The current plethora of digital networking options create an opportunity and an ambivalence for contemporary dance practitioners. Dance artists have been quick to utilise the possibilities that the digital environment offers for networking, promoting, collaborating, discovering, framing and extending their choreographic or performance pursuits. Yet this explosion of activity that the internet has enabled does not always adequately emphasise or represent the fundamental encounter that remains at the centre of the vast majority of dance practices: the kinaesthetic encounter between bodies in close physical proximity. This proximal encounter creates and promotes networks of another order; no more or less social than digital networks, but grounded in experiences whose origins have remained staunchly embodied at a ‘micro-energetic’ level. In moving with, feeling or watching dancing in physical co-presence, intricacies of movement and context are understood in ways not yet fully appreciable (or perhaps altered) by digital renderings. By appealing to kinaesthetic exchange as the basis for establishing networks in dance (that is, as something that has ‘always been present’) dance artists do not seek to turn their backs on a changing world. The practices, and ongoing reformulations of practices, can been seen as dynamic and changeable, with conventions, structures and privileged positions being both further entrenched or challenged.
In Australia, the social and aesthetic contexts of ‘live’ contemporary dance (practice and performance), and the networks these contexts facilitate, remain diverse even if they are sometimes fragile or unexpected. This issue of Brolga aims to give some visibility or clarity to a select few of these diverse practices, primarily as they have been understood by the dance practitioners themselves. Networks create links between things. The variable ways such connections are created, valued and understood are outlined in this issue in a series of physical engagements which articulate acts of opening or becoming, acts of social activation, acts engendering community identity, or acts of private interpersonal collaboration. Some of the ways these articles connect dance to a wider world might be seen as readily anticipated, such as the qualitative analysis of the choreographic processes in Nat Cursio’s With a Bullet. Other connections made here are more unexpected, such as the dance that occurs between a writer and a musician (as articulated in Indigo Perry’s poetic reflections), that is nonetheless founded on an intimate relationship with embodiment. The various ways artists think about and act upon their connections to the world are given voice here, with five out of the six articles being written by the artists themselves. These artists speak from particular positions about the operative strategies, relational engagements, artistic values, creative processes (of thought and action), as well as writing personally about the projects they are involved in.
Indigo Perry’s article, Dance of the Writer: A Poetics describes her surfacing consciousness of her own writing practice as a dance. Perry describes her slow emergence from debilitating depression and the way she has come to understand the daily routine of writing in a café as a deliberately performative act. Perry writes: ‘dance is a writing practice to me and my writing is also part of a dance practice. They are not separable’. Informed by taking part in various dance situations such as Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms as well as writing performatively in cross artform performance events, Perry’s writing has become a dancerly act that is as much about the embodied experience of writing as it is about the words that are left behind.
Gretel Taylor describes her project Dancing Place in which members of the community of Wyndham, in the west of Melbourne, were asked to dance a dance of their choosing in a place of their choice. Acts as diverse as youth breakdancing on a basketball court, a group of seniors line-dancing beside a creek and young dancers from Wangal United Aboriginal Corporation, performing dance and song at sacred site, Wurdi Youang, were captured in a series of videos by Dianne Reid and formed an installation exhibition at Wyndham Art Centre. Taylor writes of how the project allowed the individuals and groups to contest perceptions and stereotypes through revealing their nuanced relationships with the places in which they dance.
Shaun McLeod’s article, Overexposed, Yet Rarely Seen explores the culture of dance improvisation in performance and in particular the work and practice of a group of individuals who are part of the Melbourne improvisation ‘scene’. Open improvisation, as described by McLeod in which the dancer(s) perform without having decided what it is they will do in performance, is often supported by a rigorous improvisation practice. This work exists as a marginal performance practice in Australia both in the situations in which it is performed and perhaps also in the way it is viewed. McLeod asks why this is the case and whether examining, defining and critically engaging with the practice itself, particularly in a world and historical context, may allow for greater reception.
In The Negotiations of Relationship – a Conversation about Dance Improvisation Melinda Smith and Dianne Reid unravel some of the intricacies of a necessarily intimate artistic relationship. Smith is a dancer/choreographer with cerebral palsy who shares a practice with Reid, an able-bodied dancer/choreographer, and which has led to a series of performances together since 2010. Their dialogue reflects on the evolution of this relationship across different qualities of embodiment and activated by their common investment in improvisation. Here improvisation acts as a form of becoming as well as a means of negotiation: a negotiation of inter-corporality, (yes, seems it can be inter-corporality or intercorporeality) of difference and, perhaps most prominently, of disability. The material realities of disability are initially foregrounded as one (of many) artistic frames for their joint practice. Yet the article also divests the notion of disability as a ‘problem’ for the dancer, with Smith making the powerful statement ‘the more I work with disability the less important my disability becomes’.
Contemporary dance culture in Western Australia is spotlighted by Vahri McKenzie in her qualitative examination of how seven Perth-based choreographers approached a common provocation for making a short dance work. The provocation is provided by Melbourne-based choreographer Nat Cursio in the transferal of her performance concept for With a Bullet: The Album Project, to the WA context. With a Bullet was originally created in 2006 by Melbourne choreographers1 in response to Cursio’s challenge to ‘recall the first song to which they ever “made up a dance” and use this song to create a new short work’ (Cursio 2007). McKenzie’s article concentrates on how four of the WA choreographers articulate their thinking about choreographic phenomena that are largely tacit, embodied, and felt. McKenzie’s analysis of interviews with the choreographers utilises the work of Thomas Csordas. In so doing, she hones in on evidence of what Csordas calls ‘somatic modes of attention’ (Csordas 1999), while at the same time highlighting the often, hazy ways in which language can reveal dance. Despite not being readily captured by language, the choreographers (Shona Erskine, Michael Whaites, Jo Pollitt and Clausi Alessi) communicate their choreographic intentions to the dancers through idiosyncratic strategies that often make use of language. In the process, they also reflect on the transmission processes that underpin the dancer-choreographer relationship, and which are active in the production of choreographic sensibility and specificity. McKenzie details the connections and understandings between the artists that arise in the creative, yet private relations of the choreographic process.
Dance improvisation is once again the connective tissue in Olivia Millard’s Dancing Participation. The open-ended observations Millard makes have been prompted by a long-term practice and consideration of the impact that ‘scores’ have on improvisation. In her article, she analyses aspects of this usage, particularly as they apply to a group practice of dance improvisation, and through the application of Hannah Arendt’s use of the concepts of ‘action’ (vita activa) and ‘contemplation’ (vita contemplativa). Following Arendt, Millard probes unnecessary distinctions between the two modes vis-a-vis an assessment of the procedural and methodological determinants of her practice with others. Yet her thinking has been led by practice and her observations and reflections are specifically pinned to the conditions and situation of her practice: the people she worked with, the manner of their interactions, and the ways in which the dancers took up her scores (and other inputs) to create dynamic, relational contexts for improvisation.
1. The original choreographers in the Melbourne performance were Shannon Bott, Natalie Cursio, Simon Ellis, Phillip Gleeson, Michelle Heaven, Luke Hockley, Jo Lloyd, and Gerard Van Dyck. The dancers in the 2006 season were Shannon Bott, Natalie Cursio, Simon Ellis, Jacob Lehrer, Jo Lloyd, Gerard Van Dyck. In 2007 Cursio ‘remastered’ the season with the addition of two more choreographers – Carlee Mellow and Bec Reid – and additional dancers (Alisdair Macindoe, Alice Dixon, Matt Cornell, Holly Durant, Melissa Jones, Laura Levitus, Rob McCredie, Carlee Mellow, Kathryn Newnham, James Shannon) (Cursio 2007).
- Csordas, T J 1993, ‘Somatic Modes of Attention’, Cultural Anthropology, 8 (2), pp. 135-156.
- Cursio N 2007, With a Bullet: The Album Project, accessed 24/11/17 http://www.natcursio.com/project/with-a-bullet-the-album-project