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Gala Moody & Michael Carter, Cie. OFEN: The Vase, at Börse Wuppertal

Six hours on the Autobahn and straight into the theatre to find Gala and Michael hard at it. I reckon they must be near the end, arriving so late as I did, but they keep going, like they were waiting as long as possible for me to get there before they started. In the end I missed maybe 20 minutes of their pre-general on Thursday evening and had the delight of their sweaty hot bodies jumping on me the instant they realised who the tardy arrival was.

Turns out missing the beginning is crucial to understanding what’s going on. Without Gala’s first monologue the piece only has the meaning I put on it; it’s a strong argument for context and against interpretation. So I’ll start with interpretation. A woman in a long, pale-lemon dress, cut just below the half-way line of her calves. Sleeveless, but over a dirty white short-sleeved shirt. A man in Oxford Blue corduroy trousers and a blue-grey unbuttoned shirt over a dirty white singlet. Both bare foot. A stage coated with ash, four wooden chairs, and downstage where the stage manager’s box would be if it were on-stage instead of off, a table, chair, computer, sound and light desks, spaghetti-ing cables onto the floor into a red effects box, and a single microphone on a long cable.

It’s one of the enduring clichés of dance theatre, ballet, contemporary dance and all, the single man and woman on stage, dressed so, performing the clichés of heteronormativity. It would be a comedy, except it’s not. It’s a cliché also of gay male choreographers making such work, almost a compulsion, like having to ‘reinterpret’ Giselle or Swan Lake. I’m watching these two dancers, tall, lithe, strong, who I’ve known for well over a decade in various cities and countries, who have danced together for thirteen years now, who I adore — so let’s not pretend I have any interest in lip service to ‘objectivity’ here — who I love watching dance, especially when it’s their own dancing, especially together. I’m watching them, and without the benefit of that first monologue, wonder how awkward it’s going to be if they fall over into that cliché. And giving them credit here, I know them for mercilessly mocking all the tropes and stereotypes of dance, both with their words and with their bodies. Yet sometimes the piece makes itself, and sometimes even the most caustic find themselves wanting to say something on those roles and identities and selfhoods which are real and lived, which we have to negotiate even if we ourselves are not fully part of, even while they are so often used to fill the void of ideas.

The next day I see the whole work. I pay attention. I listen to Gala say, “Have you said any words of love today? There are no words of love today.” Say, whisper, bellow. Her voice is a typhoon blasting the stage, pushing the air before it. Rage, hate, anguish. This is the story of Medea, who kills her children after her husband’s betrayal. This is the story of Gala. In Genesis, Michel Serres says,

The more I think, the less I am me. If I think something, I am that something. If I simply think, I am no longer anyone. In any case, me thinking am nothing.

[…] Dance is to the body proper what exercise of thought is the subject known as I. The more I dance, the less I am me. If I dance something, I am that something, or I signify it. When I dance, I am only the blank body of the sign.

When Gala and Michael reference the story of Medea and Jason, the Gods take an interest. Not to say it’s an invocation, but rather to recite the lines from Euripides’ Medea, and to find or thread together multiple variations, be it Euripides, Ariel Dorfman’s Purgatorio, or their own private lives deferred through these variations is enough to reverse the relationship. It is Medea who dances her life through Gala as much as it is Gala who draws on Medea to tell her own. It is a repetition across time, through each work referencing a predecessor, tracing branchings and bifurcations back to Medea. It is a repetition also in their bodies, dancing themselves, dancing each other.

I want to diverge from philosophy here and write of the awe I feel seeing these two together. Because this is becoming something of a review and not just photography and a travel document, Gala and Michael first danced together in Leigh Warren & Dancers, Michael coming from Oz Ballet; Gala from WAAPA (by way of me and a couple of pieces back when I actually made dance). Michael went on to Compañía Nacional de Danza in Madrid, while Gala went to Charleroi Danses then Ultima Vez in Brussels. As for why I was seeing them in Wuppertal, Michael joined Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch a while ago. So we’re talking about two highly capable dancer-performers, who have worked across dance, theatre, opera in Europe and Australia while making their own work together for much of that time, and ‘officially’ since 2012 under the name cie. OFEN. They move, alone and together, with brutal clarity. This isn’t the kind of work you can make in six weeks by throwing together some steps and ideas; it’s a knowing of self and each other down to their bones, worked into their bones. Even if they had gone fully into the cliché, I’d be destroyed by the beauty of them together.

The inevitability in their dancing. They compound that with dialogue, or with just the mundane acts of technical concerns, changing the lights, sound. There’s a moment where Gala is on all fours, around the centre of the work, the light and the energy has gone into a dark place, like blood is going to be spilt — or already has and you don’t even feel it yet — and Michael, barely above a whisper, spits, “Get. Up.” Savage. A slap to the face. Hatred where there was supposed to be love; betrayal and resentment and spite. You want to see work like this. You want the shit mediocrity of the cliché exposed for what it is: violence and abuse. Those saccharine dramatic conceits of the love story rest on the unmentionable bodies of murdered women, and while Medea might have murdered her children, this is projection: it is not women who are the murderers, not terrorists who women must fear, but the men in our midst, the men closest.

It’s a fucking hard, brave work.

It’s a beautiful work. I’ve said that already. Here is the violence of abuse, and here also is something to aspire to, here is a way out. Michael and Gala, Gala and Michael. Maybe a decade and some years is what’s needed for such a work. The care they take with each other, the familiarity, even or especially when they get rough, when it needs to be endured. The matter of fact getting on with it, like digging in the garden, there’s a complete absence of pretence that also doesn’t try and be some shite authenticity, like here’s the genuine, essential, real Gala and Michael for your entertainment. I want to say more, but then it becomes personal, and the point of a performance is to defer biography. So I will end with the end. Michael is back at the table. He and Gala have danced together, separate but together, increasingly apart, the light has increased for this last somewhat third or act, he sits and watches her as she comes from upstage in front of the chairs, dancing, dancing, and fades the lights, she’s smiling. Alone, survived, no longer Medea, Gala dancing, smiling.

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Gala Moody & Michael Carter: The Vase, at Börse Wuppertal

Several hours in a car hooning on the Autobahn somewhere around the 180km/h mark, arriving in the evening getting dropped off outside Börse theater, and straight into an already underway dress rehearsal. Michael had called the day before, asked if I could take some photos during one of the runs. I was bringing my camera anyway because art, and hoping I’d get to do exactly that. This is one from that Thursday evening run, a beautiful, hard, glorious work by two dear friends whom I’ve watched for almost all of the thirteen years they’ve been dancing together. Two of the very best.

Gala Moody & Michael Carter, cie Offen: The Vase. Dress rehearsal at Börse, Wuppertal
Gala Moody & Michael Carter, cie Offen: The Vase. Dress rehearsal at Börse, Wuppertal

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.

 

what am i doing?

A friend whom I hadn’t seen for ages – another dancer of course – was offering to teach me some of the more terror-inducing throw-yourself-at-the-floor stuff, and I said, “I’ll probably break, I’m too unco for that”, she replied, “All good dancers are unco”. I thought so yeah, I’m unco and not a good dancer, but she continued, “It’s finding how your body moves that makes your dancing unique and that’s why all good dancers are unco, they move like themselves”. So I thought maybe it’s time to write about Adelaide.

I’m not intentionally in a non-blogging mood, just busy with the impedimenta of not just moving to a new city but doing things that have to be done when this new place will be a home for a while – find jobs, find a home … find internet. And of course this induces a tiredness wherein blogging pauses in favour of staring at a wall.

A week at Leigh Warren, remembering how to dance, and how far away the technique of this city is from Melbourne – that’s a post in itself, and one quite worth writing … sometime, and the last couple of weeks with Adam Synnott, Lisa, Alison, Kynan and who else? for Adam’s project In the bones of children that is having a showing tomorrow. And then also at ACArts, where the ballet is hard. It’s strange to do combinations and even steps that after all this time are new to me. Sometimes I wonder what I was trained in, or how much attention I paid.

I was thinking – oh this is embarrassing – back in Zürich in fact, when I had Shonach for ballet, and the amazing information she had, that I should be writing this down, you know, like a document of theory of movement. So of course I didn’t. Janet knows Shonach, so maybe it is appropriate that while she was talking of spirals in a manner that jolted me into thinking of her Zürich classes, I should begin to write.

The little finger connects to the heart, in a literal sense along a nerve. I really should study anatomy, no? So the relationship of the little finger, and thus of the positions and movement of arms is to your heart. In a Brisé, if it’s not working, it’s probably because you’re not crossing your front leg over far enough, so the underneath leg can’t get to it to beat. After all these years, suddenly a Brisé is easy.

I’m missing home. Zürich … Europe, some idea of a place I can’t really enunciate but is there. This time in Adelaide then is somewhat of a pause, to think about and to do dance. When I was in Melbourne, doing class, and the teacher would be someone I went to college with, and once I had this clear and maybe troubling thought. I’ve grown up with these people, and so to watch all these new graduates hungry to learn and then wonder sometimes whatever is being taught, is it a technique, is it just a way to warm up, is it choreography, what are the principles underlying? Then also to be watched, and so dancing is not always for yourself alone. I learn by watching, and I have become quick in working out who to watch to understand what the movement is, so if I am watched, what am I showing, what is someone learning from me?

Adelaide then I suppose for now is a pause. It’s been a few years since I graduated, and I would like to be dancing in another fifteen years, but unless I have some time now to think about it, to just concentrate on … not the vulgar ‘improving my technique” thing, but really finding out how I move, it’ll just be more of the same. Anyway, so dancing is fun, it keeps me sane, Adelaide is somehow good for me, and it’s nice to be amongst friends.

soft sculpt adelaide

It’s Adelaide Fringe time, so Gypsy Wood is sitting in the Garden of Unearthly Delights, and every dancer in town is performing this week, and not a few of musicians. That includes Michael Carter, Deon Hastie, and Gala Moody, who will be the subject of another blog post in a couple of minutes.

soft sculpt
Presented Bypazzia contemporary performing collective

3 unique shows: see them all! for further information go to www.myspace.com/pazziacontemporaryperformingcollective

tickets available from fringetix or online by clicking here

announcing our hot performer listing:

gala moody, leigh warren dancers
deon hastie, leigh warren dancers
krinkl theatre, puppetry and object animation (nsw)
meghann jones, jamfactory resident artisan
michael carter, australian ballet
miranda hill, melbourne symphony orchestra (vic)
damien ralphs, kurruru indigenous youth performing arts

janet anderson, adelaide symphony orchestra
sarah mccarthy, adelaide symphony orchestra
heather lloyd, adelaide symphony orchestra
gemma phillips, adelaide symphony orchestra

kelly lovelady, artistic director (montreal)
stephanie kabanyana, director of operations
vanessa vance, director of finance and administration (wa)

— pazzia contemporary performing collective

soft sculpt – adelaide fringe
soft sculpt – adelaide fringe

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another adelaide arrival/departure

As when I arrived in Adelaide, so too was it grey and occasionally seeped in a fine mist for Bonnie, who flew in yesterday to spend a week at Leigh Warren. Today was my turn to visit the surgery of airport, feasting on leftovers from last night’s late supper of the previously mentioned Turfan Yangrou – Xinjiang makes of lamb a delicacy so lascivious I’m drooling now to even think of it – before sliding into the taxi, the sky a porcelain dome of powder blue.

Two weeks stretched to almost a month of days in Adelaide, and during the past few months, I’ve spent more than half of my time here. There. Now it’s there. I’m in Melbourne again.

I do suspect a conspiracy of Adelaide dancers, enticing me to return return with my suitcase again, in a more, shall we say, permanent arrangement. I’ve been really frustrated since returning from Guangzhou last year, finding myself without the means to continue my love affair with the mountains of Europe, and finding Melbourne a place where I just can’t wait to leave. Melbourne has been convenient for me to get back to dancing with daily classes but for anything else, it’s just felt oppressive.

All this is not new though, what’s new, or has been creeping up on me for the last while is this feeling that moving there before I return to Europe is a good idea. I woke up some time early this morning with this thought, or rather, feeling. My thoughts are being quite rigorously analytical in dismembering this ‘good idea’, and have provided me with an extensive list of “why it is not a good idea”.

Contra this, the part of me that disagrees with Little Ms Practical, has an equally impressive list of “why, in fact it is a good idea”, or at least not a bad one. plenty of jabbering then of internal voices, and this overwhelming certitude that I’d better not fuck this one up, and the right choice would be to move to Adelaide. Nonetheless, I have a gargantuan amount of work to do in the next few days, that should, as a convenient side-effect, make it quite unambiguous what I should be doing.

In the meantime, here’s some more photos of airports. And yes, I already desperately miss you all at Alfred Street.

just dance the shit out of it

It’s something of a renaissance of dance recently, with the quite brilliant So You Think You Can Dance on Sundays, and followed by the sublime Center Stage last week. I’m not one to mainline commercial television, but watching this show as a dancer, and listening to the judges, especially Nigel Lythgoe talk about dancing, bodies, attitude, how they are moving, what they need to work on, or think about, or what’s letting them down, or even his compliments and praise, all this is what dancers hear in our daily lives, something of our mysterious little world slips out into the public glare and it’s really quite special. (Discovering who won the current series while I was finding the link for the show kinda sucks though).

The last two weeks I’ve been in Adelaide visiting Leigh Warren and Dancers again (who are in rehearsal for Satyagraha), where three of the Crush dancers live. I came here the first time in November last year after Lisa and Gala both thought it’d be a good thing, and that after having a couple of ex-company dancers take us for morning class during rehearsals, and finding something really click in me. The last, I guess four months, since early September when I finally got bored with repeatedly spraining my ankle while climbing and having Bird Flu have been an epiphany for me in my dancing, that has it’s germination in Zürich, a long 18 months of finding new things in my body.

It was in Zürich with ex-Bejart Ballet dancer Shonach who taught at Tanzhaus Wasserwerk that I first began, I don’t know how to say, understanding what it is to dance my body. In part because she is a phenomenal teacher, in part because there were a few tall lanky dancers in class and if there’s one way I understand how to dance, to learn new ways to dance, it’s by finding the tallest, lankiest, prime mover in the studio and imitating, copying, plagiarising, stealing their movement from them.

Back then I’d been given some profound advice on how I was dancing, not so much pointing out what I was “doing wrong”, but practical information on how to “do it right”, how to understand how my body was moving, and coax it into a more, I guess, efficient technique. I really regret not blogging about it then as I’d intended, or at least writing it down because I’ve forgotten what she’d said, though somewhere in my body it’s still alive.

Often for dancers, in the absence of really amazing teachers who give great feedback, the process of discovering how you are dancing, how a body is assembled and the physics of motion is something that happens through occasional moments of clarity and long periods of slow drudgery. It’s something completely different from the maintenance of the body that is what daily class can easily become; a sleepwalk through the animation of a body.

A great teacher. That’s something hard to quantify. I think – beyond giving a class that is internally coherent in its development and progression, both in terms of the actual steps and in how it affects a dancer’s body – it is a question of language. All the great teachers I have had, and I’ve been fortunate to have some absolutely supreme ones, have been able to translate the un-verbal realm of a dancing body into a few simple words. “It’s like this…”, “Think of this…”. Inasmuch as it is a communication of an idea, all of this has to be intelligible to whomever it is intended for, and the moments where I’ve had blinding, pivotal instants of understanding what I’m doing, it’s always come from a few short words

So amidst the last couple of weeks that have not been conducive to blogging (including a late-night krumping session in a carpark), and with this continuation of the last 18 months of dancing, being at Leigh Warren has given me something of an oblique glimpse to where I might go with my dancing.

The point of all this was to record what was said, so in a year or so I’m not left grasping the most eroded of memories that collapse under even a delicate brush. The first thing then was my bad climber’s habit of holding everything together with my shoulders, which has the perverse effect of seeming to shift my centre of gravity from around my pelvis to around my neck. The second being how I try and maintain my balance, when my centre of gravity is outside my body by trying to hold on – to the air even – with my arms. The mental picture you should have now is of a lumbering monster of low intelligence. Or a gorilla in a tutu on rollerskates.

So both these things from Leigh and a bit of a discussion on what I should be doing and thinking, and in fact not doing, not doing something else to counteract what I’m doing.

My ballet teacher, Adrian in Melbourne lent me a book on conditioning for dancers based somewhat on an Alexander Technique or similar approach, that it’s not strength which is necessary but simply letting the body move as it is designed, as it has evolved. There are plenty of quite beautiful drawings of muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, organs, nerves, how they all intertwine, the layers and folds that when you move all dance across each other in staggeringly complex arrangements. I was reading this before I came to Adelaide and kept returning to the thought I’d really love to watch an anatomy of a body, to see what illustrations can only hint at and what I can only imperfectly imagine.