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ISSN 2206–9615 C R I T I CA L D I A LO G U E S I S SU E 13


Critical Dialogues is a biannual online publication. Sign up to Critical Path’s e–news to stay informed –

PUBLICATION STAFF Project Manager – Elizabeth Chua Editors – Claire Hicks & Elizabeth Chua Designer – Andrea Cheng

CRITICAL PATH STAFF Director – Claire Hicks Administration & Projects – Elizabeth Chua General Manager (Interim) – Laura Osweiler Producer – Ozlem Bekiroglou Aldogan

Cover Photos courtesy of Kay Armstrong. Top: Halex Vargus Dance Theatre Circa 1991 photo shoot for Terry Smith’s series Flying Ducks Bottom: An Hour With Kay Circa 2014 rehearsal shot for solo production for Old 505 Theatre Freshworks season



Dancing Sydney Archive Project Amanda Card


Recollections from my 2019 Dancing Sydney Experience Kay Armstrong


Passing Through & Passing Down Time Narelle Benjamin


Choreographing Odds and Ends and Beginnings: a Dance Artist’s Archive Julie-Anne Long


Archiving 30 Years of Performed Neuro-queerness and other Biodiverse Interdependencies Dean Walsh


Vicki Van Hout Interview with Erin Brannigan


What can’t we remember? And when did we forget it? The Fondue Set - Jane McKernan, Elizabeth Ryan and Emma Saunders


Dance Archives: Looking back to the future Claire Hicks & Elizabeth Chua


On Repetition Melati Suryodarmo (Indonesia)


More than One Tree Ghenoa Gela


Artist’s Self-Archiving Toolkit Erin Brannigan



We understand ourselves relative to the remains we accumulate, the tracks we house, mark, and cite, the material traces we acknowledge. (Rebecca Schneider, 2001, p.100)

Most humans are collectors, but choreographers and dancers, like many performing artists, often get caught up in moving-on. Cheryl LaFrance (2013) thinks it’s almost unnatural for dancers to look backwards when they are “constantly thinking ‘forward’ about creating new works” (p. 12). It has also been regularly observed (and widely lamented) that the principle artifact of dance, the moving body, disappears. As an ephemeral art, dance celebrates and suffers from the promise and problems of its transience. Dancing Sydney : Mapping Movements : Performing Histories is the initiative of three friends and colleagues Erin Brannigan, Julie-Anne Long and myself. This project hopes to play a part in making the past, present and future of dance in Sydney more visible. Since 2016 we have been organising and showcasing dance through research, publications, exhibitions, symposia, workshops, community events and


performances (see For the Dancing Sydney Archive Project we partnered with Critical Path and the State Library of NSW and invited Frances Rings, Anandavalli, Martin del Amo, Branch Nebula (Mirabelle Wouters and Lee Wilson), Dean Walsh, Rakini Devi, Vicki Van Hout, Kay Armstrong, Julie-Anne Long, Narelle Benjamin, Alan Schacher and The Fondue Set (Emma Saunders, Jane McKernan and Elizabeth Ryan) to be involved. Critical Path provided each artist with financial support and a research room (when needed), managing the project and supporting artists to find appropriate ways to document and share their research. Artists also met archivists, curators and conservators at the State Library of NSW who introduced the practice of archiving, stimulated discussion about what the Library collects, how they collect it, and what dance artists might want to think about when they do their own collecting. With the support of the State Library of NSW, Erin Brannigan is also in the midst of interviewing all the artists involved in the Dancing Sydney Archive Project and these interviews are being added to the State Library’s collection as they are completed. The responses to the Dancing Sydney Archive Project’s provocations were

as eclectic as the artists involved—I met with many of them to talk about their work. We discussed archives, their history, dived under their beds, into garages, across different online platforms, sorting through their back catalogue, their writing, dancing and film work. Some of their contemporary responses to their past archive are featured in this edition of Critical Dialogues. There are also other ‘traces’ of their research shared on Critical Path’s website. For me this project confirmed the truth of what the former curator of the New York Performing Arts Collection, Genevieve Oswald, said in 1991: experience has shown that [archives] cannot help but extend the range and depth of contemporary understanding and practice. The emergence of new archives can only offer greater nourishment and benefit to any tradition [...] It is also a fact that the growth of an archive has a direct impact on a community and a country’s sense of self or their personal self-esteem. (p.77-78) The Dancing Sydney Archive Project has illustrated how stopping for a moment to acknowledged, explore, pay homage to (and critique) the past, helps validate the present and confirms the possibility of a future.


REFERENCES: LaFrance, Cheryl, 2013. Choreographers Archives: Three Case Studies in Legacy Preservation, in Lynn Matluck Brooks & Joellen A. Meglin (eds) Preserving Dance Across Space and Time, New York: Routledge Oswald, Genevieve, 1991. One Approach to the Development of a Dance Archive: the Dance Collection in the Library and Museum of the Performing Arts (The New York Public Library at Lincoln Centre), in Isreal J. Katz (ed), Libraries History, Diplomacy and the Performing Arts, New York, Petragon Press, pp. 77-84 Schneider, Rebecca, 2001. Archives Performance Remains, Performance Research, Vol 6, No. 2, pp.100-108






“Let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.” Thomas Jefferson

An archive is ultimately a set of traces of actions, the records left by a life. Its form multifarious, but generally organized into some sort of literacy, so when consumed objectively, each item somehow sheds light on the larger whole. On the surface, it seemed a relatively easy task. However, I was to find that there was much more involved than just collating records and creating an inventory of ephemera. To begin with, I had great expectations – I’ll Marie Kondo the heck out of this, I thought, though I had forgotten that organization was not my forte and that opening one box was like, quite literally, falling down a rabbit hole. Hours disappeared, and I was no closer to an order or a sense of context for all of this, well, stuff. I didn’t realize how much I had kept along the way. How many boxes I had trawled across the 30 years or so of share accommodation. How much had survived (how much had been chomped on by my rabbit). How many pathways I had trodden.


At one point, I was sitting amongst a pile of old things – programs, thank you cards, 10x8 headshots, negatives, photographs, reviews – and felt an overwhelm that was inescapable, the weight of time and the search for some sort of retrospective meaning. So many questions. I wonder why I did that? What was I thinking at the time? Who was I back then? What would I think of me now? How did all of this connect to who I am now? Are there clues in what I’m doing now for what might be next? Forget Marie Kondo pass me the Valium. The physical act of trawling through boxes and a multitude of various analog storage devices (suitcases, basement filing cabinets, shoe boxes,

lever arch folders, copious plastic sleeves) took days and days. I made piles, little mountains of things. Firstly, I categorized by dates, then by actual form – negatives, photographs, programs, cards, creative notebooks, posters, postcards, reviews, print media. Then I’d have to start all over again because none of these categories quite worked, and there were odd little bridges that fell between each mountain, ephemera that didn’t quite fit the suggested classification. I was really just making a different kind of circle of stuff every time. Then I’d find another box of goodies that took me down yet another rabbit hole. ‘Ahh, so that’s what happened from 1996 – 1998’. To say I was getting distracted and discombobulated was an understatement.

Left: Halex Vargus Dance Theatre Cabaret at the Wharf Circa 1990 Right: 100th Monkey solo work for Dance Sites, STRUT, WA Circa 2013



How was I going to catalog this meandering creative career spanning 30 years? Sure the receptacle was dance, but I had inhabited all of its nooks and crannies, skirted all of its peripheries, lurked in its shadows, and in no exact sequence, there was nothing linear or purist about this. How to collect these tangles of time lived and make some sort of order and create access points. I also had a deadline - there was the live event to happen at my studio where I needed to somehow wrangle this ‘stuff’ into an experience for visitors.

“The archive: if we want to know what this will have meant, we will only know tomorrow.” Jacques Derrida, Mal d’Archive: Une Impression Freudienne Kay Armstrong created a photo essay as an extension of her sharing. View FAUX ARCHIVES at critical_path

After completing this first stage project for Dancing Sydney, I realize that I have only just begun the archive process. While lots of ephemera and photographs are tidily collated into folders, there are still hundreds of hours of moving image stored on what may as well be stone tablets – VHS tapes, Hi8 tapes – not to mention the giant box of mini DV tapes. But aside from the remaining work, there are still huge questions that hover about me, not just which plastic sleeve to use, what container to best conserve asset quality, but most importantly, what do I want this archive to do and for whom. The road is long. Self timer (Minolta SLR X300), Circa 1992, Halex Vargus Dance Theatre, Hay Plains – on the way to 1992 Adelaide Fringe Festival




I began my archiving project through Critical Path in December 2019, just before packing up our home in Sydney and moving to America. This was such a poignant time for me to be doing this project as I was going through my entire life’s belongings, deciding what to put in storage, what was no longer important to hold onto, and what had sentimental importance or value to pass onto my children. Archiving my life’s work as a dancer and choreographer during this period was an extension of this process for me and certainly cathartic, as well as incredibly nostalgic. It also felt like the end of an era. Will I continue to make work, teach? What will unfold for me in America, what new direction will I find or take, and what is important to me at this point in my career and life? It was certainly a reflective and enjoyable process working from home in my own surroundings and time, and sorting through everything from

over the last 30 years or more. I was amazed at how much I had actually stored away – studio rehearsal footage, choreography, and solo musings over the years. As part of this archiving project I was also interested in working in the studio with my daughter and professional dancer Marlo Benjamin, and passing on some of my choreographic vocabulary, yoga practise, and ways of working with her. We did this in Sydney, and in Adelaide at the Tanja Liedtke Studio, thanks to Australian Dance Theatre director Garry Stewart. This was also significant for me, as I danced with Tanja back in 2000 for the first season of ADT’s Birdbrain so it was very special to be working in this room with my daughter.

Narelle sorting through her archives.




“It wasn’t until I was about 18 and was trying to get in to the arts myself, that I fully began to understand the influence of my mum’s presence in the dance world. Discovering her wisdom and teachings from that different perspective, really shifted my intention to want to learn and absorb as much from her as I could, as quickly as I could. I think subconsciously I was always watching closely and definitely recreating similar aesthetic movement pathways, but trying to discover them through my own experiences. Throughout my career, often I would work with someone that had also worked with mum over the 30 + years, and I would constantly be told how similar I was to her. Of course this was the hugest compliment, and also carried a lot of pressure for me to try

and live up to! After spending the last few years really finding my own voice in the community, it’s been the biggest joy and pleasure to return back to the studio with my mum. It feels incredibly special to be able to share a similar language, and to continue to learn from and discover her rich history and teachings through her entire body and being. It has been most inspiring to have been able to watch her love and commitment to the body and artistic visions which continue to evolve and grow, from up close. I really have to thank her for sharing her (literal) body of knowledge, soft guidance and support in my own artistic endeavours!” – Marlo Benjamin

Narelle & Marlo at the Tanja Liedtke studio.

PA S S I N G T H R O U G H & PA S S I N G D O W N T I M E | N a r e l l e B e n j a m i n


In Sydney Marlo and I worked at the Drill Hall which has been home to many independent artists, and where I did my first research developments through Critical Path’s responsive residencies for my works In Glass and Hiding in Plain Sight, and somatic research as part of my Australia Council Fellowship. I have also been a part of many processes, workshops and research projects with other artists over the years with Critical Path. Marlo and I also worked at Amera’s Palace, a belly dancing studio in Marrickville, Sydney, where I often worked at in rehearsing for Hiding in Plain Sight, Cella, and other personal projects. So, in effect, this was archiving the archive, passing on my choreography and physical embodiment of choreographic material, and sharing spaces and history with my daughter who is a fulltime dancer with Australasian Dance Collective in Brisbane and Dance North next year. One of the things that really came to light for me during this archiving process was how important place and space has been to me: the history in the spaces you work in, the artists you work with in these spaces, and the works and processes that have come to life in these spaces. Reflecting during this archiving process took me back to specific moments in time, and the memory of the creations in the studios, more so than the performances or finished shows.

Becoming a part of one’s space/home ontologically as well as geographically has been a theme I have been interested in for many years. This has informed some of my works, in particular Hiding in Plain Sight (2014) at Carriageworks with Performance Space. This also brought to life the idea for the video Pause. ----

Pause A series of home dance videos in response to the lockdown isolation due to COVID 19. When I moved to Los Angeles, I continued doing my yoga practise every day at home. After a few weeks, I felt like I had become part of this new space, home, that blurry line between your physical body and the environment you inhabit. Being isolated and in lockdown here in America felt heightened for me as I was away from Australia, so far away from all of my friends and family besides my husband and son. So, I grew a desire to connect with my artist friends, family, and people I have had a really close connection to. I wanted to create a moving portrait of my creative community, so I sent out an C R I T I CA L D I A LO G U E S I S SU E 13


email to see who would be interested in contributing to making a video to mark this time in history together. Even if just for us all to connect while in isolation, and for our generation’s collective archives. Once I started assembling the clips together, I was really interested in creating the illusion that we were all moving together simultaneously - sharing a moment in time, and connecting together through creativity in this surreal time of isolation. The Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade talks about home; an ontological as well as geographical home, and in a lovely phrase he calls home “the heart of the real�. Home, he tells us, is the intersection of two lines, the vertical and the horizontal. The vertical plane has heaven, or the upper world, at one end, and the world of the dead at the other end. The horizontal is the traffic of this world, moving to and fro, our own traffic and that of teeming others. Home is a place of order. A place where the order of things come together, the living and the dead, the spirits of the ancestors and the present inhabitants, and the gathering up of all the to- and fro.

also embodies the frustration, anxiety, confinement, and longing to move forward from this period. And thank goodness there is some humour in there as well, capturing the multitude of feelings we have all encountered in this year. Pause was featured with the re-launch of the ReelDance Archive in September 2020, instigated by Erin Brannigan. This was a suitable fit as many artists in the video had been involved in ReelDance over the years as directors, choreographers, and dancers. ReelDance was a rich time for dance on film in Australia. It brought many artists from different disciplines together and inspired us to create films and further our choreographic practise through the film medium. It was also enriching to see other dance films from around the world. The re-launch of this archive is so significant as it gives the younger generation access to it as both a research tool and, hopefully, a rich source of inspiration that informs their own artistic investigations.

The resulting video is incredibly personal and intimate. It conveys feelings of solitude, reflection, and the pause from our everyday lives, and the pace we were all so used to. Yet it PA S S I N G T H R O U G H & PA S S I N G D O W N T I M E | N a r e l l e B e n j a m i n


Pause 2020: The Home Project You can watch Pause at Concept and Edit: Narelle Benjamin Sound Design: Huey Benjamin Performers: Kate Dunn, Frances Rings, Brian Carbee, Garry Stewart, Maddie Ziegler, Dean Walsh, Kay Armstrong, Julie-Anne Long, Martin del Amo, Sara Black, Benjamin Hancock, Sue Healey, Alice Cummins, Marlo Benjamin, Josh Mu, Kristina Chan, Paul White, Kathy Cogill, Claudia Alessi, Jazmine Lancaster, Anton, Narelle Benjamin

A compilation of screenshots from Pause.




What’s this? Hmmm, wouldn’t have a clue… looks like it’s been eaten by cockroaches… Last time I moved house I rummaged through an assortment of old cardboard boxes that had been sitting unattended in my backyard shed for seven years. I discarded the obviously mouldy papers and props and then stacked into new plastic storage boxes, piles of scrapbooks, dance ephemera and costumes deemed ‘in good condition’. I transported these odds and ends to the suburban garage of my new abode, where, predictably they have sat neglected for the past four years. I didn’t even know I had these things… I thought I’d lost them… Recently, I turned my attention to this/them - as they are my archive. Engagement with my archive has been a kind of bricolage: a DIY project improvised from the diverse ephemera that happen to be available. Some remains have landed inadvertently or been abandoned in boxes by accident. Some fragments have a more meaningful authority and at some time or other, for some reason or another, I have deliberately chosen to hang onto them. Although now, I can’t always remember why. It does matter to me that this flotsam and jetsam is not discarded without some consideration. So, I am preoccupied with questions such as: How do I decide what to keep? How do I decide what goes with what? Why do I still have this stuff? What does it matter to me and/or to others if I keep it or not?


I’m trying to find… I don’t think I need to keep that… this looks like it could be interesting… I am overwhelmed when looking at the visual stimulus in my archive – of images on postcards, from magazines and newspapers, high art and tabloid grabs, publicity material and personal photo albums. There are my primitive drawings of the music I was choreographing to, with numbers and symbols visualising structures, phrasing and emotional responses, as a tool for my choreography. I notice there are reoccurring images and hence persistent ideas, from then to now, 1980 to 2020. Then there is my interest in the female body, an oversized monstrous grotesque, a vaudevillian clown, juxtaposed with the curious banality of the everyday and small details from the domestic. It is obvious I am more interested in people than places, in the ordinary than the transcendent. I am not so surprised by what I have discovered in my archive, but occasionally I am caught unaware… I have no recollection of doing that… and I have no recollection of writing this… The most surprising discovery was unearthing a collection of letters from the time when I first came to Australia, written to my family who were in Auckland, New Zealand. These letters cover the years 1980-82 Melbourne/1983-84 Canberra (Human Veins Dance Theatre)/ and intermittent correspondence from my early years with One Extra in Sydney from 1985 onwards. As I rummaged through the letters, Cleo Mees captured my process on video. It was a curious process to watch back: “… and my mom said to me a while ago I’ve got these letters of yours what do you want me to do with them and normally I would have said skip it but because I was doing this project I thought well I’ll look at them at some point so just keep them and next time I’m in Auckland I’ll get them. So I did. And it’s quite interesting ‘cause I had no idea no recollection of writing them…”





Scattered around the table there are piles of letters stacked on top of more piles of letters. All are folded, some are inside envelopes, each pile bound together by a fastening. She picks a batch tied in a bow with a red paisley stocking leg and unknots the bind. She unfolds the first letter and she reads to herself. We can barely see what she is thinking, although a hint of amusement flickers across her face. Mostly we are watching her concentrating. Her fingers flick at the edges of the paper. You can tell that the paper is good quality, this one a formal letter. A rejection letter perhaps? There are quite a few of those. Or, an acceptance letter informing her where to go and what to do... She picks up another letter, flicks the edge and unfolds it to read, a smooth gestural choreography, eyes scanning, oblivious of the camera documenting her every move. There are lots like this one. Ten pages written on onion airmail paper… “Saturday. Dear Mum, Dad, Nan, Greg and whoever else might be at home…” she laughs at the conversational, confessional tone, an intimate stream of consciousness that reveals a lot about her experience of dance through the social life around the work of dance. These letters are taking her back in time and each one suggests a story, an anecdote to entertain Cleo and the camera. Mostly she makes the stories funny with optimistic endings even though she also remembers “I was devastated! I thought my life was over”. She scratches her cheek and pushes her glasses up... Wow I remember these… there’s so many of them… even this one from last year… I’ve always used scrapbooks to record my artist notes and capture my practice plan. I like the scale of a scrapbook and find the blank page inspires the unforeseeable, encouraging contemplation, something a ruled line page does not do for me. Many of the scrapbooks in my collection are incomplete, with random blank pages interspersed between dense scribblings and notes from choreographic processes. Scrapbook curation and construction has become a key element of my archive project and has generated ongoing creative productivity. I have taken a selection of my scrapbooks and am remixing them, constructing what-is-now with what-was by inserting artist notes from my current creative work, ‘unentitled’ (2019-) into earlier scrapbooks of ‘Cleavage’ (1995) and ‘MissXL’ (1998-2002). Composition of the scrapbooks has given me insight into my dance work, highlighting links between my past body of work and where I am now, pointing to potential ideas for the future. I don’t know what to do with these… I probably should keep them… C H O R E O G R A P H I N G O D D S A N D E N D S A N D B E G I N N I N G S | J u l i e -A n n e Lo n g




Postscript: The opportunity to reflect on and reimagine my archive materials and hence my career, has been on the one hand very stimulating and on the other a bit disheartening given my creative outputs over the past eight years have been significantly more limited than the previous three decades. Although, it has given me a sense of the value of my work at a time when it is difficult to sustain an artistic practice and when opportunities for artists to produce work are intermittent. This has been especially noticeable when working on the scrapbook aspect of the project. The dialogue I am beginning to create through inserting creative thoughts and stimuli from my current solo work ‘unentitled’ into past ‘MissXL’ archives is producing some interesting self-reflexive observations on my contemporary perspective, in relation to the work. This project has reignited my enthusiasm and commitment to new solo work and I believe this will continue into the future. The Scrapbook construction is an ongoing creative project. At the moment I am unsure how I will share this or utilise it. A possible outcome may be that it will become a future exhibition element if the Dancing Sydney project goes in this direction. At this point the work I have done on the scrapbooks has given me a sense of perspective and visibility for my dance history.

C H O R E O G R A P H I N G O D D S A N D E N D S A N D B E G I N N I N G S | J u l i e -A n n e Lo n g





Content warning: Description of abuse and domestic violence.

Delving into this archival project has been such a consolidating and reaffirming experience. It has also, at times, been quietly perplexing and requiring breaks to process. In my case, in the ways in which I need to process certain things, that has sometimes extended to several months at a time. Going back into the busy depths of 30 years of my eclectic dance, teaching, choreographic, research and outreach practices, has resurfaced so many memories. Some of these have been life and method-of-approach reaffirming. Some have been disarming and heart-sinking – even as I went in prepared. But mostly, revisiting all these productions, collaborations,

projects, residencies, tours and teaching programs has generated a deepening sense of achievement, at a time, when all things arts support, appreciation, value and respect have taken way more blows than presented shows. When the bad memories threaten to ruin a day – those being hopelessly classist or homophobic reviews (a few too many to mention, particularly from the 90’s and early ‘00’s), a few utterly abusive choreographers who got away with far too much, works that were so authentic to my own context and existence, and/or the groups I was working with, only to have them brushed off as (“too dark for dance. Dean, you’re such a gorgeous mover.


Why don’t you just celebrate that?” or “It belongs more in other forums, not professional dance stages” – and there are others), or works that had just about stolen my sanity due to last minute funding cuts, creating havoc in the ranks. Taking in the whole journey to where I find myself currently as a more senior artist, has been, and continues to be, an extraordinary ‘zoom in’ and ‘zoom out’ dynamic, this going back, sifting through, re-evaluating, digitizing much by default. In much of my work I’ve sought to communicate, through embodied and spoken mediums, what I find difficult to process and understand in life. With much of the more personal content in my works I’ve wrestled it into shape through the craft of choreographic rigour, so as to avoid (as much as possible) them being only seen as possibly indulgent or alienating. But “indulgence” is also very relative. There is much to discuss about “performing the personal” as so much of who we are is necessarily integrated (or coincides) with making and performing our own danced work. A good part of the responsibility of how such works are made, supported and received, lies not only with the artist but also with the audience. This is why I am such a fan of Q and A’s.

I have found, across quite the stretch of time, that there exists a lot of policing within the contemporary dance and performance community (other artists and our related supporters), around what is deemed acceptable “professional practice”, thematic and form-based rigor or even the specific and unique needs within some artists’ processes. Too much of these opinions resonate, and are developed from, ignorance - or very limited exposure to complexities within diverse needs, methodology and culture. In writing about my own archival process for Dancing Sydney : Mapping Movements : Performing Histories project, I’ve decided to “keep it real” and to not skirt-around-the-edges of my practices’ content base. My dance, performance, choreographic, research and teaching career has been steeped in several, very diverse, communities and performance forums. From contemporary dance and theatre, several queer performance platforms (mostly 90’s and “naughties”), disability arts access and inclusion, marine environmentalism (my ‘extended cognition’ research). --I’ve been in and out of therapy all my adult life trying to unravel an extremely neglectful and abusive childhood. These sessions covered sexual,


Performing ‘Transformational Limbsyncer’ for Performance Space’s 3-day 30th anniversary festival ‘You’re History’ in 2014. Photo credit: Heidrun Lohr


emotional, psychological and physical abuse, as well as densely emotional and psychological abuse and neglect, to the degree that I became deeply enmeshed in others’ substantial pain and other deeply complex problems. My homework, and subsequently my schoolwork, suffered greatly. Teachers could not understand why I’d suddenly become so “unmanageable” or “insubordinate” when I had “so much academic potential, Dean”. These kinds of things were said to me often, but we moved homes and schools so much that it was, even back in the 70’s and 80’s, difficult to identify a pattern of behaviour that would be considered to be caused by other means than just simply misbehaving out-of-the-blue. Harsh physical punishments (the cane) were still entirely in order. “Six-of-the-best” was a regular abuse I received for being the “bad boy”. Bullying was also rife as I was so often the “new kid”. I am so glad I was asked to be involved in this project because I want readers and researchers, well into the future, to know that contemporary dance and performance in this country, this city, was populated with more diverse individuals who were carving out long careers in dance that both honored and challenged the artform and who could gain access to it. I want them to

be able to have a well-rounded account of the true diversity of this city’s dance practitioners in the later 20th and early 21st Century, so they can map our own unique discoveries, how these, in turn, influenced and were further influenced by, the greater dance and performance ecology. I want readers (current and future) to be able to recognize that, when it comes to the (seriously overused) term “innovation”, people from minority groups and cultures challenged that notion of excellence measurement in profound ways and capacities. The groundswell of artists surfacing from these communities, cultures and diverse class systems, by the very act of them finally being given some agency to pursue the arts and communicate their stories, revealed that “innovation” is relative and yet another reductionistic, old systems way of thinking, measuring and awarding. --As a kid, we often lived near bush settings, the far outskirts of Western Sydney and the Central Coast, north of Sydney. I’d spend entire after school hours or weekends playing, observing and fossicking through these natural environments. Their natural rhythms (sound, movement, smells) calmed me. They were, for the most part, my C R I T I CA L D I A LO G U E S I S SU E 13


only place of solace and safety. The intertidal zones around Empire Bay, Ettalong and Umina in the Central Coast, were immensely captivating for me, as were the massive rock faces around Kilcare Beach and the headland between Umina and Pearl Beach. With my bike and art gear in tow, I’d be gone for as long as I could stand being away from my mother, caught in a loop of shame, anger, hatred and violence. In these excursions, I would lose myself in the biodiversity - the micro and macro aspects. I found dance purely by chance. Or did it find me? I’ve never been quite sure about that one. Possibly a destined mixture of both. Diving, my other contemporary physically disciplined love, is like improvised dancing and even artful immersion. I definitely do not see it as a sport (most ecopassionate divers don’t). It is the most immersive environmental experience and one that offers me a more honed sensory “terrestrial time out”. Finding dance also helped me outlet some of the massive panic, shame and self-hatred writ deep into my psyche and body. It helped me open up and begin to hone my huge creative passions that I’d had no formal or community-based outlet for prior. But it also unleashed a lot of deep-seated confusion, suppressed pain and anger. A suicide attempt got me into

one-to-one therapy for the first time. I was in my last year of training at Bodenwieser Dance Centre in Sydney when I was 23. The long and arduous road to healing commenced. ---The cross over from focusing my performance works on reflecting perspectives and stories of abuses, neglect and deep unrest in human living systems, to those being played out in other-than-human living systems, the natural ecosystems, has made so much professional, creative and personal sense to me. It also didn’t / hasn’t happened overnight. When we look at our planet as our only known possible home, one from which we cannot easily leave, (unless we’re among the 1% billionaire elite), then one can quite easily make parallels with domestic violence (and even class systems) and the catastrophic neglect of our “home” and those of us living within it. This is a global version of “domestic violence” that is longestablished, insidious and overt, with accelerated cycles of violence and violation (especially since WW2), that have so negatively influenced countless lives, communities, homes and habitats across the entire population of all sentient beings. I’m not looking for perfection here, I’m suggesting a dire need to bringing about a wider and



Dean performing ‘Flesh: Memo’ - Maternal Tattoos - (Dean’s first full-length, 75 minute, work). Co-commissioned by One Extra Dance and the International Gay Games Cultural Festival 2000. Photo credit: Heidrun Lohr

more equitable wholeness. This needs to be done with all contexts considered and knowing that this is going to bring about a very big change, indeed. But it will take time, so best we get crackin’. As with family-based domestic violence, just because the abuse may not be directly aimed at or even affecting us, the ramifications most definitely are – or eventually will. We desperately need to communicate, in all the ways we possibly can, the vast complexities around trauma – the personal, communal and global. We all need to listen more deeply and stop the reductionist, minimizing and deeply damaging dismissals that have landed us all in this time of dangerous global unrest and uncertainty. What is certain is that things are changing. It’s up to each of us to be at the forefront of that change, as artists

and people, so we can ensure the voice of creativity, imagination, social challenging and a wider sense of beauty is being woven into the change. It is all so deeply complex because it is a trans-contextual set of systems within systems that have been deeply problematic for far too long. I have felt this acutely as a member of the LGBTIQA+ community, as an artist, as someone stemming from impoverished, utterly neglectful and abusive past and as someone living with comorbidity (complex trauma, autism and ADHD), that has been hidden so long because of our reductionistic systems. Only through acknowledging our interdependency around and within these changes will we be able to start the process of more intelligent, equitable and inter-environmental systems (re)thinking and change. C R I T I CA L D I A LO G U E S I S SU E 13


Dean’s Australia Council Fellowship research “performative launch” of FATHOM (“Drag Netta” character). A 60-minute solo for Performance Space’s Uneasy Futures Festival 2011. Photo credit: Heidrun Lohr




A 20-minute solo called ‘The Bends’ for Performance Space’s ‘Quick and Dirty’ queer performance event as part of Mardi Gras Cultural Festival 2009. Photo credit: Heidrun Lohr

Dean facilitating a workshop with members of Jam and Bread Ensemble in regional Orange as part of Weird Nest’s “Fresh Orange Juice” disability arts access program throughout 2018-2019. Leading towards a new work called ‘Second Nature’. Photo credit: Andrew Batt-Rawden


Art, in all its interdependent forms, is pivotal to this change. Art is where the “warm data” (to quote Nora Bateson with whom I spent a 5 day live-in residential last year becoming a “Warm Data Lab” host), must be held up as important as the “cold data” – the facts, figures and stats. All people’s contexts need to be given more space and opportunity to be deeply listened to, understood and included. Inclusion, compassion and deeper engagement in our complex contexts breeds wider understanding. Blame sets us apart and is a weapon of the oppressor. It also seeds fear in a garden of confusion, anger, hate and then, more blame. I’ve learned this lesson across my lifetime all too painfully. As with the rather urgent need to “rewild the wilderness”, we need to bring everything back into a focus on art, as made available for everyone to view and/or directly, or even indirectly, engage in and encourage more intricately researched fusions between science, environment and the arts and develop more diverse communities through this. My reference to “the arts” here is one that includes all variables of it – including, most pivotally, First Nations and other cultural communities, classes and individuals who have been sidelined for too long by the colonizer’s definition of “Art” including the colonizer them/ourselves.

--I’ve done a lot of outreach work across my career. Both through facilitating workshops and putting on performances with people who have fallen through just about every crack there is in our society’s living systems. Many of these people have not had even a remote chance of entering the dance community as a self-determining, agency-promoting, seriously respected career. I’ve met so many people on the fringes of society who are just as talented as the rest of us but have had little to no exposure to higher calibre dance training and performance-making. These are people who show considerable passion, skill and talent artistically. Being involved in creative play and exchange changes their lives. It also changes mine and my arts practice, evolving it in all manner of interesting ways that are then returned to others through classes, discussions and production processes. Much of these experiences have also informed my choreographic and performative choices over the years – especially in the last 10-12. Even as I’m delving into my own lived experiences, past and present, I’ve always been gathering other contexts and perspectives through deep connections with other people who feel like they don’t belong, or cannot belong, anywhere they’d otherwise love to be. C R I T I CA L D I A LO G U E S I S SU E 13


I’ve facilitated classes and workshops in creative movement since 1994 for people outside the arts community - in community centres and agencies. These have been for men living with HIV / AIDS, LGBTIQA+ youth at suicide risk, male sexual abuse survivors and, since 2010, I’ve moved my practice into accessible, inclusive and environmentally holistic practices for people living with disability. --Although research is a strong focus of my practice, for this essay I’ve focused more on the content I’ve explored. Without dance and the many complex, big picture themes I’ve continued to communicate through it, I would not have been able to process even half of what I’ve been able to in my life.

Dean performing ‘Flesh: Memo’ - Maternal Tattoos - (Dean’s first full-length, 75 minute, work). Co-commissioned by One Extra Dance and the International Gay Games Cultural Festival 2000. Photo credit: Heidrun Lohr

All this is me. This is my danced history. I can no longer pretend it isn’t. Apart from it being unhealthy to do so, it is a lie to say my past did not (and does not) deeply and pervasively affect me to the core of my identity. It is a constant wrestle. A rigorous, exhausting but often beautifully intense dance. To read Dean’s full article, visit dean-walsh-archiving/





VICKI VAN HOUT INTERVIEW WITH ERIN BRANNIGAN For the full interview recording visit, view/13 Theatre is not just a place for entertainment, it’s a place for documenting history because it’s carrying on the oral tradition, the embodied tradition. It’s making which thrives in the theatre, which can only really happen in the theatre … this is what people are starting to realise, that the performance of Aboriginal work is more than entertainment. And so that’s what my works are, more than entertainment. - Vicki Van Hout (Interview Part 1 - 45:06)

TRAINING & DEVELOPING VOICE – HISTORY AS ARCHIVE (Interview Part 1 - 1:28) ERIN: I thought we’d start with where you fit into the dance ecology in Sydney, but maybe also Australia. I really liked a comment you made on your blog about a research period with Anandavalli and your interest in thinking more about relationships rather than products and outcomes. You are so embedded in the community and have so many different working relationships. How do you see yourself in that big picture? VICKI: That’s quite complicated. So I’ll preface with: I found Performance Space in the 1990s, or in the 2000s, or Performance Space found me. But that goes back to the fact that when I was in high school, I was a squatter at the Gunnery [what is now Artspace gallery] and there were a lot of interdisciplinary performances there. There’d be a lot of impromptu performances because there’s lots of little nooks and crannies in that


space. There was the dome, there was this projection room where they’d have all these punk bands that had come down from either Brisbane or up from Melbourne. People were always making things, there were always installations in the rooms. So you would go into one room, and I remember seeing a big mosquito, what do you call it, proboscis. The proboscis was a needle. People would be living quite risky and there were a lot of things going down, but it was very vibrant and I think I kind of found my niche. Then I went to NAISDA on Glebe Point Rd which again had its own little microcosm and you get quite enveloped. Back then the majority of people that came to NAISDA, the Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre, came from remote areas and only one or two of us were local. So I joined NAISDA but I had this other life that existed while I was in Sydney. I grew up in Dapto, but I was busting to get out and so was my friend and that’s how I found out about the Gunnery. The underpinning of modern technique at NAISDA was Martha Graham back then. So, I’d be doing yoga in the morning, I’d be swimming, I’d be doing NAISDA. I’d be going to Paul Saliba’s classes at night at Sydney Dance Company and he took an interest in me and he saw that I wanted to become a dancer. NAISDA used to turn into the Dance Now Centre at night, and Ronnie Arnold, Aku Kadogo and others would be teaching. No things in moderation, that’s my motto, so I had a full dance card. My day was filled. And people said I had no talent at all, I was quite awkward. But they could see that I had a drive. And I think it was also a little bit difficult because I had another life ... the dance life is very straight laced. When I went to New York I immersed myself in Martha Graham. I was taking about four classes a day because I was an international student on scholarship, but I also had an ATSIC grant. So I could indulge, but then I really felt that this other part of my life was missing. And somehow, when I was moving, by chance I found Jeani Fillipini who was looking for a roommate. It was a tiny little studio, very small and so I had to sleep under the heating duct and she had a bed. She worked at night and I worked in the daytime, but she knew these women, Tish and Snooky, who were in a punk band called the Sick Fucks, and they were also Blondie’s first backup singers. And I said to Jeani, ‘oh, I’d really like a job,’ so she introduced me to Tish and Snooky and I started working for them. So I found my punk people.


And then when I came back to Australia, I was working for Bangarra because I think Kate Dunn had left and so they wanted somebody to replace Kate Dunn - that’s hilarious I know. Me and Kate Dunn, because we’re identical and have the same skills. Not at all. Anyway, so I was dancing with Bangarra. But, it is that kind of repertory model that is a very traditional Eurocentric model. And I think I missed Club Bent and a lot of things but I somehow gravitated towards Performance Space. There was one day I think they had a series of performances, Accidents and Alchemies, when they were in the old Performance Space [on Cleveland St Redfern], and I remember Branch Nebula’s Lee Wilson was on the same one as myself and so was Georgie Orr, Brian Fuata did a piece. … ERIN: A bit later, after you made Wirad’journi, Amanda Card was very supportive of you when she was the Executive Producer of One Extra, when it was working out of Performance Space. VICKI: Yes. She was also at the University of Sydney. So there’s this whole thing with One Extra. Then I couldn’t tell the difference between One Extra and Performance Space. I didn’t know that One Extra was just housed in Performance Space, but I saw them as the one entity. The lady I was boarding a room from (I call her ‘my other mother,’ Barbara Kernick), she was doing the books for One Extra and she’s the person who introduced me to Amanda. And Amanda looked at my video and she says, ‘Oh, yes, yes. Oh, God, no, I did this. I’ve done this in the 1970s. This and this? No, definitely not, I’m cringing and we will never put that in a showreel,’ and she systematically just pulled apart bits of Wirad’journi. And she said, ‘you are just putting the steps together, a fusion. These are the things that are interesting, where you’ve developed a vocabulary, a physical virtuosity from the indigenous language.’ So she was really telling me which bits of the choreography were more interesting. So this was the first time I got really rigorous feedback… this was what was really interesting, that Amanda actually gave me something tangible to strive for.



EXHIBITION AS ARCHIVE (Interview Part 2 - 36:45) ERIN: Can you talk specifically about the sculptural part of your creative practice and where that work comes from? Why is it so important in each of your works? And what is the role of the durational process of installation building in the work? VICKI: Yeah, so it’s about making the environment for the dancers to inhabit. It all comes from preparing yourself for the dance. It’s about framing the dance; the dance is not just the dance, the dance has a lead up, and the dance will go somewhere else. The lead up into the dance is really important because, whenever I’ve been invited to do any kind of indigenous dance, there’s been hours of preparation beforehand. Two moments really resonated with me. One was in Christmas Creek where we were all taken out to some spinifex in the heat of the day. Our upper bodies were all covered with crisco cooking oil. Then our breasts were painted, so we had to pull our bras down. Then we put our bras back up and we sat in the sun a bit more. Then we went back and the men danced all night, it got really late and it was cold. We were like, ‘We’re going to bed. It’s 10 o’clock.’ And then it was like, ‘yeah, the women are getting up and we’re gonna dance.’ We did one dance, that was it. Then we went back and we sat down and we drank more tea and we didn’t even take our tops off, they didn’t even see our breast painting. It’s just the fact that we did it, underneath the bra. It was just how that day was framed. Hours and hours. We waited hours, dying to dance, the boys were dancing with their woolly backboards, dancing for hours. Now you know why I always wanted to be the man. Also, when I was in the Torres Strait, I remember I was staying on Saibai Island. We’re getting ready to dance. What happened first was my hair got plastered with coconut oil because they all have curly hair, so they get the hair parted in the middle and they have the coconut oil so that they have beautiful curls. I have one ear bigger than the other, and this ear was sticking out like a wing nut. They put a headband on me, my hair which was lathered in coconut oil was parted in the middle. ‘Oh, you look beautiful,’ they said because they all wanted the straight hair. And then they proceeded to put Christmas decorations around my neck and around my arms. I think it was blue and silver metallic tinsel. Then they put on my zaazi (the skirt) and it was C R I T I CA L D I A LO G U E S I S SU E 13


Vicki Van Hout working on the installation for Briwyant, photo courtesy of the artist




done so tight I could hardly breathe. He goes ‘No I gotta make you look like a good Island woman.’ But you know, it was all about getting ready. And also we had woven our head dresses. It was purple and cane-looking and it was woven. But to make the purple, we got purple copy paper, tracing paper, to scribble it onto the strands so that you can weave them. And they also went on the inside, so when I had the coconut oil and the head dress on - purple! It just unfolded. There was a big procession in the dark from our place to where we were going to go and dance. So, it was all about getting ready. And then straight after we danced it was all about feasting and the order of the people who were going to eat. It was the elders, the guests, the children, and then the hosts, so that’s how they fed people. So the dance took up a little part. It was also sweeping the ground to make sure there were no stones or putting sand down so that you could see the impact. Then the theatre just became for me an opportunity to make the environment, the other world, that the dancers will inhabit. That’s how my interest in sculptural sets started. … For Pack (2009) I made these ant mounds out of wooden pegs, oh 1000s of them, glued in my apartment. And I remember asking Anthea Doropoulos, ‘do you think you could come over to my place and chuck the set in your car?’ And she says ‘no, it’s too late, I’m going to the theatre.’ So, with one of those red, white and blue shopper bags I had to make quite a few trips. I had to dismantle some of them and go back and forth to Performance Space with those bags on my back and ride them from my place in Stanmore to Performance Space in Redfern back and forth with these sculptures. It was about how people act like ants and was the first time I conceived of a sculptural set. I had watched a documentary about baboons, when they all get together and preen and it releases, not endorphins, but something that calms them down. They kind of get a little bit drugged. So the dancers took some of the pegs from the ant mounds and they put them on themselves. And when they plucked the pegs off and put them back on their bodies, they would act like they were getting drugged out. So they were nodding off as they did the partnering. And I think there were 22 rolls of tape and they had to make ant trails to the different things on stage. So it was just how animals behave in packs and how humans behave in packs. V I C K I VA N H O U T I N T E R V I E W W I T H E R I N B R A N N I G A N


ERIN: Can you talk about the works that will be in the exhibition In Response: Dialogues with RealTime? VICKI: I am taking two elements from other works – I’m making a weaving like the one from Plenty Serious Talk Talk. I just think that the back space is a bit empty, so I am kind of dressing the space. It could become a lighting thing. I quite like it for the lighting thing, just the repetitive nature of it, that it’s this digit that might act as some kind of projected thing, because of the light/dark space, negative and positive space. I’m definitely doing something with the cards, because the river of cards in Briwyant spoke about movement as the flow of water. It’s a static thing [the stage], and then the people activate the space. I’m going to have to think about people engaging with the space because I think as it gets messy, that’s also interesting. And when we have an opportunity, we can also replenish it. To invite people to come and mess this space up and engage with it, to make sound, to activate it. There’s a piece of text from Briwyant and it’s called ‘Just a Dot’ and it goes: Just a dot. Straight line, crooked more like. Self-made chewed twig brush. I’ll swipe that piece dot from your self-made chewed twig brush. What you think I am? Your dot, dot, dot fill-in! You provide the outline, but I provide the spirit, the time to talk to the ancestors. My hand, my constant, my steady beat. They communicate their story through me This quote relates to a documentary I saw about a male indigenous artist. I think it was this man’s second wife and she was doing the dots. So it was about the time you engage with the things. They would make this big painting, the man did the outline and the second wife was painting the dots, filling it in. And they would have it on the kitchen table. They would have breakfast on that painting! And I remember once, I think he accidentally spilled a cup of tea on the painting and he berated his wife. He was like, ‘see what you made me do.’ It was black primed canvas, so then they had to go and get this special black paint to go over the fact that they’d ruined it with a cup of tea. And then she had to dot over it. But the dots were really small, and they were selling them at Circular Quay because he’s a very well-known artist. He’s a very well-known artist, not her. So, I like this whole thing, that it’s the woman’s job. That was the whole premise behind Briwyant as well; the time it takes for each dot is what makes the work shiny, the repetition makes the work shiny and invites a longer dialogue with the ancestral spirits. C R I T I CA L D I A LO G U E S I S SU E 13


It makes it more powerful, it’s a powerful conduit. So that’s why I wanted to make that as an offering because it moves in itself and because it will be shiny and it represents how much time I’ve sat and contemplated the work, that it’s imbuing that space with a lot of myself. And it is making it a receptive space as well. ERIN: And the sort of mundala work from Talk Talk. Can you talk a bit about the context of that in Talk Talk? VICKI: Actually, I didn’t envisage it the way it happened in the show. At first, it was up on the back wall, and it was just going to be an Aboriginal flag, but it just didn’t work at all. It was still a work in progress and I’m getting somebody to rework some of the filming of the first film, because when I was sitting backstage, and I saw the sculpture, it was like a portal. So I saw a backlit version because I was backstage and the projection was at the front. It was so good because everything else was black, and you could just see whatever you could see. And I realised that’s how I have to see it, that you’re looking at it from a different time or it just kind of takes you out of the place that we’re in. It alludes to a different space. It makes it a multiple space … instead of it being something that occurs here, it’s bringing those other things that happen outside of the theatre, because I’m the thing that’s in there. So that was it.





WHAT CAN’T WE REMEMBER? AND WHEN DID WE FORGET IT? Quote from No Success Like Failure (2008) in collaboration with Wendy Houstoun

The Fondue Set - Jane McKernan, Elizabeth Ryan and Emma Saunders In the first half of 2020, The Fondue Set took part in the Dancing Sydney Archive Project. In undertaking the project, we had two aims. The first was the practical task of going through what we had personally collected over the last 18 years of working together and finding a way to publicly share some of this material, making it digitally available in a range of formats. The second was to work physically together in the studio to unpack the idea of our ‘fondue’ body as a living/ performing archive, again working towards a public outcome. We wanted the archive to concurrently represent the past and present, and were clear that we were not interested in creating a kind of monument to past work, but that that history continues through us. We had several sessions in the studio - two at Critical Path and one at IPAC in Wollongong - to begin to investigate what this living archive might mean. This period ran parallel with developing

a presentation for the City of Sydney Talking Bodies series and it became hard to disentangle the two. In the end, we settled on folding them together and see the performance at the Surry Hills Library as part of this archive project. Indeed, performing improvisation scores has been a long part of our practice and the audience felt vital in finding this sense together again. We feel at this stage we have just skimmed the surface of what this body archive could be, but there is certainly a kind of vocabulary and a mode of performance that is conjured when we are working together that is separate from our individual practices. This archive project is by no means complete, nor probably will it ever be, but in writing for Critical Dialogues, we wanted to find a form of writing that approaches the way we dance and improvise together – for it not to be held or owned by any of us, for it not to be complete, to act as a form of remembering in itself.


Talking Bodies, Surry Hills Library, March 2020. Photo by Katy Green Loughrey


Dancing Memory: The fourth thing that starts gathering in the space between us. Remembering memory or forgetting what you knew but trusting it’s there. An embodied memory, a lived-in dance. The fourth thing of togetherness that gathers between us, thick and full of possibilities and remembrances. To form an archive, to archive what remains. Our lived dancing selves – how do we archive this? Three things making a fourth from the feeling of us. It feels difficult like writing down dreams. The memory of dancing is razor sharp – it’s instant, clear and brisk. Full of movements and stillness, forms, friendship, ideas and hilarity. There is the stuff - the paraphernalia? the detritus? Yes, we can look through a pile of old black spiral notebooks, ratty edges, paper, posters and lost photos – but this is documentation. Known so well when we are together, getting sketchy the further apart we are, and sometimes forgotten when we’re not together. It’s not what happened, it’s what it felt like or maybe it is what it is. It’s talked about, and danced about, and the gaps and missing pieces seem more in our head. Disappearing when we are apart, held in places within us. No, it’s another word that means excess of leftovers or the excessive leftovers. To capture something of the ephemeral, to actually record or relay something of our innate instinctive performative antennae is to go deeper into the unknown. Prompting, prodding, recalling, filling in, adding to, remembering, putting together the fourth thing of togetherness. Performances as milestones of memory but not only. In the dancing, I wonder where the gaps of what we’ve forgotten are? Remembered differently alone, sometimes totally forgotten until it bumps into togetherness again. What remains from performance - the costumes moulding; photos; videos in unwatchable formats; journals full of writing, full of plans, diagrams - but is this it? If we articulate it will it disappear? They’re for other people too. Can we dance a forgotten memory? Getting fleshed out in the space between us, as we all fill in blanks, unearth, prod memories of forgotten experiences, gigs, moves, places, states, conversations. There is something more

W H AT C A N ’ T W E R E M E M B E R ? A N D W H E N D I D W E F O R G E T I T ? | T h e F o n d u e S e t


tangible but less easy to name between us - our lived bodies, our lived memory, our body memory. But that moment when we know, deeply know, that now we will raise our arms as though it has been choreographed. In fact, I’m sure there are a million dances I’ve done in The Fondue Set that I can’t remember. So much ground covered and uncovered and covered. An energy or a force that exists between us in movement, guiding choices so loudly. It has been choreographed but over years. So, in that case what am I, or are we, actually remembering? It won’t shut up. Not steps but compiled, layered down. And what’s the value of memory? This is the unarchivable archive. I hold that balance delicately and openly, just like how we would dance together – leading, following, not following, responding, listening, mishearing, folding, collapsing, laughing, crying, lingering, whispering, shuddering and shaking. Is it history? A frame. The work we’ve done, the being together, a group consciousness that lies subconscious when we’re apart. We are in there somewhere. Are we remembering or continuing to exist?



Talking Bodies, Surry Hills Library, March 2020. Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

W H AT C A N ’ T W E R E M E M B E R ? A N D W H E N D I D W E F O R G E T I T ? | T h e F o n d u e S e t


“It suggested that the ultimate fulfilment of a conscious being lay not in solitude but in a shared state so intricate and cooperative it might also be said to represent the entwining of two selves. This notion of the unitary self being broken down, of consciousness not as an imprisonment in one’s own perceptions but rather something more intimate and less divided, a universality that could come from shared experience at the highest level.� Rachel Cusk, Transit




In creating this edition of Critical Dialogues, the focus in its most basic of terms is that of the dance archive and specifically that of choreographers with an established and significant relationship with the City of Sydney. It marks the end of the first stage of a wider project, Dancing Sydney : Mapping Movements : Performing Histories, a partnership between Critical Path and the University of Sydney, University of New South Wales and Macquarie University, working with twelve artists/artist group from 2016 – 2020 as highlighted in Amanda Card’s introduction. Some of these artists – Kay Armstrong, Narelle Benjamin, Julie-Anne Long, Dean Walsh and The Fondue Set – have contributed their reflections here in the previous pages, and others have shared in other ways. Martin del Amo wrote a reflection of his experience and conducted an interview with Anandavalli, and Kay Armstrong created a photo essay entitled FAUX ARCHIVES. You can view these sharings on Critical Path’s website. Earlier this year, The Fondue Set did a live sharing as part of Surry Hills Library’s Talking Bodies series. In 2019, Martin del Amo and Vicki Van Hout were featured in In Response: Dialogues with RealTime, an exhibition in collaboration with RealTime and UNSW Library. The collection now lives online at where you can see an incredible archive of Martin and Vicki’s work. Erin Brannigan also conducted an interview with Vicki as part of this exhibition, of which you would have read a partial transcript of in the earlier pages.


In working with the twelve artists of Dancing Sydney, the interest of Critical Path lay not only in supporting these artists to start (or continue) the process of ensuring their dance archive is available for other practitioners and for future generations, but also to reflect upon what the opportunity for reflecting back on their bodies of work might tell them about what they are doing now and what they might do next; an active consideration of the continuum and the palimpsest process of art/dance making. For this issue of Critical Dialogues, we have also decided to draw in the voices of other artists, Melati Suryodarmo and Ghenoa Gela, whose words you will read in the following pages. Our aim in doing so is to keep the space open for new voices in the wider dialogue of archiving dance, bringing further perspectives in considering the ongoing role that the archive might have for those working with an embodied practice. You have also read pieces from Amanda Card and Julie-Anne Long, instigators of the Dancing Sydney project together with Erin Brannigan. At the end of this publication, you will see an artist’s guide to selfarchiving put together by Erin. If you have a practice that you have been inspired by this publication to archive, this tool-kit will come in handy. Over the years, the artists have explored, raised, and responded to a range of questions (their own and collective asking) surrounding the following topics: OMISSION TRANSMISSION REPETITION FIXITY, DISAPPEARANCE & THE PASSING OF TIME (EPHEMERA) CUSTODIANSHIP EMBODIMENT as a way of knowing, understanding, and learning We hope you carry this with you.


ON REPETITION Melati Suryodarmo (Indonesia)

It is the body that I am using as the main medium in my performance works. I consider my body is a container of paths and memories, and therefore it is an endless inspiring resource to unveil and to collect materials. For me the body has the capacity to connect and create lines between realities such those from our socio-cultural and political environments. I seriously consider the body as a “living archive� which every individual can store many aspects of life, including psychological and cognitive experiences. I like the idea in the learning process of traditional dance performance. It is carried by the teacher and further given to the younger generation. Every time there are some changes and adaptation in the techniques as well as the effort to contextualizing the meaning of the dance, in which, for me, it is representing the nature of tradition. As tradition has the potential to adapt in the constant changing society, nurturing tradition means putting the

position of the living archive, the body that carries the knowledges, into the main role. Practically, in the process of developing new ideas, I often re-visit my archives such as photo and video documentation, notes, sketches, objects in order to activate senses, memory, reflection and my body as attached living archive. At this opportunity, I would like to share how the notion of repetition has been continuously carried through my practice in performance art and dance. I have been interested in the notion of repetition since I came to the music composition of Steve Reich and Terry Riley in 1994. And I was triggered by the repetition in the Balinese Gamelan, and Gandrang Makassar, traditional music instruments and orchestra which the structure of playing them is built through repetition. In 2000, I danced on butter, fell down and got up, fell down and got up again. I came to precise moments when patterns of behavior are repeated, even when I know I take risks. I dance with the sound of Gandrang.


Melati Suryodarmo, performed Exergie – butter dance (2000), at the Stubnitz Live Art Festival, New Caste Upon Thyne, UK, 2005. Photo courtesy of the artist

I am impressed by the Reog, a traditional ritual dance performance from East Java. The repetition of the music notations drove the performers into trance. I visited my memory of childhood and questioned what is the knowledge behind tradition, what is the relationship between personal and collective action in a political intended performance and how can I be free from cultural baggage? Lullaby for the Ancestors was performed in 2001 and was my attempt to visit tradition with contemporary performance practice.

Melati Suryodarmo, performed Lullaby for the Ancestors, LOT Theater Brausnchweig, 2001. Photo courtesy of the artist


I perform long durational performance, starting in 2002 with The Promise, then 2003 with Ale Lino, 2004 with Boundaries That Lie and 2005 with The Black Ball. These are where I stay in one spot, with a very reduced and minimal gesture or movement. In a kind of tableau vivant, I consider that stillness is a completion of repetitions, like dropping dots to enclosure a circle.

Melati Suryodarmo performed Boundaries That Lie at the Art Max, HBK, Braunschweig, 2004. Photo courtesy of the artist

Top Left: Melati Suryodarmo, performed Ale Lino, Brausnchweig, 2003. Photo courtesy of the artist Bottom Left: Melati Suryodarmo, performed The Promise at the Transart 02, Brixen, Italy 2002. Photo courtesy of the artist Right: Melati Suryodarmo, performed The Black Ball, at the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, 2005. Photo courtesy of the artist


In 2007, I repeatedly said “I love you” while dragging sheet of glass for five hours. In 2009, I repeated this performance for 10 days, each for 5 hours. I was triggered by the power of language and how we are constructed by language. In the meantime, language is a fragile material when its verbality cannot transfer the meaning of communication. I am also interested into language that is not expressed in verbal material, something that is unconditional. Like a loop in video tape, images are repeated, like in mantras, words are often repeated, until we arrive somewhere, in different dimension of an unknown space. For me repetition is a way to provide path to unknown and emptiness. In 2013, I started my research which was based on my curiosities to understand the relationship between the practice of Javanese traditional spirituality, shamanism and the actual corporeality to create Sisyphus, a dance choreography piece. Taking place in my outdoor studio and involving some dancers I am working with, I encouraged them to use our body as a tool in order to build a bridge between subconsciousness and our memories by examining and experiencing the process of possessions under the guide of experts. Inspired by Antonin Artaud’s term of Body without Organ, this project was

Melati Suryodarmo performed I Love You at the Ebent07, Gallery Off*Ample, Barcelona, 2007. Photo courtesy of the artist

seeking the perception and experience of performing body in its relationship with the social environment, movements, energy and spirituality. I was also interested to connect with the notion of repetition in the myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus appears on many lines between curse and fate, between burden and faith, repeating the reality as well as the absurd. Sisyphus enters a discourse on the history of mankind, the reality of the now, the duty to remember, the fear of forgetting, C R I T I CA L D I A LO G U E S I S SU E 13


the desire to learn and predict, these generate lightness and darkness, stories and oblivion. Based on various interpretations on Sisyphus, I intend to use the term of Sisyphus as a contextual behavior, rather than considering it as pure textual basis. But rather than that, the repetition is a kind of self-reflexive modality, in which the performer through its new beginning of its repetition presents a new individual energy and presence. The repetition principle in the long durational performance is meant to give weight to the actions, to highlight the process, and thus visually focused into the subject

matter represented by the work. When the cycles are repeated, the new energy starts again from the beginning towards its end. Because the cycle is a unified repetition of actions, the whole sequence of repetitive actions, become another bigger cycle. The details of the energy of presence thus determine the power of the performer’s presence. Repetition is very much used in the shamanistic practice too. The use of repetition techniques in spelling “mantras�, in the shamanistic dance and the repetition of music notations, are meant to give a way to enter state of emptiness or trance.

Melati Suryodarmo and dancers, exercising with shamans at her studio in Solo in 2013. Photos courtesy of the artist

ON REPETITION | Melati Sur yodarmo


Melati Suryodarmo and dancers, show case at her studio, Studio Plesungan, in Solo in 2014. Photos courtesy of the artist



Sisyphus choreographed by Melati Suryodarmo and performed at Jakarta Theatre, Indonesia Dance Festival, 2014. Photo courtesy of the artist




Shamanistic method in this process will be considered as the very important supporting element of the process of creating the choreography. I am not intending to adapt neither adopt the practice of shamanism into the choreography, but it is important for the performer and myself to experience what our contemporary body can deal with the metaphysic or archaic body. Specifically, in this matter, I am very much into my idea that our nerves system can be considered as the recording medium. While especially the practice with the shamans I have had did not bring me into the total unconsciousness, I experienced the movements and remember them.

Sisyphus choreographed by Melati Suryodarmo and performed at Jakarta Theatre, Indonesia Dance Festival, 2014. Photo courtesy of the artist

Considering that the body is a living archive, practicing the notion of repetition in terms of creating repetitive movements or actions is utilizing repetition as the path to collect memories of materials. If we believe that our nerve system contains and preserves memories and events of our individual lives, repetition gives the possibility to revisit the previous material or to create a new material. Learning from traditional practice in dance and ritual performances where intention of the presence is not merely the form created by the body and movement or actions, but rather transforming the social functionality in the spiritual context, materials are transferred through repetition in forms and then accumulated into individuals from generation to generation.





Archive: a place in which public records or historical materials (such as documents) are preserved. This definition in the Webster edition, Really made me think, About preservation and what preservation means to me. I never really had an idea of what an archive was, is, or how… Hoarding precious things from other living beings, came to be something in reflection of power. Of course, preservation and archive are two sides of the same coin, They do the same thing, I guess, And sometimes in conflict… Of each other – that’s for sure. Like culture and colonial organisation. See, I don’t like the term colonisation – because the effects this nation, and every other nation received in terms of INVASION, is something that is… Well, let’s just say it really unsettles me. For me, colonisation gives a sense of ‘this was an organic evolution to the planet’ when in fact… It was just an ORGANISED TERRORIST ACT. But alas, I digress, lets talk about something less… Confronting. After all, white fragility, is the norm. Let’s go back to preservation, allow me to start again, And yarn about how I find ‘Archive’ in the western definition…


Disturbing. See for a blakfullah like me, archive and the body is one and the same thing. After all, I am the ‘latest model of my ancestry’ – big shout out to Hot Brown Honey! OOUSS! OOUUSS!! When I first landed here in the arts industry, I was confused beyond all belief, Why are people storytelling without any singing and dancing? Why are people dancing without any story? It made absolutely no sense to me, this… this ‘Art’. “What the heck am I getting myself into!” I thought with proper deep concern. So straight away I picked up that phone (when phone booths still existed) and called mum and dad back home. See for me, storytelling is our identity. Identity is our culture. Culture is our history. Which holds and carries all the mysteries, Of our bloodlines. Let’s be honest with ourselves, coz if there’s one undeniable truth in the world… Blood. Never. Lies. No matter what you try to do, or even try to say, The blood that runs deep in your veins, will give you away, Every time. Again, I digress, lets talk about something less… Confronting. After all, the colonial organisation’s idea of the ‘Australian’ identity, is flawed. And again, our first nations voices will be ignored. Let’s go back to preservation, allow me to continue, Even though we got high skills with all sorts of materials,


Writing our history, just wasn’t something we were ever into. But our minds… Was, were and are, NEXT LEVEL. So next level in fact, all the colonisers are now trying to get in on the act, But slow your roll Rachael Dolezal, This is not just information, This is ingrained within our bloodlines, It is deep within our cultural identification. This knowledge IS US, and we are our knowledge, This knowledge beyond western understanding, Expanding, Across vast distances and even transcending time, Is encapsulated, enclosed, and encased in our bodies, The very same body, that protects our bloodlines. I am preservation and preservation is me. Okay, I guess it’s time to wrap up, What I’m trying to say is, Art and Life aren’t two separate branches on the same tree, For me, they are the same thing, just one big tree. And even though I am me, I am made up of more than me, More than one tree. I am an accumulation of all of those who came before me, And my tree will be invested in those who will come after me, My blood history… Makes me a living, breathing, walking, talking, definition of Archive in that Webster dictionary. Therefore, I am preservation and preservation is me.






This is a practical introduction for artists getting organised for self-archiving. There are many excellent online tools which are listed at the end of the document that I have drawn from. Whether you are chipping away in stolen moments or have some dedicated time for archiving, the most important thing is to have a plan and an end-game: what’s important to you, what’s useful for the broader community, and what you can feasibly manage with your resources. Also be prepared for the emotional journey – that was a message that has come back from the artists involved in the Dancing Sydney Archive Project.

1. WHERE WILL YOUR ARCHIVE LIVE? There are likely to be materials already out there in the world that refer to your body of work. Researching yourself online reveals where most of these exist and might give you a sense of where your more complete archive belongs. The primary homes for dance-based collections are libraries and museums. Some larger companies also have their own foundations and trusts, and with the passing of many giants of the contemporary dance world recently, these are innovating rapidly (eg. Merce Cunningham Trust, Trisha Brown Archive, Pina Bausch Foundation). Australian companies are following suit and turning their attention to their archives, including Lucy Guerin Inc, Sydney Dance Company and Chunky Move. As an artist, you should identify the most suitable repository for your materials and enter into dialogue with them before you put too much work into organising your materials. They can appraise your collection and advise on its appropriateness for their holdings. This will also save reworking data into new formats, and clarify what a given institution will take.


In Australia, museums have been slow to acquire dance-based materials, but our libraries and universities have been dedicating resources to this area off-and-on for many years. In Sydney, the State Library of NSW (SLNSW) has been committed to collecting materials relating to New South Wales (NSW)- based artists such as Kai Tai Chan, Gideon Obarzanek/ Chunky Move, and historical artists such as Irene Vera Young, Margaret Barr and Beth Dean. They also have a comprehensive holding of reviews of NSW shows published in major papers such as the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and street press such as Sydney City Hub. The National Library of Australia had a dance curator position for some years and developed a substantial collection including Gertrude Bodenweiser’s archive, an important figure in the development of modern dance in NSW. Universities can also be repositories of performance related materials. University of Sydney holds the archive of photographer Heidrun Lohr and the Peter Oldham video archives of dance and contemporary performance work across the 1980s and 1990s, and UNSW has the ReelDance collection and the archives of Martin del Amo, Vicki Van Hout and Branch Nebula. They are also involved in research work for the Performance Space archives and the Wolanski Collection. The online RealTime Dance archive is important for Australian dance history as the journal reviewed many works not reviewed elsewhere. They have listings of key artists and links to some non-RealTime reviews and interviews. The Dancing Sydney : Mapping Movements : Performing Histories project works with several of these institutions and hopes to both map and grow resources that will ensure the legacies of NSW dance artists, both past, present and future. But our primary partner is the SLNSW who is supporting artist self-archiving workshops, collecting new oral histories that substantially expand their current holdings on dance, and are working with the research team to identify artists suitable for collection.


2. WHAT WILL BE IN YOUR ARCHIVE? As stated, each institution has limitations around what it collects. For instance, the SLNSW notes that they collect “material that documents life in New South Wales, from the earliest times to the present day. The intention is to create a collection that reflects the history of New South Wales in both the Australian and international contexts.” They also note: We’re interested in receiving offers for a wide range of material, such as: • manuscripts • books • newspapers and magazines • photographs • organisational records • pictures (such as paintings, watercolours, prints, drawings, framed works) • maps and plans • ephemera (such as posters, postcards, pamphlets) • digital publications (such as websites, blogs)

Costume and set elements are not collected by the SLNSW (The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences has some such materials) but they will take audiovisual materials under some circumstances. The donation of any A/V items should be discussed with SLNSW staff at the time of the offer. The tricky thing is deciding what is worth keeping. As Julie-Anne Long asks in her contribution to this journal: “How do I decide what to keep? How do I decide what goes with what? Why do I still have this stuff? What does it matter to me and/or to others if I keep it or not?” Amanda Card argues the case for the importance of dance archives per se, and you can contribute your legacy to Australian cultural memory during your lifetime and control how it manifests. Your decision might balance the ‘top-heavy’ existing materials with representations from important independent Sydney-based dance artists. Think about what materials best illustrate your body of work and write a narrative that you feel comfortable with. Having a peer or colleague that you can talk this through with can help get perspective on what can be an intensely personal journey.


The primary materials dance artists are likely to be dealing with are press and marketing materials related to shows, photographs and video documentation, dancescreen work, costumes, sets, journals/workbooks, company records, websites and blogs. Like all archives, the SLNSW request that material received is in excellent condition, that data is correct, and “if supplying heritage material” they request that the supplier “can effectively describe the material on offer and provide factual information about provenance and condition.” This is standard for all archives. Other things to consider are where there are multiple rights holders for your materials, and if there are any culturally sensitive materials that require you to attend to relevant protocols.

3. IDENTIFY, ORGANISE, PRESERVE, ACCESS This section is drawn largely from the Artist’s Legacy Toolkit, an online resource created by Dance USA. It is an excellent tool and is recommended by the librarians at SLNSW.

a. Logging and inventory The creation of records relating to your materials will form the metadata material stored in catalogues. Most archives will not accept materials that have not been sorted and logged. For example, the SLNSW requests, “do not include material which is unidentified, or for which you can provide no context.” The kind of information they will require for each item might include credits, authorship, dates, venues, performance seasons, videomaker credits, photograph credits, and funding sources. If you can use the collecting institutions templates for data collection this will save a lot of time down the track.



b. Labelling, Packaging and Preserving Organise physical materials by kind and chronology and deliver in archival boxes (SLNSW can supply appropriate archival boxes on request). Your audiovisual materials are some of the most fragile material you might have and there is excellent advice on how to preserve your tapes and digital files at the National Film and Sound Archive site: DO store materials in an environmentally controlled climate, a room where the temperature and humidity are stable (68° Fahrenheit and 30% humidity are the ideal numbers). Windows and outside walls affect your ability to control those factors, so if possible, store your items in an interior room. Lights can also damage materials, so keep items in darkened rooms, closets, boxes, or cabinets. DO use steel file cabinets and shelving. Keep folders upright and don’t overcrowd drawers. Beware of wood shelving – the gasses let off by wood may damage materials. DO raise materials off of the floor to avoid damage from flooding and leaks.

c. Acquisition and Access Once your collection has been accepted by an institution there will be paperwork including agreements and donation forms. You will have to decide on degrees of access for end-users that you feel comfortable with and accept that there will be limits to your own access to your materials as well. Access for end-users also includes reworking your archive into new material. Dancing Sydney : Mapping Movements : Performing Histories is interested in how you can transform your archive into other material such as performances, exhibitions, other art works and publications. The artists included in this journal, Dean Walsh, Kay Armstrong, Narelle Benjamin, Julie-Anne Long, Vicki Van Hout and The Fondue Set, have produced all of this and more, and this kind of work insists that your archive lives on through audience or reader engagement. It also multiplies your body of work with self-reflexive practices that provide commentary on your legacy.


REFERENCE SITES: State Library of NSW: what-library-collects acquisitions-and-donations april_2016.pdf collection-offers-form National Library of Australia, National Dance Collection: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences National Film and Sound Archive, Technical Preservation Guide Artist’s Legacy Toolkit Archival research project at Oxford University, UK University of Sydney – Contact: UNSW, ReelDance Collection UNSW, In Response: Dialogues with RealTime RealTime Dance Archive



Dancing Sydney Archive Project is supported by City of Sydney, 2019 & 2020. This project is part of the larger Dancing Sydney : Mapping Movements : Performing Histories collection of projects conceived by Erin Brannigan, JulieAnne Long and Amanda Card in partnership with Critical Path.




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