In March Ludwig attended the National Dance Forum in Melbourne and took in a number of performances during Dance Massive.
We had registered to attend forum sessions on the subjects of Practice and Career Development, Identifying Practice, The Geography of Mobility and Dance and the Single Screen. Judging by how they were defined in the forum’s summary these seemed the most pertinent and interesting to us as co-directors of Ludwig. We were also interested in making the acquaintance of a number of key people at the forum who were involved in the talks we attended.
The first session we attended was Practice and Career Development, a roundtable discussion chaired by Marilyn Miller and Julie-Anne Long. It began with what could be described as an exercise in semantics… the uses and definitions of the terms “practice”, “career” and “development” and being a roundtable (therefore more interactive and participatory) we were required to note down our preferred descriptions from a list. At first the exercise seemed filled with irony and the definitions were met with snorts and rye smiles. The message delivered and received was that “practice” is a term rife with misinterpretation and heavily overburdened and “career” is not a word many dance practitioners imagine can define their personal journey in this industry/art form. “Development” fared better. Terms such as growth, advancement, converting, starting, treating, to make or become different were met with more approving nods of agreement and satisfaction.
And so we proceeded to the next exercise.
We were to draw a timeline of our careers to date showing the highs and lows and changes in direction. Julie-Anne, using butcher’s paper and coloured Textas, demonstrated the task. Naturally, when one is asked to reflect on one’s life in some depth, certain uncomfortable and difficult memories are brought to the fore. This is all very well if kept nice and quietly to oneself. But then the microphone was handed around the circle of “peers” to tell the group about a particular, defining moment in their past which dramatically changed their direction or ‘enlightened’ their career. There was many a shaky voice as people confided how physical changes, psychological shifts or some other personal drama influenced their choices.
During the microphone hand-around one member of the group took strong exception to the term “opportunity”, a term which pops up naturally and unconsciously in any discussion of a career path. Her reasons were justifiable but her strong objections to the term lead to amusing negotiations as people fumbled their way around less appropriate terminology so as not to offend. Her point was more about the purpose of funding bodies being not to provide practitioners with “opportunities” but to offer funding that may or may not be suited to individuals. This is an area that would have perhaps been interesting to delve into further.
What became clear is that a career (as an ‘independent’) in dance is not necessarily clear cut. This career and your personal practice are influenced by a range of both pragmatic and artistic decisions. Earning a living and fulfilling yourself artistically are often at odds. To succeed, to progress, to develop, requires creative thinking and courage.
Despite feeling like we had all just partaken in group therapy for dance addicts we emerged from the session understanding a little more about the different journeys people have taken in this “profession”. We were encouraged/given permission to look at every twist and turn in our lives as part of the development of our career in the art form. Disappointingly little time was spent discussing the development of different peoples’ practices. Fundamentally we were after a more solid understanding of how people have evolved and expanded their practices and how they define these practices. Our second session was hopefully to enlighten us more in this area.
The next session we attended at the National Dance Forum was called Identifying Practice. We were determined to be enlightened about this term and how others’ defined it. This session was chaired by Dance House Artistic Director David Tyndall and speakers included Ros Warby, Martin Del Amo and James Cunningham.
On entering the room (this time a panel discussion not a roundtable) it was noticed that a man (James Cunningham) was standing solitary and still in one corner, stolidly ignoring the entrance of the attendees (and those who dared giggle). This stance (which we later learned was part of his practice) continued for up to an hour. Slowly he made his way, during the panel discussion,
to his place at the table. All of this had been filmed and was to be shown to us later at high speed. Must confess we gulped at the thought of our giggling being made an example of…
David Tyndall was a good chair for the discussion as he was as bemused by this weighted term “practice” as many of us. The panel members themselves admitted to feeling ambivalent about the term, again due to the weight it has assumed and the expectations that funding bodies and academic institutions have of artists (and even young, inexperienced tertiary dance students) to be able to justify and account for their individual and unique way of working which justifies their very existence (more so even than the outcome of that “practice”).
Generally speaking the panel members were down to earth in their definitions. Ros Warby described practice as being the totality of the activities of training, experimenting and presenting. Although she might think about her work outside the studio she was determined that her practice actually take place in the studio and performance space where the discipline of the work, the complete attention, the full engagement and interest is confined to a particular space and time. This was different for Martin Del Amo who confessed to working non–stop, even during a lunch break.
When does the “practice” end? Do we ever turn off and is not all information we are absorbing throughout the day somehow feeding our practice? We would say that this is what it is like to be an artist. One is never sure when and how inspiration will hit. One cannot consciously control how an idea will come to you. And is this part of one’s “practice”? We venture that one’s practice is more the conscious effort and time set aside for the development of one’s art be it physical or sedentary. The ideas and inspiration that come to one outside of this time are purely ideas and inspiration. One’s practice is the time spent honing one’s skills and developing work and the various means one employs for doing so. Naturally this differs from person to person and as an artist evolves so does his/her practice.
For most people (but not necessarily all people) it is helpful to develop a framework in which to create. This framework is a discipline which enables you to train, experiment and produce work and this framework can be called a “practice”. It is not a scary, intimidating thing at all. It is a helpful and productive means of generating art/ or a product. To identify what this framework is and to consolidate it, it is necessary to observe one’s own behaviour, to be aware of one’s natural way of working and to then conscientiously develop and form a framework which enables and encourages it.
James Cunningham, after a number of technical hiccups (which were to be a constant issue during the forum) managed to set up his laptop to show us the ‘stillness’ performance which revealed no giggling as the number of frames is so reduced that all we are able to see is a difference in time for the fast moving mass to the slow moving performer.
Our next session, The Geography of Mobility, was a panel discussion chaired by Helen Simondson with guest speakers Gideon Obarzanek & Robin Fox (Chunky Move) and Rebecca Youdell & Russell Milledge (Bonemap). This discussion focused on technologies such as mobile and locative devices and computer visions systems, when integrated into choreographic practice.
Rebecca Youdell began the discussion with an explanation of Bonemap’s practice and its focus on interactivity and macro and micro body interfaces. Overall we found this presentation a little difficult to follow as Rebecca read a lot of very complicated, lingo rich information directly from a laptop. Later, however, it was more comprehensible when Rebecca and Russell elaborated on their 2010 work “Cove.”
From what was said and shown we understood Cove to be an experiential atmospheric installation. Its purpose is for the audience to interact with the created environment and drive the performance themselves. They developed this work with collaborators, Jason Holdsworth (computer programmer) and Steven Campbell (sound artist). In relevance to this particular session Rebecca and Russell described how they are interested in programs which are able to “work” with live performance to create a new interactive audience experience, challenging the way audiences view and respond to work/dance and forging ways for technology and live performance to evolve together into the future.
Gideon and Robin spoke next. Gideon began with the very valid point that live performance and technology have always worked hand in hand. That it is not new. It has always been the way that creators of theatre have tried to present “augmented realities” and illusion through the use of science and technology. Therefore Gideon was proposing that the work he creates and the collaborations and “devices” are purely a modern extension or development of an age old technique.
Gideon and Robin approached the discussion with refreshing honesty and straightforwardness. They described the difference between the experiment and the performance outcome and how from time to time it is necessary to “fake” certain things in order to maintain illusion rather than destroying it by sticking rigidly to a dogma.
Gideon talked about the beginnings of his work with programmer Frieder Weiss on the experiment that was to become “Glow” in which the dancer’s movements directed the projection on her body using the floor as the light surface. How at first everything was amazing and exciting seeing how the dancer and the technology could work together and gradually he had to pare away all the possibilities to an essence of a work with some common thread. Although this developed into a piece in its own right it fundamentally began as an experiment. It was not until Mortal Engine that Gideon set out with the purpose to use this new program and technology to create a major work. In this work Gideon worked with sound designer Robin Fox to create an interactive sound design and audio controlled laser technology. It was the three dimensionality of the lasers that were attractive to them as opposed to flat light projection.
Robin Fox’s career has been an interesting one in its own right. An interesting project which he elaborated on entailed creating sound designs that deaf people can “hear” through sensorial energy transference.
We learnt about the time frames involved in creating such work – the development and “play” phase of around three weeks, followed by a time where the ideas are left to fallow, returning later for a final round of consolidation and cementing the ideas and the work. “Glow” was developed over a period of roughly ten weeks whereas “Mortal Engine” took place over three months.
We felt we came away from this discussion with a good insight into the creative process of Gideon and Robin’s collaboration. It was helpful to hear how they deal with the uncertainties and anxieties just as we all do and how it is fundamentally the pursuit and the determination that will out in the end.
Our final session was Dance and the Single Screen. This Panel discussion was chaired by Erin Brannigan with speakers Sue Healey, Sophie Hyde and Cobie Orger. All three speakers came from very different backgrounds and thus provided quite different points of view from one another.
Sue was the first to speak and discussed her philosophy of prolonging the life of her projects by adapting and re-working them for diverse spaces: theatres, specific sites and the camera. This is an interesting course of action as there are currently no specific funding bodies for dance film in Australia making Sue’s films an added bonus in addition to a live performance production. Sue describes her films as transcending the performance space, allowing a new focus and magic to enter – time lingers, even reverses, details are enlarged for intricate scrutiny, elements are introduced in an alchemic fashion, all using the genius of cinematography and an acute awareness of movement. Sue discussed her gradual path in becoming editor of her dance films in addition to choreographer and how it was an equally important choreographic element which she needed to become experienced in.
As Tracie Mitchell was not available Cobie Orger, whom she mentored, took her place on the panel and was able to represent a younger generation of film makers. Cobie seemed to have a fairly raw and simple approach, based on distillation with a focus on “low fi.” Cobie’s main interest seemed to be finding dance in unusual things and places and she was particularly attracted to the idea of chain reactions such as the popular band “OK GO’s” music clip “This too shall pass”. Cobie was also fairly optimistic in regard to the limited distribution opportunities for dance film as she was happy to be uploading her short films for friends and fans to view on the popular media platforms today such as Vimeo and Youtube. It was discussed that the film/internet relationship was evolving and that dance film may be a medium that could benefit from the private distribution media platforms developing on the internet which allow individuals to seek funding for projects from a fan base.
Sophie Hyde, the final speaker did not come from a dance background but rather a film directing one (Closer Productions) and she has entered the dance film medium through collaborations with choreographers. Sophie’s different background was clear and it was interesting to hear the voice of a pure “film maker” in the mix. Everything about Sophie’s section of the presentation was clear cut and to the point speaking from somewhat more of an “industry” point of view. Sophie explained that the dance community tended to suggest her work was narrative based while the film industry would often suggest the contrary. This immediate juxtaposition was an interesting view on how perceptions differ from one artistic medium to the next. Sophie focused primarily on a collaboration between Restless Dance Theatre and Closer Productions, Necessary Games, which were three new dance works made specifically for the screen. With three different takes on intimacy and connection and three explorations of the games we play. An interesting element of Sophie’s discussion was in regard to the collaboration between her as Director and the co director/choreographers. It seemed that this varied from one experience to next and generally difficulties occurred when there was a lack of clarity over one person’s responsibility beginning and another ending. Closer Productions’ collaboration with Restless Dance Theatre was funded through the Adelaide Film Festival’s educational content fund, proving that resourcefulness is a priority for producing films of this kind.
Overall this was an interesting discussion as the dance-film medium is in a rapidly evolving age providing exciting opportunities and prospects for budding choreographers and film makers. No one quite knows what the future holds.