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.

pestilence days 15-17

I’ve been editing DVDs this week, first all the people i can remember sleeping with…, then monadologie, and in the background, this, pestilence. Mostly because the source material will take some time to prepare, images, audio, remembering to de-interlace the video when I export to m2v… And I was looking through my folder of choreography, the works I’ve made since 2002, and thinking, ‘ooooo!!! would be rather nice to start another piece!!!’, except I have three now in varying stages of completeness that may never see anything further eventuate.

I wanted to not choreograph, and this was something that came from monadologie, how to evolve rules that could operate from initial conditions to generate something the same, something different every time. There my realisation was that it’s formidably difficult to do this to the entirety of a choreographed body in a single instant. This time I think, rather than focus on the minute details, it was the gross, most easily seen dancing and dancing together that somehow seemed to be made.

I was interested in the Tarantella both as a formal dance of the era blanketed by pestilence, and as some ecstatic, frenzied, mad collective convulsion brought on by a spider bite, or the plague, or typhus, or an expurging of the horror of war, famine, disease, suffering. So it was initially a retinue of corporeal, digestive and pulmonary spasms, we’d do and video and watch and criticise and repeat, eventually to make something consistent between us.

Lately I keep returning to Kristeva and abjection, and perhaps as is similar with my favourite Baudrillard quote, her musing on this horror represents an over-arching concern in my work. Perhaps a good name for a piece sometime. These same days rehearsing I made a remark about calling a piece, ‘ugly stuff for beautiful people because i hate you’, a continuation of the idea in ‘i like hate and hate everything else’. And around this time I was talking with Daniel about how precarious my existence is because I am held at the whim and pleasure of a medical establishment that is acutely conservative and perhaps without the cultural and political pressure exerted by queers of all stripes, collectively we would find ourselves pathologised in ways and degrees we hope have been consigned to a shameful history.

So the tarantella was both a possessed malady and transcendentally ecstatic, and furthermore communal. So Daniel and I learnt to do this together, to convulse and shiver and trip, stagger, fall, lose balance and control, neither follow nor lead, both anticipate each other and keep going for as long as we could. Over time with this… mmm it becomes unverbalised, all the rules or parameters or suggestions, and maybe this is so much of this work. We got quite good at moving together and fast without preexisting steps…

Unverbalised. Possibly explaining the paucity of writing in my notebook, the cursory research, and unpredictable blogging. So much of this work was made from talking around it, one or two lines maybe and then frequent scatological digressions and bodily humour. So different from my long-standing over-compensating, evenings spent planning the next day, justifying every decision. But of everything in this piece, the Tarantella, set to Wagner’s Tannhauser overture is possibly the one unfolding of a new thought in all the previous several weeks.

pestilence last days

If I’m looking for acceptable, believable excuses, then lack of internet at home, necessary for late-night bed blogging, and an on-going crappiness with internet at Cibo are amenable to this patheticness. Other more feasible excuses include lack of interest compounded by the above two, and a sense of pause or finishing in my life.

Friday night was the last rehearsal of pestilence. Daniel and I worked in the afternoon for some hours on the six sections and returned in the darkness with Alison to video it all till past midnight. We dance well at night, something fragile in the world, a timelessness, not awake, nor tired, not hungry nor sated, and minutes, hours speed past.

I was walking home this afternoon along Gouger St, past the entire block of former car dealers and other nondescript warehouse industry, white painted film-set uprights, all now fenced off for some, I imagine, gentrification-of-the-West-End project, or perhaps multi-story carparks. In the weak sun I thought it was necessary to blog in hindsight these last couple of weeks, something otherwise missing from this long and unusual project.

It was a project unlike any other, not the least for not having a end-of-project showing of some type (and Friday night while feeling in our bodies like a performance, was… something other), and further for the lack of methods I’ve used in other projects, or more precisely maybe, a lack of my usual obsessive analysing and daily preparation.

I just couldn’t bring myself to do that again this time. I couldn’t find any satisfaction in any of the texts I’d read in preparation, I couldn’t drag anything from this, I desperately didn’t want to repeat myself, and yet had no idea how to make something I’d not done before.

The day before, we revisited the Holbein stuff, grab-bite-drop, which came from all the people…, and has been sitting there doing nothing for about a month. With unusual application, we managed to relearn them and add in extra bits for some 1 1/2 minutes of madness. Choreography of a type. It was fun to do and injected some life into us, and terror, and bruises, swellings, numb funny bones, abrasions and other expected menaces of falling over.

And then the Tarantella. Tannhauser. Ecstatic, desperate wild and transcendental dancing, how to choreograph without steps, how to remain together, how to endure this for what feels like an eternity.

I’ve started editing the dvd of Friday night, and… it’s not usual for me to spend too much time watching my stuff after I’ve finished, I need to remember it in a way from inside, unlike perhaps when I’m not performing in it. But I’ll have to watch it somewhat in the next week, and make some statements, vague, blind gropings for what this piece could be if it was to be finished in some manner. So perhaps to write them here also.


pestilence day 14

Obviously today I am completely distracted and nervous and managed to do little except lie on the floor spontaneously falling asleep, inbetween working on the abjection stuff and going through most of the scenes we have already. I won’t be rehearsing till later this week for reasons to do with aforementioned nervousness.

Anyway, until I return from a small holiday, here are some photos of flowers, Lilies.

pestilence day 13

Friday, rehearsal 13, night and darkness. Daniel and I seem to work rather well when the building creaks and groans, possums scurry in through rotten guttering, dust and the rot of building disease fall from the rafters in a gentle drizzle. The darkness is eerie, and we turn off man lights, warm ourselves with the bar heater, cluster around laptop, chocolate and notebooks and entertain ourselves past the witching hour.

Abjection. Yes, we finally got it, all nine or so minutes after a couple of walk-talk-throughs and then it became … fun. There is a skeleton of motion which is largely the same, cycles of repetition that unintentionally came from both the improvisations and the editing of video. But that’s not the scene. Retching, gagging, mouths running with saliva, eyes watering, involuntary bodily noises and shudders, mess and the smell of spit, fingers probing noses, ears, mouths, asses, the taste of other orifices, tongues licking and biting feet and anything that can be reached, this is the choreography, the fun in the scene.

I spent the previous night and Friday morning reading Baurdillard and Foucault, and watching some of epidemic again, preparation for the night. In the end only one scene was played with, a description of the Black Plague as it ravaged a town in 14th Century Italy. We reduced his description down to the bones, bodies dragged to mass graves, thrown in piles, dogs digging up and devouring the barely inhumed corpses, the contagiousness of breath, crosses marking the stricken.

It’s fun to do this as improvisation and then tailor it, talk and watch the video – the camera in my MacBook Pro is exceptional, it seems to have a noticeably wide lens and is so receptive in low light mmm… perfect for recording rehearsal stuff and not wanting to lug a video camera around.

So we have much of the second section of the work in some state of existence, and a couple of bits of the first half. Monday we’re going to spend most of the time going over this and hopefully it’ll all come together and be something.

pestilence day 12

Inadvertently, Daniel and i have spent all of this week working on the one scene that came from Kristeva’s abjection, over and over until our brains were fried. I don’t know an easy or simple or fast or effective way to learn complex stuff from video and retain it. Today we were repeatedly mocked by our inability to remember what comes next, finding ourselves with toes in mouths pondering just whether we fell to the left one more time or perhaps stuck a finger in an ear again.

It’s not just the complexity of the skeleton of the scene that is causing our eyes to water and brains to drone, “lalalalalalala!!!! I can’t hear you!!!” and bodies to seize in moments of catalepsy when we try to endure one more attempt, it’s that everything is so similar and for some reason we are always on our left sides.

We have though, only been working methodically on this scene this week, and it is currently around ten minutes of very intricate movement, a shadow of monadologie and the delirium of learning improvisation from video. So therein lies the imperative to make sure we burp and fart often and laugh a lot and go for coffee, and remember the moment when we spat copiously in our hands, rubbed them together then, while rubbing our spit in our eyes vigorously, we realised ArtsSA is paying us to do this.

No more of this though. Henceforth, we just reiterate what we know and don’t spend too much time fretting over forty or so small phrases. Friday brings another night rehearsal, when the gloom and hysteria seep a little too close and the old building shudders of its own life.

I have all my books with me again. For the first time in four years, all my possessions are in one place, here in a small cottage in Adelaide, near the Central Markets. Unpacked mostly still, I did burrow around like a truffle pig in a couple of them for sundry oddments… books. My belongings total six large and heavy boxes of books and a suitcase of clothes. (Other boxes, a couple for additional things not so important.) Two books surfaced I’m now reading in an exemplarily cursory manner, Baudrillard’s Symbolic Exchange and Death, which was the heart of this work, failed to stimulate me in Melbourne, was injudiciously packed away, resurfaced and caused me to go, “Oooh!!! Rather good!”, and Foucault’s Birth of the Clinic which I read by staring blankly at the page and turning it every minute or so, hoping his style of writing, which I find reads like a pompous twat droning, will miraculously appeal to me.

Other things for tomorrow night: Lars von Trier’s Epidemic, still. Bodily detritus, necessitating reading Foucault, other things I hope engender fun, mania, bouts of terror, involuntary bodily functions… I burp in public now. Loudly.

pestilence days 5-11

Night rehearsals.

I’ve been slack at blogging this project. It’s taken me an awful lot of methodical, patient, slogging to get this piece to happen for me. I can say I’m tired all I want and creatively a little empty but nonetheless, I have to do something now and have an aversion to tardy approaches to rehearsals.

Last week has been a slow process, much talking and thinking, eating, smoking, chocolate, water, a lot of the week was spent working on the scene from Kristeva’s abjection, and taking a break on Friday, we returned Saturday night when it was dark and empty to try some things.

What was left on Monday from this was something that will come together into a couple of sections of the piece.

This week has been a return to early stuff, Kristeva’s abjection and the corporeal stuff we were doing in the first week. Today we got to a point where we’ve learnt most of it, and it’s possibly far too long, though speed and recklessness could help. A few more things to learn tomorrow and to make sure we know it in some form so we can decide what needs to go. I love cutting things, it’s the best part, callously destroying hours or days of work, being merciless and dispassionate. Shame I’m a sentimentalist and leave too much in.

We have another night rehearsal on Friday, and I promise to try harder to blog more, every day even.

pestilence day 3 & 4

Friday and Monday and the weekend at the library.

I’ve been struggling somewhat with this piece, possibly because I’ve been making or researching work since July last year and I’m feeling rather bereft of ideas and creativity and … a little burnt out also, would rather just get up, go to class, go to another class, go for a run, do yoga, do some reading, repeat. And also I’ve found the original ideas for this work, as a third part of extermination and hell and as a study in disease coming from Baudrillard is not quite what I’m thinking of right now.

I spent the weekend at the State Library experiencing disappointment because it’s not the one in Melbourne and have failed in finding almost all the books I was looking for, but reading Kristeva (avoiding the psychoanalytic stuff) and then going back to dancing plagues and manias which led me to Hans Holbein the Younger and his woodcut cycle of the Dance of Death.

Daniel and I spent Friday working on a scene that comes from Lars von Trier’s Epidemic which ends with Daniel in a trace in hysterics. Somehow this set the tone for the entire piece and after seeing Gabrielle’s development Witch/Red on Saturday I started to feel more determined and ready to be submerged in this for the next few weeks. Also it led me to listening to Wagner, which I have no idea where this will go.

Today Daniel and I started with something we played with in all the people i can remember sleeping with… we called ‘grab bite drop’, which is pretty much what we do. So working with Holbein’s woodcuts we spent the day grabbing, pulling, pushing, twisting hair and skin and limbs and biting sensitive places then shoving each other to the floor, maybe to bite a little more. Much saliva and drool was exchanged. Many limbs and joints were squashed, bruises are likely to appear tomorrow. The hardest thing though was getting up over and over, and wondering how some people can do it with such ease.

So the piece is moving more towards Kristeva’s idea of abjection, wherein disease and the manifestations of illness are seen as a part of the horror and revulsion of this. A bit of a discussion of bodily fluids and detritus, and then an evening at Cibo with Gala looking at videos of the Tarantella dance, the ballet and folk dance versions. I started to think it is beginning to make sense and then remember everything I need to do, but it doesn’t feel as empty as it did last week.

pestilence day 1 & 2

There is a reason for not blogging day one of rehearsals and it has to do with being delightfully waylaid by someone. However, yesterday Daniel and I started rehearsals for pestilence, which is supposed to be the third work in a series that began with extermination and followed with hell but perhaps is something else.

I started to read Baudrillard’s Symbolic Exchange and Death again and found after all the theory I was reading last year, Judith Butler and so on, it just didn’t feel substantial enough. So I thought I’d go to Foucault who has always been something of a silent partner in this stuff, and found him a bit boring to read, which I remembered from the first time. Lucky I stumbled back onto Julia Kristeva and began reading Powers of Horror again.

And then while rifling through all my DVDs looking for some Cantonese Opera, some unfinished stuff from hell, I came across Lars von Trier’s Epidemic, and Daniel and I have been watching much of it today and last night.

Also we have been expectorated much drool and spittle, and are having much disturbing fun in Dancecraft’s studios, and experiencing much abjection.

But more profoundly, it was a word that was a crossroads, a bridge, and that took into account [accounted for] Céline’s interest in borderline states: idiocy, rot [rottenness], people’s violence, anger … being mired in vomit, all sorts of phenomena that have to do simultaneously with disgust and fascination.

…I realized that in a certain number of clinical states that we see now, and that we perhaps a bit hastily refer to as “borderline,” the subjects are neither in the classic category of neurosis nor in the more or less classic category of psychosis, but find themselves between two chairs in a way, and what characterizes them is an extreme fragility of their boundaries.

By that I mean corporeal boundaries, for example, the skin, which becomes the locus of different symptoms and somatizations. This can also be different places, borders, or frontiers, of the body, the different orifices, the mouth, sexual organs, the anus, but also ears, eyes, etc. And also the limits [boundaries] between the self [ego, moi] and the other. The borderline [person] is often extremely sensitive to all sorts of threats and challenges to his integrity in terms of the other … creates a sort of territory between the two, which he often inhabits with a feeling of unworthiness or even deterioration [indignity or even rot].

— Julia Kristeva in conversation with Sylvère Lotringer