goat snake witch dance theatre blackness

The last couple of days I’ve been working on a side-project, cleaning up my dance/performance/choreography website, francesdath.info. I decided a while ago I wanted to move it into WordPress, change the font to Anonymous Pro, and try and make everything I would do by hand-coding possible through the WordPress browser editor.

Success! (Mostly). The design hasn’t changed, except it’s been cleaned up a bit, and a more structured layout used. The video took the longest and was a rather intense learning process, which is going to fall over into some other projects I’m working on at the moment. The words I edited a bit, but mostly left alone. Some time I’ll clean that up also.

As for ‘goat snake witch dance theatre blackness’, I couldn’t decide which word I liked the least and somehow they all sit together quite nicely, like an excess of baroque.


This week I made a decision I’ve been thinking about on and off for years, and always delayed because somehow I would be seduced back to what has been my love and life since I saw Ballett Frankfurt perform all those years ago. It has taken me all around the world and led me to meet some wonderful and beautiful people who are very dear friends, but in all of this there has been… but…

I decided with what savings I had to jump on a plane and come to Europe, to Berlin or Brussels and find somewhere that gave me something in life as well as in dance. I ended up here in Berlin, and yes, it is a city to fall in love with. But there remained that qualifier, and like running around in circles I could see no new way to continue.

So I decided to give up dance. I don’t want to insecurity, precariousness, lack of work, uncertainty, and most of all the bitterness trying to have a career in something I love very much has brought me. After eight years since graduating, I have nothing to show in terms of a career or progress, I’m largely where I was then, applying for the same funding, trying to make small projects happen, begging for work, and long periods of nothing. And perhaps most importantly, broke.

It seems pointless and futile, and for me personally a waste of my ability. Not just as a dancer or choreographer, but that I could be doing something else that maybe I don’t feel so passionately for but am actually able to do something worthwhile with.

What I wanted was a small group of like-minded people, in an old building made just habitable enough to enter, and to make art together, no touring, no festivals, nothing of this conveyorbelt that it seems is compulsory to run along, and this was far too much to ask for. Maybe then some chances to make work at other companies, or dance in some projects, or have enough regular funding to perhaps plan beyond the next month, but this also seems too much to ask. And the thing is now, I’ve lost interest. I don’t care for this and not sure if I was suddenly given this tomorrow I’d even want it.

I’ve done far too many projects for little or no money, or worse that have cost me both money and health to put on. I’ve spent weeks and months at a time writing and preparing funding applications, grants, residencies, all this, all without pay, or in fact paying to do it as the time spent doing this was time I could have been working and having an income. I’ve been and remain completely baffled by the whole industry of performing arts, the funding, festivals, producers, administrators… I still have no idea after all this time how I am supposed to proceed, what I should do to have some semblance of a career. I thought it was to do with talent, but far too much of what I’ve seen has to do with playing favourites, politics, obscure agendas that have nothing to do with art, and at worst something I can only think of as nepotism.

And I’m also bored with dance. With what I see, with the safety, conservatism, meaninglessness, vapidity, staggering lack of creativity or inspiration, lazy and mediocre ideas, their research and production, and seeing so many dancers completely underutilised. And seeing so many dancers treated as dispensable, as children, as problems that have to be dealt with, as the utter bottom of an industry that keeps everyone above them well-paid and secure in their careers even while they are leaving the dancers without work because ‘we didn’t get the funding’. The same dancers who are the entire reason for everyone having a purpose for being there at all, and who should be regarded as the centre of their universe.

Since I began training in Melbourne, and through all my travels I have seen these same things over and over, and also seem such little positive change, scant progression, and quite a bit of things getting worse or just stagnating. And so now here in Berlin, contemplating more years of struggle that maybe will also come to nothing, I no longer want to chase this across cities and continents and hemispheres. I don’t want to pay a couple of hundred euro to go to an audition in another city, I don’t want either to be constantly traveling around, I don’t want to be applying for things that if they even happen won’t be for another six months, I don’t want to live in a life that is for an imagined future that likely will never arrive.

These last mornings, going to ballet, I’ve enjoyed dancing more than I have in a long time. It’s no longer for this imagined future, staying in shape for some possible audition, or keeping myself around in the scene, doing it because I am a dancer. I am no longer a dancer. I am also no longer a choreographer. I do class because I love moving, I love the difficulty and exertion, the familiarity, I love the special world of dancers who do these incredible things with their bodies, it is truly a magical place.

But I don’t want to be poor. I don’t want to be insecure, to worry how I might pay rent or look after myself. I don’t want to compromise my life and myself and other dreams I might have for something that gives too little in return. I don’t want to be bitter either, and exhausted, worried, upset. I’ve tried to find different ways to do it, moving to Adelaide was certainly this, but it feels like it is just me without any support shouting into emptiness.

I would say to friends who were thinking of quitting it’s better to make that decision when you have work to find out if actually dancing is what you no longer care for or just the endless grind of lack of work and the daily exhaustion of trying to have a career in this. And also I would say that I didn’t want to give up and then when I am fifty or sixty regret this, to leave before I have seen out the possibilities. So perhaps now what I have reached is that I don’t want to stay and regret later not having explored all the other possibilities in my life, that there are certain tangible, real things that will not happen soon or at all for me if I stay in dance, and I know I will regret this if not more then at least as much as not trying to make real my desires in dance. And that perhaps giving up a career that does not exist is not so difficult.

I will miss playing in the studio with friends, making what we feel has worth, trying to imagine something new and then bring it into the world, and miss also the moment of inevitability, unavoidable like a train rushing at you standing on the tracks, just before going on stage. I have no idea what the next couple of months will bring, how to just survive for one, and then whether any of my ideas for what I might like to do next can be made possible. And while crying a bit at this ending, I also feel relief that it’s over.


This morning, sleeping not yoga-ing, a little message from Alison in Adelaide, “Dear frances … i am pleased to hav approved $15000 for ur project! Wo hoo! Yay! Xxxxx”.

I’m feeling slightly delirious again …

I mean to say, Arts SA have funded pestilence, for development early next year. This is the third part of the cycle of works that started with extermination and hell. And so I get to play with some of my favourite dancers once more.

And equally thrilling is Alison herself getting Triennnial funding.

Champagne!!! etc. I expect a rather drunken night at La Boheme soon.

dance for obsessive-compulsives

Emile is almost at the end of his winter of Rotterdam, that sent him to the Spielraum in Berlin for die Kunst und die Veränderung der Massenmedien. So, the Spielraum somehow saw bits of my stuff, and decided to screen some of it this Sunday. hell and extermination that were performed in Melbourne, and bitches 婊子 that happened at Park19 in Guangzhou are on at 8pm.

DISPOSE.contemporary presents

Dance for Obsessive-Compulsives
A Collective of Works by Frances d’Ath

20:00 Uhr. Sonntag, der 22. April 2007

Frances d’Ath graduated from Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne in 2001. Since then her works have been presented in a range of diverse cities across Europe, North America and Asia such as Vienna and Zürich, Toronto and Melbourne to Taipei, Taiwan and Guangzhou, China.

Dance for Obsessive-Compulsives: Features a collective of works by Frances d’Ath for one night screening.

BITCHES 25 min / EXTERMINATION 26 min / HELL 43 min

The 25 min highly choreographed shop window-dressing performance in Guangzhou, China BITCHES is not a work of dance, in fact quite the opposite – an absence of dance. Fashion, Sex, Death, Pretty girls with too much money, rapists with murder on their minds, prostitutes, lepers, hanged men, witches, demons and corpses.

HELL along with EXTERMINATION – produced on 16mm and super-8 is a film based on the extermination performance – both filmed in Melbourne, Australia. Highly charged bodies portrayed as robots, puppets, corpses and models. An epic sequence of physical revelations and bodily motions. Both of these hybrid dance performances are a mediation on the late deceased Jean Baudrillard’s Symbolic Exchange and Death, Goya and the Disasters of War, and the desecration of humanity.

— DISPOSE.contemporary

extermination – soundscape movement fest

Darling Alexis, whom I met in Vienna in 2003 at DanceWEB has been busy in the past few days being the number-one organiser of SoundscapE Movement Fest in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And darling Ivo Dimchev too, my crazy Sofian, mostly remembered for our screaming choirs in the DanceWEB apartments’ kitchen. Then there was me. No wonder I felt tired on the weekend, I’ve been in North Carolina.

Through the joy of technology and a fast net connection, two pieces of the extermination film – shot and edited by the genius Paul Williams – made it into the festival, the bikini-clad Motörhead special, and the semi-naked, blood-drenched adoration of Slayer. Alexis said, “We were all shocked and floored by the nude gravity of your work. HOt!”


exterminate!!! exterminate!!!

Last Friday night down at the bar of Park19, a bunch of us got together to drink beer and eat lychees and watch, for the first time outside of a computer screen, the film of extermination. It’s been a long time coming, and it still a little way off being finished, but I thought it really needed to be seen, or maybe I just wanted to see it. Either way, it’s fucking gorgeous, beautiful, depraved, more very metal than Lemmy, and I’ll shut up now and show some stills.

extermination at park19

Last year when extermination got performed, we also made a film. It’s been lurking, several rolls of 16mm, slowly going from can to computer to editing to sound designer…

It’s been on a plane this week, taking a tour of southern China, and at 6pm today, it arrived at Park19. Which is good because tomorrow night it’s getting its world premiere. All the details are below, come along it’s gonna be a scream.

Last Saturday Park19 was filled with dirt and death metal, bikinis and the dripping sweat of bitches. This Friday, direct from Melbourne, Australia via the courier through Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and a bunch of other places (and currently somewhere no-one is quite sure of but very near Park19) is a 30 minute work of Baroque gore.

zeroballet and Park19 would like to invite you to the world premiere of extermination. This half hour film, shot on 16mm by acclaimed filmmaker Paul Williams takes you into the bleeding guts of the performance described as “troubling and pornographic”.

extermination is a meditation on Jean Baudrillard’s book Symbolic Exchange and Death; on bodies that are models, robots, animals, corpses; on heavy metal, Motorhead and Slayer; on clothes, costumes, makeup, underwear, and shoes, and every kind of bad behaviour; On Goya and Disasters of War, the death of God, the end of civilisation; on bodies beyond morality; betray, seduce, kill, undress; The collective insanity of delinquent groups filled with indescribable euphoria, an out-of-control blindness, completely certain of what they do.

” … increasingly extreme imagery with a nonchalant, stop/start execution produced a discomforting sense of both deep, primal violation and unconcerned superficiality … ” RealTime

” … by staying we condone what verges on the pornographic …” The Age

who: zeroballet & park19
where: Park19
8th Floor, 2nd Building
168 Nantai Rd, Jiangnan Dadao Nan
Haizhu District

when: 8:00pm
Friday 10th June

contact: 020 2228 5151

Supported by the Australia-China Council and the Australian Government

For your taxi driver:
联系方式: 020 2228 5151

cutting extermination

One of the things I came back to Australia for was the editing of the 16mm film of extermination from last year. It’s been a while, but that’s what happens when everything is done with no funding (thanks ozco, how much do you spend on making your website look :cough: trendy every six months?). So it’s all been digitised, the audio and video have been synched, the cutting has begun, and it looks fucking awesome.

Paul is a consummate genius on Final Cut Pro, as well as being an excellent director. Between him and cinematographer Marcus, they’ve got stuff that displays the violence and fury of the piece from within. It’s not an audience perspective film, more like a spectral panopticon enshrouded with the flailing and thrashing bodies of the dancers.

It’s going to be pretty much finished by the time I go back to Guangzhou (next Friday), and ready for its premiere in Guangzhou at Park19 in early May. Then hopefully sometime in May in Melbourne. My job in the whole thing is getting back inside Apple Motion, where I’ve been living like a deranged hobo for the past three weeks and do some suitable Satanic and Death Metal-ish titles. Lots of fire and brimstone.

extermination review in realtime

Jonathan Marshall has reviewed extermination along with Phillip Adams’ and Becky Hilton’s Fiction and Non-Fiction in the October edition of RealTime, Dancing the road to Excess. Though I don’t agree with his assertion that I ignore the gender implications of the work. In fact the opposite is the case, and the issue of gender and identity is something I’m acutely conscious of and struggle with in my art, both from a theoretical and practical perspective.

In the 1970s and 80s, theorists such as Jean Baudrillard identified a “crisis of reality”: the death of real authorship, real individual subjectivity, real art, real criticism and real politics. One could no longer reach out and touch the world in a truly meaningful way. Some artists responded by attempting to rekindle reality and affect by searching for some-thing primal, timeless and hard, probing in detail physical sensations and sexual taboos. Others, in the vein of Andy Warhol, revelled in this deathly situation, renouncing “reality” altogether, proclaiming it to be a “fiction” consisting of recurrent motifs, codes and parodic references.

Phillip Adams’ choreography replays these cultural tensions. He has produced intense, cerebral-spiritual works such as Amplification (1999), in which bodies entwined, went splat, were undressed and revealed, before crawling over each other in a coolly extended meditation on the automobile’s terminal eroticism. He has also produced less conceptually deep yet more extravagant performative studies, forged from wondrously random, surreal associations, inspired by props, fabrics and design (Upholster, 2001; Endling, 2002).

Adams’ latest piece, Fiction, represents an attempt to blend these approaches, producing a curious coldness within an ostensibly lightweight parody of Orientalist filmic fantasies. The performers mouth phrases from a bad British comedy of manners before dropping to all fours and arching their backs, evoking a fraught passage across the hot sands of exotic Arabia. The movement itself seesaws between Adams’ typically sharp, bone-crunching and highly interweaving choreography, versus faux Hanya-Holme-esque jazz ballet inspired by Hollywood Orientalist musicals such as Kismet (1944, 1955).

This contrast between Adams’ characteristically visceral physical vocabulary and the cheerful superficiality of the parody is arresting, but Fiction ultimately lacks the crucial element of both Orientalist fiction and Warholesque parody, namely excess: the Technicolor glow of musicals, the extravagantly large casts of Spartacus (1960), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and the cinema of Cecil B de Mille. To lose oneself in depthless superficiality and derivative art, one requires the orgasmic excess of Warhol’s favourite subject, Marilyn Monroe; an almost sickening profusion of external, sensorial qualities like flesh, colour, lips, pout and voluptuousness. With 6 dancers, no costume changes and subdued, largely front-on lighting, Fiction lacked this overripe gorgeousness.

Frances d’Ath’s extermination was characterised by a comparable stylistic duplicity, featuring violent, ritualistic posing inspired by Baudrillard’s Symbolism, Exchange and Death (1976), set amongst an indiscriminate bricolage of classy design elements and crass cultural references. The piece consisted of various distinct sequences or acts between which performers casually moved. The combination of increasingly extreme imagery with a nonchalant, stop/start execution produced a discomforting sense of both deep, primal violation and unconcerned superficiality. The sexed, fleshy, pulsating, whacking and finally decaying body served as the work’s focus, with these slight female forms being repeatedly adorned, stripped, attacked, defiled and discarded.

The show began with a cool version of a male wet dream; lithe, bikini-clad women jumping on the spot, before a phonograph needle was dropped, heavy metal music intruded, and an almost deliberately slapdash, frenetic daisy-chain of crashing torsos ensued. In the first of many such acts, the women undressed and carefully placed their underwear in neat piles at the front of the brightly wallpapered space. Bodies were adorned with 19th century aristocratic costume (including gloves and feathered headpieces) and placed within a rough, semi-improvised, melodramatic tableau of mutual murder. They killed one of their own, stripped her, and harshly probed and tugged at the elasticity of flesh, skin, buttock and mouth, covered her with dirt, and then excavated the scene to produce more forensic castoffs for the forestage (swabs, hair samples, nail clippings, heavy dresses, underwear, spotted bikinis and weapons). Iron spades pushed at teeth before the blood-dripping corpse reanimated itself, standing before the other performers. These murderers are naked from the waist up, wearing long, black dresses, with red stains running from their chins to their waists as testimony to a previous ritual at the ornately carved wooden table at the rear of the space, where bowls of blood were slowly upturned before the mouths of each.

Parallels for d’Ath’s dark, primeval religiosity lie in Hermann Nitsch’s ritualistic body art, while the garish, poppy juxtapositions of these motifs recalled Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973) or Melbourne’s Chapel of Change. Indeed, d’Ath’s invocation of Baudrillard’s now 28 year old manifesto on the need for a grotesque, taboo-breaking language allied to death as a strategy for the subversion of all taboos, hierarchies and domination, brought d’Ath’s dramaturgy close to Nitsch’s dated melange of psychoanalysis, Catholic practice and myths of an ancient Dionysian cult. D’Ath’s offhand evocation of these concepts, however, encased within Hamish Bartle’s gorgeous set, ensured that the choreographer’s aesthetic most resembled Jan Fabre’s recent I Am Blood (Melbourne Festival, 2003). Both d’Ath and Fabre alternate between obsessing over bodies and their qualities, and a mystifying inability to hold this concentration before moving on, and then returning to them again.

extermination’s weakness lay not in referencing the history of performance art, but rather in d’Ath’s ignoring of the gender implications of a work created by a young man sadomasochistically manipulating 5 young, athletic and largely nude women. Rebecca Hilton’s Non-Fiction, which was presented with Adams’ Fiction, can therefore be seen as a riposte to both d’Ath and Adams. Hilton engaged with surfaces in the sense that Non-Fiction revolved around various common cultural tropes of gendered relations and living in close proximity to each other. Fractures of generic physical gestures and commonplace theatrical sequences were repeated, hinting at suburban life. There were sexualised, choreographed couplings, across-the-fence flirtations, and moments of isolated, physical self-withdrawal, both with and without a porn magazine as a prop. This effected a sense of complicated, hothouse melodrama and family romance. Yet by merely sketching these dramas using readily identifiable nuances (rather than by directly parodying them, as Adams did), Hilton created an uncertainty about whether Non-Fiction represented a Chekhovian world of deep, existential longings, or something closer to a montage of populist cinesonic soap operas such as Big Brother or American Beauty.

At one point, Hilton split the dancers on either side of an orange picket fence. On the left, Joanne White sequentially collapsed her body into the venue’s tangerine rear wall. Her robotic execution and the stretched underwear which flashed from beneath her dress recalled the damaged ‘girl-childs’ choreographed by Lucy Guerin, Gideon Obarzanek and Adams too. Carlee Mellow also performed this phraseology beside White, but Mellow’s more emotionally-present, intentional execution suggested that her character was engaged in a cynical game with others’ expectations of her, rather than being programmatically overwhelmed by her own, internalised sexual corruption. This pairing of dancers thus provided an implicit critique of Melbourne choreographic trends. Hilton’s Non-Fiction lacked d’Ath’s dense theoretical underpinnings, yet her deft measuring of banalities, space and movement effected a subtle political message.