When you think about it we probably use less words than anything else in our conversations.

D: I feel that there are less words wasted when we do speak. It’s as though I am allowed to take time to think about what it is I want to say. I’m not having to fill the air with words or agreements, you know people generally get nervous about that space. There is a panic to get to the end product that drives most of society, whereas the process focus of improvisation, of being in the body, acknowledges different time frames where it is possible to notice alternatives and details.

M: In our improvisations I am not having to rush. If you came in with a score and said ‘Ok, this is what we are going to do’ then I would have to focus on how am I going to make that happen, rather than letting it happen as it happens. I have to do that in every other aspect of my life. I’m always catching up, being talked over, racing against the clock, problem solving because able-bodied architectures and systems are working against me.

I did a presentation at CPEC (Cerebral Palsy Education Centre) 3  a month ago and there was one person who said there should have been another speaker to speak while Mel was typing. She missed the point of it. It was about communicating my style. It makes you think about how people worry about silence.

D: Well we’re vulnerable there, just in our bodies. Words, language, is this armour, saying I’m valuable because I can construct something, I have an opinion, I exist. Producing the words is given more importance than the quality of what’s said.

M: I remember way back in 2011, the first time we were in the studio in Adelaide (we had done a few practice sessions in Melbourne before you moved over there). I had asked you to explain something and you said, ‘I can’t articulate it right now.’ That was a realization for me that we were on the same page. That we both needed time to articulate.

In 2011 and 2012 Reid mentored Smith as part of the Cultivate arts grant she had received from Arts Access Australia. This project involved private workshop sessions for Smith with other dance artists (Janice Florence, Joey Lehrer and Anne O’Keeffe), and also began the development of a duet improvisation practice between Reid and Smith.

D: The video camera has played an important part in our practice. The footage I took during those early Cultivate sessions had multiple outcomes—as visual feedback for both of us, but especially for you, and as material for the grant acquittal, but then also edited into the screendance A Beautiful Day, our first artwork, public outcome, as collaborators and you as a dancer.

M: With the camera, I got to see what’s happening. It was interesting how I feel my spasms but I don’t see my body spasm. The camera invites me to watch that and learn to work with that rather than against it. As I said in that conversation with Anne that’s in the video, ‘the more I work with my disability the less important my disability becomes.’ There was a time I felt silly looking into the camera but that has shifted over time.

D: You mean working to the camera? Did you feel embarrassed when you first watched yourself on video?

M: Yes, my face is the most difficult thing for me to control, it gives the wrong communication so often. That was confronting, because no-one tells me what they see so I hadn’t really thought about how I looked.

D: I think it’s confronting for anyone the first time they see themselves on video or hear their recorded voice.

M: I can’t understand myself when I hear myself recorded.

D: I can translate for you…I’ve done a Certificate 3 in ‘Mel-speak’. I’m laughing and remembering when we were in India and Pappan 4 asked me if I had done a course that allowed me to understand your speech. But it is about spending time with someone, spending time in another culture, whether it’s India, or the studio, or in CP (Cerebral Palsy) land.

M: Yes, and spending that time in the studio allowed me to let go of that embarrassment, and the physical fear. Those sessions working with you and Joey Lehrer were so powerful. Allowing my body to fall into your bodies and knowing that I could do it without fear stopping me. I was starting to see my “dancer” body not just my CP body, and creating a way for them to work in partnership.

D: Having Joey, a third body, and someone with all that contact improvisation and body knowledge 5 sowed seeds for building the techniques we have now, in supporting, counter-balancing, lifting, moving in and out of chairs or the floor.

M: A Beautiful Day came from a conversation about doing a film together at this time. You had moved to Adelaide then and it was a way for us to stay connected, to keep producing something but also to build the relationship with the camera.

D: Seeing the body in different relationships to gravity, in different locations—feeling the sun on your face, the leaves on your body, your body standing in the sand against the beach sunset—bringing the viewer into the sensation of being in your body and the joy of moving/dancing. In that final image, you are sort of bowing to Robbie (the chair), like in martial arts, acknowledging respectfully the exchange but asserting your own stance, strength.

M: That was totally improvised and I had no idea you were filming that.

D: I was taking the camera back to the car and turned and saw you standing there. I grabbed the camera quickly to capture that moment, that striking wide shot of body supported by landscape.

M: The sand almost moulded around my feet and gave me that natural support, holding my feet in place so I could explore standing. You don’t get that on the floor. It was almost like I was wearing callipers with boots attached. When I wore those years ago my feet were quite supported although the sand still allows me to move whereas the boots were more rigid. In the studio when you sometimes put your hands on my feet for that support it’s almost like the sand does that for me, but independently. It goes back to when I couldn’t bend my legs after my surgery. For about three years I had physio day after day to get my legs to bend again and nothing worked except for the sand. That’s why today I feel that connection with sand is so important in my development, into walking.

D: That’s also why I feel so drawn to working site-specifically. There are possibilities in the natural landscape, for viewing and moving, that are bigger than what’s available in a studio or a black box theatre.

A Beautiful Day (2012) has since been selected for a number of international festivals—including the ADF International Screendance Festival (2013) and the Idill Online Dance Film Festival (2014).

D: The only words you speak in that film were the title of the film. It was sort of a strategy for letting people in to discover your natural voice.

M: For me, using my natural voice, articulating, is the hardest thing to do. I need so much time to physically form my words, it’s probably where most of my energy goes. Penny (my communication device) 6 makes it easier. I can relax more because I know I’m understood. Whereas, with my own voice, there’s always that risk of that person not ‘getting’ what I’ve said.

Sometimes words come to my head
when I move—
feeling words,
action words,
words about places,
people words, animal words,
words about love—
words about uncertainty,
words, words, words,
need time to articulate
words on my brain move with me,
I am words made up of letters. 7

M: It seems more meaningful to move. I want to say liberating because when I’m about to do a dance practice with you, I get out on the floor and there’s no pressure, no structure. I don’t have to think of words, I don’t have to say anything if I don’t want to or don’t need to. I like the idea of using the silence. The non-verbal moments free me up to then capture the thought later and share with you. The energy to produce speech, form words and meaning, takes an enormous amount of time and concentration.

But I do think we stop a lot more now, in the middle of practice and converse about what’s happening, more than we used to. Perhaps that’s been about the development in our practice, how our dance relationship has shifted over time. We fire off each other with new ideas and strategies for moving together. Surprise moments and images come up that are worth discussing at the time, to work with them in the moment. Also, I don’t have to worry so much about being understood—you understand ‘me’—whether that's words or body movements and expressions. In a sense I am relaxed in my body and focusing on the practise of dance communication and not my disabled-ness and getting my message across. I'm moving with my body and yours to reach whatever the destination is for that time.

D: And because we are friends as well and spend time together outside of studio practice we are sharing a lot of our reflections with each other, getting to know more about each other’s habits and style in our day to day lives.

24 March 2015

Why do you dance? 

M: I dance to connect with myself and to be who I am in the world around me. I have cerebral palsy, which means I am not in control of my muscles and I move my body in different ways.

Dancing to me is about developing my practice with every aspect of my body, and that includes my cerebral palsy, and I am taking a pride and responsibility for that. Mostly I am dancing out of my wheelchair. But I see my wheelchair and my communication device as bodies and I have relationships with them, in dance and life.

I love to listen to dance and watch dance and learn from other bodies and that is equally important to me. And my relationship to time…being slow and allowing myself the time I need is the most important thing in my dance. It does not mean I dance slowly all the time, but it is more about knowing my focus and giving myself the still moment for the next image, for the next move in my journey. I don’t do well under pressure if my muscles don’t have time to listen and, as a result, nothing happens in my moves. I just freeze inside and things blur and I can’t think or articulate. So my relationship to time continues to be a realization that, the more time I give, the more I can achieve and perform.

D: There is a resonance for me in Erin Manning’s latest book that I am reading at the moment, A Minor Gesture. She writes about a ‘cleaving of experience…a patient experimentation’, (Manning 2016, p. 6) of ‘crafting techniques that create the conditions…for the opening of the everyday to degrees and shades of experience’ (Manning 2016, p. 15) When we are dancing together, especially when we are in physical contact, I feel an amplification of the present moment which is more than a slowing down or even a zooming in. it is that activation of ‘a new field of relation, that feeling the complexity of the event in the event’ (Manning 2016, p. 22). I mention Manning to underline how physical practice, particularly improvisation, is also nourished by the language and ideas that we are hearing or reading at any given time. Her writing about the autistic spectrum as a positive alternate way of receiving and operating in the world connects to the way I am receiving and operating with your CP.

15 December 2013

D: Last night I watched Mel solo at the Women’s Night at Cecil Street—her second time outside of practice. I could feel my watching of others watching her trying to feel the movement of their breath as they witnessed Mel’s heavy breath, the audible effort.

Are they shifting uncomfortably? Or are they fixed by her effort like the Indians with their un-self-conscious curiosity?

I was trying to recall how I first watched Mel move from chair to floor
I was sitting close by
Watching a slow motion landslide
Like a crying out frozen in time
both exquisite in its suspension and excruciating in its struggle

Afterwards I tell her
her dance was like a wide river
with the same mass contained
the same power as a waterfall
but spread and slowed…further downstream.

D: We always get asked how we met, so we/I often re-tell that first meeting, the first rehearsal together for Perfectly Imperfect. I often describe your experience, what you did, how you looked, the time it took, but what I am feeling is my experience, my body’s physical act of ‘watching-with’. This is the shift that our long-term practice has enabled—a tuning in to each other’s physicality and timing, and to our own.

In 2014 Melinda and Dianne presented Unbecoming—a 50-minute improvised dance performance incorporating and interacting with video projection, two wheelchairs and a communication device. They wanted to bring the audience into their space-time, to offer other angles and investments with watching our different (aging and disabled) dancing bodies. This dance work was celebrating risk-taking for performers and audience, the risk of being seen in an awkward moment, of not conforming to expectation, of aging, of falling over, of revealing our thoughts and using our imaginations, of moving in different relationships to time and space. They were looking to ‘perform the mobilization of the trapped body’ (Kuppers 2004, p. 68). 8]]

We are unbecoming, unhinged, undone, unencumbered.
We are marooned in the moment, a collision of hard edges and soft tissue, of difficult bodies and sensational possibilities. 9

M: At that time, when we were working on Unbecoming, it was the first time we did the ‘flying' (where you lifted me, my pelvis on your feet).

D: and the first time we had used your recorded voice in the soundscape.

M: Yes, that was confronting but also interesting.

D: This was our first full-length performance—50 minutes was a long time to improvise and for an audience to watch (and we have since trimmed the time down to between 30–40 minutes depending on the context). But I feel that at that time we needed that amount of time to push through things—for us to have time to meet, to give the audience time to move past seeing a disabled body as limited, but, as Ann Cooper Albright writes of ‘opening up the possibility that we can look at the dancing body as a body in process, a body becoming’ (Albright 1997, p. 76).

M: And seating the audience in wheelchairs created this discomfort. Where did the idea for that come from?  Oh yes, it was yours, after taking Robbie home for a few days for costume fittings, and your mum felt awkward having Robbie sitting in the living room, looking like some kind of a threat to her, i.e. age and disability. I remember also, the time when you were doing handstands/backflips in Robbie and you accidentally flipped backwards landing onto the floor, was this the same week?

D: Yes, part of my undoing or discovery of my body was in relationship to the wheelchairs, to explore your experience of a body that includes steel and wheels and sharp square edges, parameters that are not flesh, round, soft or operate in the same way with gravity. They are foreign and risky.

M: And that’s what makes people nervous about wheelchairs. For example, my colleague Libby won’t sit in my wheelchair because she says it would be invading my body, invading my space. And when she has to access my wheelchair it has to be with her hand, keeping it at arm’s length.

D: Whereas I sit in them, stand on them, wear them, use my feet to undo the brakes, I experiment with how my body meets theirs. I don’t even see Robbie and Xena as wheelchairs anymore. They have identities now, they perform with us, but they are also material—a wheel pulled off becomes something else, a prop or a costume or a fragment of architecture, building other narrative landscapes, physical possibilities.

We were dismantling or repurposing the wheelchairs, wearing them like armour or being dragged beneath them. (Reid 2016, p. 91)

24 March 2015

Why do you dance?

D: Why do I dance? Why wouldn’t I? I can’t imagine not dancing.

It has just bubbled out of me—how I feel, images in my head, dreams about places and people and my relationship with them have always expressed themselves through my moving body.
My hands sculpt the air; I paint with the brush of a leg;
a melody runs up my spine; and snapshots develop on my face.
From an insistent compulsion developed a persistent decision to always be involved in dance, to work at play.
Dance was the vehicle for my speaking, commenting, imagining my life but also a way to come close to others. The relationships you develop in the dance studio are deep because they are deeply connected to breath and touch, to our most intimate states. If we could bring the whole world into the dance studio, into their own breathing and sensation we could get on with living with each other. I see dance as a means to fully experience the world, our relationships and our imaginative, creative potential. When I dance I shake out all the places I have been—locations, scents, sensations, rhythms, words, desires, fears, actions, thoughts—and expand the sense of myself. Dance builds community. It tells stories, forges pathways for groups to move through the world together—to explain phenomena, to find food and shelter, to mate and reproduce, to sharpen their senses and stimulate euphoria, to consider things from other angles.
It is both pleasure-giving and problem-solving.

M: When you think of that first practice together at the end of 2010, there was a lot of preparation. We didn’t know what we were about to do, and I think you were pretty, not nervous, but wondering how you were going to support my body to move.

D:  In some ways it was liberating for me that you had no experience of dancing, it meant that I did less. I remember giving some verbal descriptions, images, and doing some hands on work, sort of teaching, but also realising that I was going to need different tools, that I had to look at my own body differently to meet yours. There was all that stuff about undoing the fear of the spasm and not wanting to hurt you, not knowing how far your body could go.

M: And of not wanting to break me. I remember when you dragged me along the floor that one day and my pants pulled down. You didn’t hurt me but we were both embarrassed. And you have never dragged me like that again because I think you realised that I wasn’t in control of that, or able to stop that happening.

D: It was the beginning of realising that the speed or the physical strength of my action might mismatch yours and that doesn’t give you an opportunity to respond. It made me think about ‘impulse’ and that even in improvisation we don’t need to act on every impulse, there can still be choice and consideration in the moment. This is what experience as an improviser and experience of your body teaches me—a sort of respect for the edges of risk, not using my ability to move you, but subverting the power of the “able” body and becoming a surface for you to move over/with.

M: I also had to feel OK about how my body moved with you, I didn’t want to hurt you either. Sometimes my hand can grab your arm too tight or I can fall onto you. That was really hard in the beginning, knowing how to move with your body. Even though now we have this familiarity, I still have to keep reminding myself to relax. My CP state is about tension, opposite to the ‘opening’ we are working towards.

I’ll never forget that time when I was trying to control my spasms and hope that they wouldn’t happen and then, it was something you said, it was just the way you said it—‘we can work with the spasms.’ That was a real significant moment because it made me think, ‘Oh yeah! Why am I trying to put all that effort into trying to stop them when they’re valuable?’

We want to believe we can decide where the event will take us. This is a mirage that underestimates the force of the nonvoluntary in our daily lives.’ (Manning 2016, p. 20)

DSW was edited from an improvisation specifically set up for camera, after a performance of Unbecoming in early 2015 while we still had the extra wheelchairs and lighting set up to play with in the dance studio. It shifted the liveness of the encounter—between live dance and video projection, bodies and wheelchairs—into a screen site.  The title DSW is an acronym Melinda and I coined for a Skype emoticon we used in our online conversations when we first began working together.  It was a stick figure dancing that Melinda re-visualized in her painting of DSW, Dancing Stick Woman. (Reid 2016, p. 94)

D: Last week, at practice, when I had my head pressed onto your wrist. I was listening to your spasm. It was a deep throbbing, not like a violent spasm but like a heartbeat, and I was deliberately resisting lifting my head, or recoiling from your movement. I was researching it, seeing how far I could move in with my attention and what might emerge. I was giving myself permission to look and feel.

M: I was almost doing the same thing but in the reverse. It was like I was trusting my hand to be there...

D: …not overcoming structures, but embracing the collapse of structure. Collapse could be seen to be a negative, but I think it is wonderful. It’s being comfortable and trusting and courageous enough to let go, like laughing. Laughing puts your body in a vulnerable place, you’re open, unguarded. Awkward can be beautiful. Vulnerability can be powerful. Why should your clenched right fist be a limitation? Now I’m thinking of that publicity shot of us in the convent in our nun’s habits, both with a clenched right hand and an open left hand…why should symmetry be preferable?

Two performers wearing nuns habits seated in front of a painted cross

You are unique and therefore, what works for you, what suits your body (your biology) will be different from what works for other people. Your history (your biography) is also uniquely yours. When you consider both your biology and your biography—the raw materials that made you and the forces that shaped you—it is not surprising to find that your needs differ considerably from everyone else’s. (Clark 2016, p. 3)

Dance Interrogations (a diptych) was the culminating performance season of Dianne’s PhD research. It combined Dianne’s solo in the red train at CERES and a duet with Melinda in a hallway in the Abbotsford Convent. It built upon the cinematic in the live experience by physically shifting the action across space, into quite different locations in different suburbs of inner city Melbourne, and over time, separating the two episodes with an extended interval. This broader commitment on the part of the audience, of four hours rather than the usual 1-2, and of transporting themselves between locations, was a strategy for bringing the audience closer while at the same time giving them space to dream, to consider what had been (in the train) as they move toward what might be (in the convent).

D: The Diptych, working site-specifically, really cracked open the possibilities of our performance practice. Having the audience and the architecture as material (and the ghosts the space conjured up), allowed a fine-tuning of how we worked together and in counterpoint. Moving the audience from light (day in the train) to dark (night at the convent) was a way to slow them down, as was the shape of the space—how they entered at one end and we led them down the long corridor toward the mural wall. This was a way to bring attention to the space, putting the audience in the picture.

M: It gave me more opportunities to connect with their bodies and to work off your actions or expressions. When you made shifts, like in the ‘skip-folky’ section. I could feel your face spasms of numerous expressions—and say to myself ‘yes, there’s one I can go with.’ Then I found myself in a happy place sliding back to the convent wall.

D: That space drew a strong connection between the ideas of heaven—upward, church/institution, structure, male, symmetry—and earth—fallen, home for disabled, animal, female, difference. It was also significant that we introduced your ‘flying’ here, and my falling from the ledge onto your lap. Switching roles, upsetting the status quo, undoing structures. That is what improvisation is about, but also what arts and disability activism is about.

M: Yes, undoing structure is very important for me. It’s been wonderful to find that life without structure, and that definitely wasn’t there until I started exploring dance. The possibilities were like a bubble inside my head. When you’ve spent a lot of your life being told ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that,’ and then when we started practising for a purpose it just grew into this ‘I can do this, I can do that.’

Dan lies down, she mutters sounds, shift body weight towards me…I let my limbs relax, lower to connect with her knees and hands…trust, let me fly, let me soar across the valleys, galaxy…where can we go, what an amazing journey. 10

D: We have built a repertoire—the lifts into the chair, the flying, the recent full-body rolling—like contact improvisation, we’ve found the points of balance between us to do things with shared weight, using momentum and counter-balance, and trust. Your body is opening more and finding release to facilitate movement. These become ways to meet other time frames and still show the bigger shifts, make our statement, even if we are limited by less time or space.

M: Before, if we only had 10 minutes for performing I would try and plan what I was going to do, whereas now I just go with what happens.

D: If we meet we meet, if the opportunity comes up to go into that lift, we both know that’s where we can go. We don’t try and impose that material into each dance. We respect the unexpected that your CP can inject. But it has opened up that desire now to explore working in the air, putting you in a harness where you are not having to focus on how to move up out of the floor, or balancing to avoid falling.

In 2016 Smith and Reid received funding from the Australia Council and Creative Victoria to present a development of Dance Interrogations at the Footscray Community Arts Centre. This version, in a black box venue, saw the development of the video projections as interactive landscapes and the beginnings of harness work as both solo and duet components.

M: The first day in the harness totally flipped me out because it took my body out of control, and my imagination was somewhere else! But over a few weeks of practice and professional training with Franca Stadler, the rigger at the Women’s Circus, and dedicated mentoring by you, I have been able to control my body remarkably, to be able to move when I want to move and not have to think about the risk of falling backwards. It is just so exciting to me, and mind boggling to think what the potential could be.

D: It seemed like a logical next step to find some technology that could free your body rather than contain it. I remember working with Danceworks 11  (in the nineties) when we began with climbing and harness work, what a strange shift it was for my brain, when suddenly gravity was taken out of the picture. I had to rethink how to get my body into the places I wanted to go, and I had to be prepared to ride out a trajectory that I hadn’t planned on. When we started working together with both of us rigged on separate ropes, or on the same rope, I was focussing on how I could revisit some of our lifts but now without the weight bearing on me. But I forgot that you had limited experience, not just of aerial work, but of being on a swing as a kid…you hadn’t really felt any of the sort of momentum play that an able-bodied child would, let alone start swinging upside down in contact with someone.

M: It also convinced me that it wasn’t anything like my imagination. I’ve imagined running or swimming or climbing but when I came to do the aerial stuff...! It was a physical sensation that I hadn’t contemplated. I can remember after the first session I went home and felt like I’d gone somewhere I thought I’d never go to! I wanted more! I now had something real to work with in my head for the next session.

D: It was sort of like starting again with our practice too. I had to back off a bit and let you ‘find your feet’—try not to get too excited and push you too far too quickly. Working as a counterpoint orbiting around you was a great image and let us have two speeds and ranges happening at the same time and complementing each other. Then letting myself slide in closer and under you to finally meet at a still point of contact as the final moment in the performance felt very satisfying. But then in September when we went to Tasmania to perform at Salamanca Moves we made the decision to let you just have the solo moment without me also rigging up. Part of that was practical because I was still with the audience leading them down from the Founders Room where we did most of the performance through the courtyard to the Peacock Theatre, which had the rigging point. You were already there standing before that amazing rock wall, so it seemed right to let you have that solo image and I just arrive and watch with the audience.

And now that we are also building a yoga practice, all these things are working to strengthen my trunk and my core. You know how sitting in a wheelchair means that I’ve always been in that down position with my head, my face, and not using my torso, abdominals. I think all this has had a huge impact on the parts of my body that were not being used. I think it was great timing when we came to yoga (early 2016) because we had had all that experience of dancing with each other. We have built a shared physical range and vocabulary, been to Alice Cummins’ Body Mind Centering (BMC®) classes together, and climbed the 32 stairs to get to the classes. Yoga is breaking down the physical components, from that big picture knowledge, to look at the details, as a way to go forward. I think the yoga is supporting my rolling stuff. Yoga is teaching me to slow it down completely to find the way my body works.

D: When we do yoga together now, I’m giving you a lot more tactile information or support to give you an idea of where the movement might start or open from, or how a different direction can emerge.

M: Your tactile information is making it accessible. It’s not like you’re driving the way or telling me what to do. I noticed a lot that you’re standing back and waiting for my body to find its place before you touch me again. A lot of people don’t see that part of our work. That one strong reaction we got in the audience survey of the Footscray season, made us move on in a big way. I feel that we have made some big shifts in Tasmania and now (since that feedback). It really hit us.

D: Yes, that comment, that I was dancing all around you and you were stuck looking at the floor, reminded us that we needed to allow for people not knowing all the reciprocity that’s going on—to not try and show everything in a performance but being sensitive to how they might be watching us. Making sure they see you, you showing yourself, not me showing you but me just being in relationship with you.

M: And the other side was working on lifting my face and body up and out for an audience, projecting what was going on for me.

D: That’s the difference between personal practice and performing practice, between feeling something or, as an artist, finding ways to convey how you are feeling.

M: In our most recent performance, 12 where we only had ten minutes, I really worked with where I am now, not about yesterday or tomorrow, it was here with me getting straight out onto the floor and rolling across the room.

D: And I hung back, left you there unassisted and didn’t enter until you were nearly across and then just walked in and stopped mid-step just in front of you balancing on one leg, mid-frame before falling...

M: ...and we met. I rolled into your leg and that was the shift into duet. Because of the new positions that are opening at the moment, I feel like my positions with you are changing. Sometimes I’m so busy working with my own body to get it to where I want to be that it’s easy for me to miss where you are. Now, that is becoming less the focus, and its opening to allow me to put that focus, that energy, into listening and watching.

In 2016 their practice has moved into new planes and possibilities with the performance work Dance Interrogations 2016. The video collage promoting the Footscray season draws together Melinda’s thoughts about the journey, illustrated by a video journal of their six-year history.


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