Ozco cuts Leigh Warren & Dancers Funding

I just heard from Daniel Jaber that the Australia Council for the Arts have cut Leigh Warren and Dancers triennial funding.

Having dealt with the mendacity of ozco for years — and to be clear, I have absolutely no respect for this organisation — it doesn’t come as a surprise they would do something so utterly stupid, shortsighted, ill-informed, and useless.

If there was ever an arts organisation in Australia that is decades overdue to lose its funding, it would be ozco. They have for years single-handedly butchered the arts, promoted mediocrity, mouthed asinine middle-management slogans such as ‘innovation’, ‘excellence’, ‘international’ (apparently now the word is ‘sustainable’), taken the side of church, government, and right-wing pogroms against the very artists whom the purportedly represent, and spent much of the remaining time polishing their media image while making sure the entrance is solidly bolted against anyone unwilling or unable to play their smarmy game. Art?

It breaks my heart Adelaide could lose Leigh Warren. Though in truth, he doesn’t need to be there; he doesn’t need to struggle for years with disgraceful conditions and permanent insecurity. Neither do many of the choreographers in that city. They could all pack up, move to europe and with the same amount of effort they put in there for scant return, have proper support and be part of a huge community that respects art.

But they choose to be there. For whatever reason, they remain and devote their lives to making art in that small city. And having seen an awful lot of dance around the world, I can say — irrespective of my personal aesthetic interest — there is little as good as what comes from Adelaide.

Leigh Warren and ADT should be — should be — as acclaimed as Ultima Vez, Troubelyn, Akram Khan, Rosas, Les Ballets C de la B, names, more names … these companies that touch the firmament of dance, theatre, art. They should be there also, and should have the commensurate support, as should other companies in Australia. They should certainly not be begging for decades at the bottom of the ladder. The work they should be making remains forever half-done because of the parochial support in both dollars and culture Australia affords its artists.

There is no justification ozco can make for this funding cut. It’s a bizarre decision I can only understand if I image the panel completely intoxicated on those aforementioned buzzwords and self-importance. No one in their right mind would make such a decision, and it can certainly not be explained away by their usual dismissals of lack of funds to support everyone, patronising the artists that they should feel sorry for them to have to make such hard decisions.

I can’t even imagine how this could be political. Leigh has done so much for Adelaide dance, for Australian dance. He should be a national treasure. Yes, Leigh Warren is to Australia what someone like Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is to Belgium. And had he been given the support he deserved for the past twenty years, this would be self-evident.

Given the record of ozco and Australian culture over the last ten years or more, I am sceptical of a happy outcome to this. My opinion is that once a company and choreographer has established itself, it should be exempt from the humiliation of annual and triennial funding applications; there should be an expectation as an artist working in performing arts that at some point you can concentrate without distraction on making work, secure in knowing that provided one doesn’t make a complete mess of things, the bare minimum necessary to keep the company going can be depended on to be there. That it isn’t is yet another failing of the responsibilities of ozco to Australian artists.

I hope some of you will take the time to sign the petition to save Leigh Warren and Dancers.


a retrospective

Sitting in my lounge with Daniel talking about dance and my old works, many of which I am still very fond and hope one day I get to finish, and… realising it’s been over ten years since I started making performance, and… this is what I’ve got to show for it.


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.



The last week was spent mostly writing applications for residencies. Four of them due yesterday and feeling a little worn out. I can’t spend too much time in front of my laptop right now, eyes a bit sandpapered, and I’ve missed too much dancing also. And wandering in Berlin. That’s all…


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.



Big silence, no?

Well we have performed all over the acreage of metropolitan Adelaide (and I kept thinking if I was in Zürich, I’d have probably made it to Germany, Leichtenstein, and almost to Italy for the distances we travelled while remaining in A-town). I have photos … soon. And stories. I’m feeling like after climbing a mountain, empty, unthinking.

But now back to writing grants. Boo! (Well, enough people said all the people i can remember sleeping with… should be a proper piece, so …)

There was a point to this.

我忘了!… I forget…

blog holiday

I’m taking a short holiday from blogging. I’ve been writing almost constantly for the last couple of weeks, and most of March even, and have a couple more funding and residency applications to do this month, and … I don’t have much to say here. It’s all a bit boring really, get up eat breakfast walk to class dance (yay!) go home write eat write eat write eat stare at wall eye pain feelings of inadequacy shower sleep repeat.

poor excuse for absence of blog

Most of this week will involve occasionally staring at the housing commission flats a couple of streets north of here. I’ve settled myself in the lounge so working doesn’t feel so much like work. The unfortunate side-effect of being manacled to my laptop in a rather overwhelming couple of weeks of grant writing is that my body gets all screwed up, so when I go to dance, it’s like I’ve been in a car crash and my coordination is all murky and alien feeling.

So amidst four big (one finished, one mostly finished, one mostly started, one toyed with) applications due this week, and another five due by the end of April, none of which I’ll mention by name out of superstitious certainty I won’t be successful if I do … actually I’m not especially hopeful either way, I’m fairly sure the honeymoon is over, I’m no longer a bright emerging artist or enfant terrible, more like a geriatric mediocre with accompanying mid-career slump … what I meant to say is blogging will be slim.

I did get quite excited today when I discovered the State Library of Victoria has an original print of Robert Hooke’s Micrographia from 1665. The collection on the period of the Age of Reason and all my current favourite philosophers is quite substantial and … ja, so I say too much already, I’d love to spend three months at the library just reading these people, the privilege to share their world is something quite profound.

Gifts of chocolate, love, massages, shoes, or underwear from Agent Provocateur all appreciated.

the end of dance writing

Around the time I was thinking about i want your dance, I stumbled across this excellent article on ImPulsTanz by Elizabeth Zimmer, the former dance editor at The Village Voice. (As an aside, I spent much of that afternoon reading the entire features archives on ImPulsTanz; I’m such a sucker for well-written essays on dance.)

She dissects her hopelessness with the dance scene in New York that for people living in Australia is gut-wrenchingly familiar. The death of serious, intellectual coverage of the arts in the mainstream media of English speaking countries is almost tedious to watch, better perhaps to put it out of its misery than maintain the pretense.

The legitimacy of an artist’s performance and consequently their reputation however, is inextricable from column inches obtained in the press, a press that will only review work that has received presentation funding from whatever arts organisations, in turn having a not inconsequential influence on gaining subsequent funding. All round, it’s unhealthy for the people making art.

It’s frustrating then that artists here seem so categorically glacial in their adoption of technology that could make this issue more-or-less background noise. As much as I abhor MySpace, it’s really not that arcane to set up, or WordPress, or … yes, as Elizabeth says, PodCasts. The lack of engagement from artists in what they are doing as a consumable entertainment product – yes that sounds dirty, get over it – is baffling. The model ever since I was a student making work was email+jpg flier, print some A6 fliers if you have the money, and word-of-mouth. Little has changed in eight years, and really, when it’s so easy to participate in the endless swirl of new media, a media that primarily is about communication, there’s not much excuse.

And lets not forget blogs. There are some people, like Alison at Theatre Notes, who I think are singularly responsible for my not reading the papers anymore – and check out her Arts Blog Primer. But artists writing about their work, especially in the performing arts, and doubly so in dance – it’s like the map of the world connected to the internet, and while Europe and the first world blazes with light, everywhere else is black.

It was not Elizabeth’s intention to paint a facile death-of-print account, though death-of-dance is something that still looms large. Certainly if more artists here attended to and were responsible for their own appearance in a media that has long ceased to be passive and one-way, I would feel more confident that it wasn’t all a grave-digging exersise.

And someone should be running courses – free courses – for artists to learn how to use this stuff. It’s actually really easy. (I think I just volunteered myself, no?)

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everything that has been said before about dance

Lining the walls of Chunky Move’s foyer are vast placards of performances, and above the sofas, those shows are the Live Acts series from 1999. I was sitting there staring at them one day after class and noticed they serve as something of an epitaph of Melbourne’s dance scene. In eight years, the names of Melbourne’s choreographers haven’t changed. I was a student then, and since then … where are the new choreographers? And the dancers, it’s a trickle over close to a decade. Altogether, no great new explosions or earth-shattering debuts, a void of arrivistes and demi-mondes, just an absence we all pretend isn’t happening.

I was really hoping for a complete slamming of federal and state governments attitudes to supporting dance in Australia, and the title of the interview with Expressions Dance Company founder and current Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts dean of dance, Maggi Sietsma had me all gooey in expectation of the utter blasting Australia needs that everyone talks about in private but seem to come over all coy when the media is pointed in their direction.

Oh disappointment, how I adore you.

There are two things Australian dance – and generally all the arts – needs: One elegantly summarised on one sentence by John McCallum is “Any crisis the Australian theatre might be facing now is entirely a matter of money”. The other is for Australian artists to look at how a handful of Tasmanian loggers managed to hold state and federal governments in their thrall and behave accordingly.

“In theory I am supposed to come back to Expressions towards the end of the year, but having read the State’s development strategy for dance, I am not sure that I am wanted,” she says with a wry smile.

“I still have to check things out but it seems to be advising companies not to hang on to top talent for too long, which to me again demonstrates a lack of respect for quality artists.”

— The Courier Mail

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