Brolga 41

In This Article

spread of Brolga cover images with Brolga 41 on top

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).



Dancing into belonging: towards co-presence in place

The paper advocates for the possibilities of dance in community development and place-making contexts through its proposition of a ‘phenomenology of belonging’. From her vantage as facilitator/director of video series Dancing Place, the author observes sensory interactions between participants’ bodies and the sites in which they performed, as enhancing relationality between participants and place.

Conceived as part of an ARC Discovery Project exploring potentials of artistic methods to challenge neighbourhood-based stigma, led by sociologist Deborah Warr, and employing the expertise of screendance artist Dianne Reid to create the video works, Dancing Place invited diverse residents of Wyndham, Victoria, to dance to their favourite music in their favourite local sites. Through reflection upon the project, the author teases out issues of visibility, embodiment, identity, marginalisation and changing relationships to place.

The participants of varied cultural and social backgrounds, age, gender and levels of dance training, inevitably chose to dance in very different styles and places. The paper explores some political and social ramifications of (being represented via video) dancing in relation to place for particular groups and individuals, and outlines the facilitating artist’s motivations for the project’s structural framework. Rather than presuming or contriving a unified ‘community’, the nine distinctively discrete videos were presented side by side, which collectively evoked a sense of co-presence, or parallel belonging.   

Placing knowledge in the body: Western Australian choreographers dancing ‘With a Bullet’

This research investigates the studio processes of seven Western Australian choreographers to develop case studies that unpack the memories, emotions, and sensations that illuminate creative decision making in experts. These dance professionals participated in Natalie Cursio’s With A Bullet: The Album Project (2006-7; 2013–4) that invites them to recall the first song to which they ever ‘made up a dance’, and to use this piece of music as a springboard for, and soundtrack to, a new piece of choreography.

The study uses qualitative measures of phenomenological and somatic modes of attention to examine choreographic cognition, with a focus on ‘knowing how’, and other manifestations of ‘feeling’ that a decision is ‘right’, in order to illuminate creative decision making in choreography. I use the choreographers’ memories, emotions, and sensations to interpret their strategies for problem solving in the complex physical, emotional and social space of the studio. Memories and knowledge can take the form of tacit understandings performed during the process of transmission from choreographers to dancers, offering alternative ways of knowing and articulating creative processes.

Cursio’s With A Bullet offered a unique opportunity for choreographers to reflect on their own development as artists, and the research presented here makes a contribution to the ongoing task of placing embodied knowledge on a par with that expressed through linguistic propositions.

Dance of the writer: A poetics

This essay incorporates a poetics for a blended set of practices, exploring a question posed by Louppe: ‘what path does the artist follow to reach the point where the artistic practice is available to perception, there where our consciousness can discover it and begin to resonate with it?’ 

I focus on an embodied dance of myself as writer, tracing a path to the availability of perception of this work, moving from a 5Rhythms movement practice that reminds me I have a body, to my first gestures towards beginning to write with pen and paper again after a period of depression, and the accidental witnesses/audiences I attract for a daily practice that slowly, gradually becomes a consciously framed performance practice. Along the way, I document a series of performances, from Lake Tyrell in Victoria’s Mallee region; to Federation Square in Melbourne’s central business district; to the public streets where my performance practice continues today.

The dance of the writer, for me, comes to embody a three-dimensionality of poetry, one that reveals to me new tools for writing and a blended practice of writing and dance.

Overexposed, yet rarely seen. Dance improvisation as performance in the Australian context

This article details the operations and dynamics of a small yet resilient community of performance practitioners who have been engaged in ‘open improvisation’ as a form for performance. The article also responds to questions about the practice and values of open improvisation. The Melbourne improvisation scene, which has grown up around Cecil Street Studio, fosters a ‘community-oriented’ practice in performance. This practice remains a common, yet often unquestioned one, and defined by an generally accepted set of principles.

In this article, the particular focus is on a group of dance improvisation practitioners (as a subset of improvised performance activity in Melbourne) who established and presented a monthly performance event called The Little Con from 2005–2011. An examination of this marginal event raises questions about its reach and the aspirations of its participants. Would identifying and understanding the values of open improvised performance as they operate in this scene improve or deepen audience reception in Melbourne, but also in Australia more generally? Is it also possible that individual improvisers within the Melbourne improvisation community do not seek to define sufficiently nuanced practices?  Could then, a differentiated range of practices by individuals lead to a more attributable presence for dance improvisation artists and their work? This article does not find definitive resolution to these questions but seeks to activate them within a defined context of practice—a context that is at the same time impacted by activities, practices and approaches to improvisation in an international arena. 

The negotiations of relationship—a conversation about dance improvisation

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 long-term shared dance practice, their evolving performance work, Dance Interrogations, and the cultural shifts possible as a result of long-term artistic practice. Their unique, long-standing collaboration (over six years and continuing) is unique in Australia and internationally. It is a collaboration which challenges deeply held beliefs around the low expectations of people who have a disability and explores the choreographic potential in the body and artist who experiences Cerebral Palsy—a condition affecting the muscular and skeletal system and which can make voluntary movement such as that in dance, difficult. 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.

Dancing participation: Observations of a long-term group dance improvisation practice

This article discusses participation in a group dance improvisation practice over time. Described, is a regular dance practice and how it is the dancing over time itself that is the situation in which something is ‘going on’. Participating or acting in this practice allows ways of thinking, understanding, experiencing, knowing that exist only while or at least because of the participation in this dancing. The term ‘action’ as suggested by Hannah Arendt in her book The Human Condition, is used as a concept with which to think through the dancers’ experience in a shared practice. Other ideas including Claire Bishop’s participatory art and Tim Ingold’s discussion of ‘drawing together’ are explored to define participating in dancing in a studio practice, and to articulate what is happening and how that participation can be observed.