ignition – all the people i can remember sleeping with …

A morning back at ADT, really for the first time in about a month, and I forgot how astounding they all are, yes they kinda terrify me just how phenomenal a dancer can be. I bumped into Gary Stewart a while ago and he said, “Frances! I didn’t know you’re in town, are you staying? You know we’ve just decided the choreographers for ignition, but I think you’d be really good to have in. The theme this year is Gender Studies”. Today then is something like day zero of ignition. I’ll be hanging around ADT for the next two months making … something …

When I was in Zürich at SiWiC … to tell this story is only to recount my memory of so many retellings, and I was thinking of what I would find when I returned to my diary of those weeks, and that particular day, SiWiC day 11 – all the people i can remember sleeping with and the drugs i took. I made something so personal, humiliating, embarrassing, unlike anything I’d done before, despite all my work being in some way very personal though at a remove, hidden by the surface, the presentation of the performance.

So I have some dancers now, and a coffee at lunch to talk. The sublime Daniel who really has made moving to Adelaide special, Paea whom we shared a email trail from here to Berlin, Xiao-Xuan and Tara, and – a big hope – Gala. And some dance. And Judith Butler.

Saint Jude. I’d been thinking about what text would be the foundation for this for a while, and it’s obvious no? Gender Trouble – Feminism and the Subversion of Identity is one of only a few books that I can unequivocally say changed my life. Then to return to it again and find it’s still as fresh, uncompromising, funny, radical in its imagination of identity after almost twenty years, that every possibly easy way out to a reductionist, essentialist conception of bodies and gender is relentlessly dispatched, and she name-drops Divine in the first few pages. It is coming home.

I have also her, I suppose reflections on all this, Undoing Gender on order, and really feel a big reading binge of all my old favourites … Zizek especially.

What am I trying to do here? I’ve come to think of this performance that started in Zürich as an accumulation that recurs and is constantly remade. A lot of it appeared in Crush, though the focus there was more on shared places between me and Amanda, the cities we’d both been in and the circumstances that mirrored and shadowed each other, never at the same time.

Now I suppose the attention is somewhat on myself again, or the having-a-body the uncomfortable, confronting, upsetting, so personal it hurts, the fear of opening self. I didn’t realise Tracey Emin had made a work Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995, though it’s the kind of thing that would have circulated around my consciousness so I doubt I would have not known. Her willingness to make art from what in the context of performance is embarrassingly personal has appealed to me for a while.

So, Judith Butler, Angela Carter and pornography, Henri Michaux “…leaves a trace, leaves a wound”, Divine and Female Trouble, late night rehearsals, talking about things maybe I wouldn’t even write here, something dark and useless and empty.


Alison Croggon said to me, “I like drinking with theatre types, and those whom I drink with are pretty cool about the reviewing thing. There’s this kind of unspoken pact that I am there to be honest, and we all have to put with it.” So, seeing two of the choreographers I’ve already worked with, and several of the performers (who are often the choreographers also) are good friends, for me there’s still this nervousness about how much detail do you want?

Ausdance SA’s Choreolab is something of a development showcase for both emerging artists in Adelaide and those who have been around for a bit who are trying things out. In this context, and in a venue that is only really able to present the works as showings, I thought there were two works that I regarded as in some form of development and three others of the seven performances and films that whether or not in actuality finished had achieved something of a coherence that made me see them as complete.

Watching Sarah Cartwright dance, I realised my seat was perhaps not the best if I wanted to see someone lying on the floor through a forest of heads. So much of Where I’ve got So Far… was missing behind the lack of a clear line of sight. She was dressed in almost rehearsal clothes, comes in, lies down, and has this kinda corporeal almost smutty movement, part way through pauses, lies down a bit further upstage and partially caught in the uncovered mirrors of the studio vaguely repeats.

I’ve seen Sarah in class and in Melbourne in a workshop with Roz Warby, where I got curious about Barebones, and what they were doing hanging out with Roz, but never performing, so there’s been this wondering what she actually becomes on stage. Sarah also has been spending time with Becky Hilton, and like none of the other pieces, this looked straight out of Melbourne. It was a really pleasant surprise to see her perform, and become this other person, who is intriguing to watch move.

Far from Becky, John Jasperse and all the rest of the New York thing, I guess this is the isolated evolution of a style. Sarah understands kinesthetically what she is doing when she moves like Becky, but so removed from the roots of this aesthetic, she’s making it into something else, maybe softer, maybe less aggressive or precise or conscious, something new. Sometimes I did want to see her move twice as fast, or get carried away in the frenetic momentum of it, but this was one of the pieces I thought really was in development and would like to see go somewhere further.

The other piece that seemed like an excerpt, like reading a chapter from the middle of a book was Daniel Jaber’s Swanhilda is a Punk. Before the show, I’d been sitting in a bookshop trying to read all of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a menacing, dark work of Norse deities and unhealthy decay, worlds he has been an expert at since his graphic novel days of Sandman. As a violent, neck-slashing assault of nihilism I thought Daniel should be reading this and William T. Vollman’s Viking crypto-histories, the scope for derangement and upsetting preternatural narrative subtexts could really be taken to extremes in his choreography.

There was in the style and execution a distinct ADT feeling, but like so much stuff in Melbourne a few years ago that looked like Chunky Move, it’s more because the dancers in the company themselves make up the movement, which does engender a troubling notion of the Artistic Director as choreographer. Daniel I think has already a clear idea of movement beyond the repertoire of steps that I would love to see where it goes. I did want louder, dirtier, scarier, something verging on the monstrous sex fiends in Ghost in the Shell, and really, Alexandra Jezouin should be in ADT (and I did feel nervous that I was sitting next to Daniel).

The three other works that I saw as closer to finished if indeed already there were all films. Firstly Alison Currie’s whom I’ve been staying with and saw Mr Potato Head in her lounge. Long, languid shots of a foot, clad in stocking or shoe, so I was thinking, “mmmmm foot porn”, then vulnerable close-ups of her looking into the camera, somewhat in part profile as if not wanting to submit a direct gaze, and long unsteady handheld voyeuristic glimpses of her in public places, doing headstands in the railway station to the consternation of a black-clad woman sitting on the same bench, or in a busy concourse.

Post-Tracey Emin, there is a glut of shoddily made and embarrassingly personal video art by and about the artist, styled as the conceptual art of this decade is me, and often it achieves some semblance of art through sheer repetition but mostly is derivative, boring, mediocre and just crappy. Alison, possibly because she’s making dance is nothing like this, though superficially in the vaguely the same conceptual region. I was reminded more of Cindy Sherman’s untitled film stills or Laurie Anderson’s 1980s New York performance art. And she has a development coming up soon, so more dance for Adelaide.

Sam Oster and Felecia Hick’s Circuit to me looked like an advertisement for an airline or an electricity company, slick and with much post-production. As a dance film it just washed over me, coupled with what is the contemporary dance equivalent of elevator music, the ambient electronic soundscape.

There were a number of pieces that used this non-committal soundtrack, including Sarah’s and at times Amanda Phillips’s 3XPERIMENTIA, with Alexander Mitchell who is a highly talented composer. His score mostly was far from this but occasionally slipped back a decade to Squarepusher’s drum-machine freakouts that were unheard of then but now … it seems too easy. For dance, electronic music is dangerously close to being an unmemorable dead end.

Amanda’s film with special 3-D glasses and LSD psychedelia is only an early development of a larger interactive performance, but as a film I thought it should be shown everywhere, now. Gala Moody and Lisa Griffiths perform, occasionally with a black horse, a store full of mannequins, and themselves in reflection and across time and haircuts. Visually the 3-D effect is magnificent and makes for phenomenal dance, even without the glasses, the subtle effects on the video, grading, contrast, saturation make for a dreamlike swirl of inky blackness and luminous bodies.

My one criticism in this is the use of an effect something like solarisation, that leaves the bodies mostly as outlines. I thought this was really an effect for the sake of it, and heavy-handed at that. The beauty in the film lies in its subtlety, the use of stereoscopic filming and projection is complex and vital enough in itself, that only the softest of changes are necessary to induce striking differences in feel and emotion.

The first time I saw it, Lisa with the mannequin’s arm, a slow-motion seduction, then both of them hidden amidst the torsos and limbs, it was straight from Kes in Bladerunner. Amanda said she’d done some extra filming of Gala, then with shoulder length blonde hair, now with shaved head, and the two bodies overlapping, arm and fingers reaching out, caressing an invisible face, one Gala with hair the other without is the most unsettling, powerful and human moment in the entire film and evening.

adelaide again again

The last week or so I’ve been a bit distracted by what was an unexpected and very timely offer to jump on a plane and return to Adelaide, this time to teach yoga. That it’s only one class a week and I said yes without a second thought (mouth moves before brain) I think is a clear indication of my frustration with Melbourne, my need for … I guess to say, newness or something to stimulate me in ways I don’t get here.

The impending stratospheric jump of desperation has had me stumble through a couple of nightmares loaded with ominous symbolism and metaphors of catastrophe and doom. Lucky then I have mostly contempt for surrealist allusions, though much chocolate has been eaten.

Since returning from China last year, and thanks to Amanda having my entrée to South Australia, subsequently causing me to fly back and forth quite a few times, each time the return to Melbourne has been a disappointment. I’ve been here too long.

Really, I only came here to study, and haven’t spent much time in the city since graduating, though there has been a … I guess desire to make something happen and here – because of my already history of making performance – seemed like a good place. But … same same same. Realistically it’s not going to happen here. I’m not going to have my own tanztheater company with a small ensemble spending much of each year making more of the same. I’m not going to get employed as a dancer; that I think, would have happened here by now if it was to happen at all. I’m not going to get any more challenged or experience the sublime transcendence of working with someone who gives me a feeling of being home or do class with someone who just makes me giddy with joy in moving simply because with the occasional exception of visiting artists, I’ve been around the scene here since I was a student.

I’ve been sarcastically joking I’m in a mid-career slump, having passed the five-year cut-off for ’emerging artists’, but it’s more like stagnation. Talking to friends in Europe who are about the same point in their art as me and the amazing things they are doing, the act of desperation I described is, while practically so in that I am terrifyingly poor, also one of … saving myself.

I don’t want to do anything else but dance and make performance and the older I get the more this feeling gains strength, and to stay here in Melbourne … I can see myself not too distant being a bitter middle-aged artist, failed in having achieved what I desired, and I make art – however doom-ful, satanic, pornographic and otherwise affronting – because I need to, and like eating, it provides immense satisfaction. To be bitter, resentful, unhappy and unfulfilled in making art is I think to endure damnation.

It’s possible one or two of the innumerable applications I put in earlier this year will see me return temporarily to Melbourne some time after June, but it’s as likely (perhaps even more) I’ll do some stuff in Adelaide then grace several of my favourite airports on my return to Europe. I’d like to be back for summer in Zürich or …

I’m also rather excited. New things. New people. Art. Stuff. (Airports). (Food). Like the current pull the gravity of Berlin is exerting upon me, so has Adelaide and my friends there been slowly pulling me into orbit. It’s a temporary stop before going home to … somewhere in Europe, preferably German speaking, but one I’m looking forward to very much, both for making art and for the other bits of my life. Yes, I am really looking forward to seeing you again in Adelaide tonight, tomorrow, this weekend.


crush – late arriving photos

Certain craziness afoot in my world at the moment that I will neglect to elaborate on now, beyond suggesting airports are involved. Naturally that this post is about Crush … I’ll leave you to fanciful guessing, no?

Amanda emailed me a couple of days ago, saying, “You know I do not blog …” nonetheless, here are a bunch of photos from the performance taken by Rhian Daniels. Being self-centred, I’ve just stuck up the ones from my 27 minutes of cultural rape, but once I get some time to myself (that is to say have nothing to do but blog) I’ll post some more because they are quite beautiful as you can see on Amanda’s blog.

the symbolism of cultural rape

Even though it came out a while ago, and I read it by accident when flipping through the pages of my first RealTime in years, I’ve been a bit leery about blogging the review of Crush, mostly because I think despite being a ‘good review’, she didn’t understand what she was seeing, nor pay attention to what was said. Viz. the line, “symbolic of cultural rape”, that could be a fair interpretation of the action if interpretation is your idea of how to deal with art, but not if immediately after the action Lisa quite explicitly described what was going on. Or maybe my perception of the truth and yours are two completely divergent things. Nonetheless, as every artist has to have a bunch of well-rounded media quotes to perch on, I’ll be adding “the symbolism of cultural rape” to “troubling and pornographic” and “deep, primal violation and unconcerned superficiality” from extermination. Anyhow without further reviewing of reviews, here’s the … erm … review.

Moving from the melancholic to the erotic and exploring the fragility and innate cruelty of social experience, Crush is original contemporary dance performed with commitment and passion. The demands on the dancers are considerable, encompassing routines that are sensuous and languid, fast-paced and highly synchronised. Whether gently discovering each other or clawing furiously, the dancers sustain their personas in a dark and dangerous yet familiar circumstances, in the end with enough energy and sense of hope to survive a mad, crushing world.

— RealTime

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crush – shots against the wall

The first Friday of rehearsal, when we’d only been together for a couple of days we all had a bunch of headshots taken and some other photos which make us all look pretty glamorous. Here’s some of them.