In Writing Locating writing and dancing as partners in practice, process, performance and documentation.
Publication staff Jane McKernan Editor Jodie McNeilly Copy Editor Contributors Cleo Mees Wendy Houstoun Kate McIntosh Daniel Jaber Chris Herzfeld
Critical Path staff Margie Medlin Director Yeehwan Yeoh Business Administrator Helen Martin Program Manager
Other than dancing Jane McKernan 6 The Chemistry between Them: Writing Dancing in Sydney Cleo Mees 10 In Conversation with Kate McIntosh Jane McKernan 14 Some Jottings from Working Wendy Houstoun 20 In Pictures Daniel Jaber 24
Critical Dialogues is a biannual online publication. The next issue is scheduled for December 2013, or sign up to Critical Pathâ€™s enews to stay informed. criticalpath.org.au
Welcome to In Writing, the first issue of Critical Dialogues, which grapples with the idea of writing and dancing as partners in practice, process, performance and documentation. Inside youâ€™ll find Other Than Dancing, which outlines my interest and rationale; The Chemistry Between Them, where Cleo Mees writes about her involvement with the Sydney based Writing Dancing group; a conversation with NZ Brussels based director Kate McIntosh about the way she uses language both in her process and when writing for stage; Some Jottings from Working, a piece by Wendy Houstoun, which documents a shared working period in Berlin in 2011; and finally images by Chris Herzfeld documenting some of choreographer Daniel Jaberâ€™s work processes.
Jane McKernan, Guest Editor
Other than dancing. AN EDITORIAL
In dance, there seems to be a recent trend towards the written word. The Return to Sender season at Performance Space in 2011 was accompanied by a publication. Dancehouse in Melbourne has its own quarterly Dancehouse Diaries. And now there is Critical Dialogues, a biannual publication from Critical Path, which will be regularly guest edited by different choreographers and artists. When Critical Pathâ€™s Acting Director Justine Shih Pearson first proposed the idea of editing Critical Dialogues to me, I thought reflexively, and somewhat facetiously (perhaps anxious at first that it was beyond my skillset): why more writing? Of course, it makes complete sense that Critical Path with its focus on research would seek a forum for which to share this research, spark conversation and through wider dissemination, to broaden community engagement. I was excited by it, but at the time had an acquittal due, and was finding the written process of explaining myself arduous. There was a knowledge in my body which felt not yet translated into the world of careful constructed words, forms that already existed and were easily recognisable by others. At the same time, I had begun teaching composition at UNSW and the academic articles in the course reader seemed to distance or mystify this very form I thought I knew so well; I was perplexed about writing on dance. Yet I think this is the very reason Critical Dialogues is, well, critical. The occasion where dance artists are able
There was a knowledge in my body which felt not yet translated into the world ...
to write about their work is often limited to forums where only a small group of people will ever read it (ie. dance boards or arts administrators) and is often dictated by strict codes. At the same time, this lack of opportunity and lack of sharing makes the practice of doing it all the harder. My initial question ‘why writing?’ was replaced by ‘how and when and where and what writing?’ and with that I realised it was writing in itself that should be the theme for this first issue. This is a self-interested choice. I have long been interested in the interplay of dance and words, whether in performance or in process. I like the idea of the duality of fixed and unstable meanings, the juxtaposition of different kinds of comprehension, the body’s here and now against the projection of past and future, elusive and concrete understanding. The articles within In Writing also reflect a relationship to my artistic practice. I worked with both Wendy Houstoun and Kate McIntosh as part of my Robert Helpmann scholarship in Europe in 2011. They both make work that sits somewhere between dance and theatre with a consistent interest in writing in relation to the body. I am also a (if infrequent) member of the Sydney-based group Writing Dancing. The articles touch on writing and dance in process and performance, as a form of documentation, and a more conceptual discussion of how these two forms sit together. The subject of dance and writing is of course much larger and more complex than what is presented here. I can feel the shadow of all the possibilities not included, and it is by no means comprehensive. In Writing serves as a beginning, the beginning of Critical Dialogues and the beginning of a conversation that will no doubt continue on writing around, about and alongside dance. Thinking about dancing and words, words and dancing in no particular order: Trevor Patrick’s Continental Drift; Emma introducing Here + Now from Ishmael Houstoun-Jones to The Fondue Set and us never really stopping, writing
In Writing serves as a beginning, the beginning of Critical Dialogues and the beginning of a conversation that will no doubt continue on writing around, about and alongside dance.
becoming a part of what we do; Marion Campbell and Bernard Cohen and writing that seems to deny stableness, that allows meaning to float, echoing the way I feel about dance; Wendy Houstoun, watching her at the Adelaide Festival, and then in person, allowing me access to words in a whole new way; Helen Herbertson, the words forming in my mind but later her process writing too; my first ever ‘serious’ piece of choreography created at QUT in 1996 with the lyrics to ‘I should be so lucky’ by Kylie Minogue written on signs that the dancers discarded in a Dylanesque fashion; wondering if I write in the studio only so it feels like I’ve done something, like I have a record; reading Helen Garner and doing Andrew Morrish’s workshop side by side, life feels full of possibility, full of stories; my cousin giggling at his first ballet performance, ‘why aren’t they talking?’; talking into a microphone with Brian Fuata and Lizzie Thomson; Elly Brickhill’s The Cocktail Party and then later working with her and Rosie Dennis at Omeo; Jenny Kemp’s Black Sequin Dress; watching Ros Crisp, listening to Ros Crisp and then the workshop with her and Isabelle Ginot, words helping me really see dance, like looking has been re-invented; Jenny Holzer; reading The Body Artist (Don DeLillo), Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro; arguing with Mum when I was sixteen about the power of words Vs. the power of dance, wondering if I’ve changed sides; Miguel Gutierrez, his prolific ability to communicate; endless notebooks, never quite finished, filled with quick writing and bad spelling; Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook; the internet sharing of Jonathan Burrows, Tim Etchells, Adrian Heathfield, Guy Cools; walking the streets of Surry Hills and realising for once I just wanted to say it and writing it down fast in the library; Yvonne Rainer, John Cage, Morton Feldman(thanks Gail); bits and pieces from Erin; pop songs, indie rock songs; talking with Kate for this interview; Trevor Patrick’s Continental Drift. My huge thanks to Justine Shih Pearson for giving me this wonderful opportunity, and to her, Yeehwan and Margie for their ongoing patience and trust.
Jane McKernan is a choreographer, performer and member of the award winning dance trio, The Fondue Set. A past recipient of the Robert Helpmann scholarship, she spent six months in Europe where she worked with Wendy Houstoun, Antje Pfündtner and Kate McIntosh. Outside of The Fondue Set, Jane has performed her solo work at Performance Space; Dancehouse and Omeo Dance Studio, and curated two seasons, Folk Dancing! and Dance History, at Campbelltown Arts Centre. Her recent work, Opening and Closing Ceremony, took over Arlington Oval in a special season for Performance Space’s Halls For Hire program in September 2012.
The Chemistry Between Them: WRITING DANCING IN SYDNEY
Writing and dancing can seem like two very different things. For one, writing usually ‘stays put’ on a page— you can look away from it and then look back, and find it as you left it. Dancing usually does not stay put—if you look away and look back again, it is unlikely that you will find the dance as you left it. You can write something on a piece of paper and leave it there, lying on the floor, while you go to the bathroom. You can’t dance something and leave it lying on the floor while you go to the bathroom. Not in quite the same way, at least. Writing usually involves bending over a page. Dancing can involve bending over, but it can also involve an innumerable amount of other movements. Dancing can involve movement that it is hard to write about, even to find words for. In such instances, words and bodies show themselves to be deeply dissimilar. In mid 2010 I attended a workshop facilitated by Erin Brannigan and Stephen Muecke called ‘Finding the Right Language for your Practice’. Supported by Critical Path and UNSW, the workshop aimed to help performers find their writing voice; to present writing as a useful and freeing tool, and not as something incompatible with or reductive of dance. After two days of discussion, writing and workshopping, we all—participants and facilitators— agreed that we would like to keep the conversation going. One month later, the first Writing Dancing meeting took place. At its inception Writing Dancing was about helping performers to find their writing voice, but it quickly grew
All photos by Cleo Mees
to focus more broadly on the vast range of possibilities that emerge when the two disciplines overlap. How can dance be created from writing? How can writing be created from dance? What happens when compositional strategies from dance are applied to writing, and vice versa? The meetings have become less about remedying the perceived chasm between writing and dancing, and more about exploring the chemistry between them. Writing Dancing has grown to include people who didn’t attend the initial workshop in 2010. It consists of writers, performers, academics—anyone with a keen interest in the topic is welcome. A different person facilitates each month, and as a result we come at our exploration of the writing/dancing interface from a variety of different angles. We do practical exercises involving movement and writing; we tackle discussion topics prepared by the facilitating group members; we invite practitioners to come in and talk about their work; sometimes we arrange to see performance work together and discuss it at the following meeting. We keep a record of our progress on a blog, which functions as a growing online archive of writings penned in or after the meetings. Looking over the blog and the notes that have come out of the past three years, it strikes me that Writing Dancing is an evolving thing. It has not looked the same from year to year—the what, when and who have shifted over time—and it will continue to evolve. We are accumulating something: not exactly a sense of the way things are when it comes to writing and dancing, but perhaps a sense of what the important questions and interesting creative possibilities might be. Words and bodies often show themselves to be very different things, but making them dance together is both necessary and exciting. Cleo Mees writes, dances and makes films. She is currently working on a practice-based PhD exploring the intersection of film and writing in the context of Sydney city.
Words and bodies often show themselves to be very different things, but making them dance together is both necessary and exciting.
Sophie Resch, UrbanRupture. Photo: Balint Meggyesi. Artistic Director & Choreographer: Nebahat Erpolat. Photo was taken at a research movement workshop in Ufer Studios Berlin)
In conversation with Kate McIntosh / Jane McKernan
Kate McIntosh is an artist who makes work that sits outside the comfortable boundaries of dance, performance or theatre. She has been creating her own work in Europe since 2004. I first met her in 1994 at QUT, Brisbane, where we both studied. In 2011, I spent a month with her in Ghent as she created Untried Untested, as well as seeing Dark Matter and Although We Fell Short. I was taken with how ‘word’-centric her work has become (alongside its visual and visceral sensitivity which more clearly stems from her training in dance), and by her frequent collaborations with theatre writers. Even though the performers in Untried Untested do not speak, I was fascinated to see Kate constantly scrawling in notebooks throughout the process of its creation. I asked her about how writing has become and is part of her practice. Jane: I’m interested in it all. How do you write for yourself about what you’re seeing? How do you write for performance? How do you write for others about your work, especially since you wrote your masters? K: I’ll talk on writing about my work first. I find it really hard to write about my own work. I find it painful. I found my masters really difficult to write. I needed a lot of help, which in the end was a pleasurable process. Writing for me feels like a very collaborative process. I cultivate friendships with people where we can exchange bits of writing and mess around with it—sometimes I do it for them,
Both images: Loose Promise, 2007. Photo: Luc Massin
sometimes they do it for me—I think I find a singular voice really difficult, a voice that’s supposed to know what it’s saying. The fixity of the word on the written page freaks me out. It’s so different to the sense of liveness and responsiveness to changing situations [creating work physically]. Writing within process and writing for the stage, I didn’t do much writing in my ‘dance dance’ career at all, then I started making my own work and the first thing I made was the solo All Natural, which is mostly talking. Apparently after all that moving and being a dancer for someone else, I needed to really rant at people. I talk a lot in that show and I loved it and so loved dealing with language. I was in that child-like mode, like ‘wow you can say things and people believe you, they get images in their head, you just say it, its really clear and you can lie and seem to be telling the truth, you can be confused’ and you can just do so much communication. It felt like such a revelation as a dancer. I didn’t know how to use it, so I wasn’t afraid of making mistakes, a very free, very playful kind of feeling. That was written together with writer, Jo [Randerson], who I know very well, in a fantastic collaboration. Since then I don’t think I have written any stage text that isn’t again in conversation somehow with somebody else. The next big language piece was Loose Promise, again very much along the lines of this idea. Already in All Natural there was no singular voice, this sense of being able to play and being able to lie and all those things that I was so enjoying was also a lot to do with fluid identity, where the body feels so material and concrete and inescapable. Of course the way you inhabit your body is very fluid, I understand that, but language feels so much more untrustworthy. I kind of trust the body, whereas I don’t trust language and I like this distrust. It opens so many great games
Apparently after all that moving and being a dancer for someone else, I needed to really rant at people.
and problems and pleasures. For Loose Promise I commissioned five writers to write these stories for me and they’re all based on the same initial images. I had this grand idea that if it all began from the same images there would be these fantastically interwoven narratives magically connected, but that was bullshit. I got the texts back from these writers and you couldn’t put them next to each other at all. It was terrible, so I had this whole process of figuring out how to stage them together. One of the nice things from this conceptual beginning was how I eventually brought all of the pages together, all of the physical texts. As I perform the texts, I actually destroy the paper. The papers get pushed through shredders, dissolved in water, scrunched up in soil, another turns out it’s a paper bag and I blow into it and burst it. There is this ongoing sense that the writing is torn apart. That had a lot to do with my feeling that text—written text—is so attached to the page, and especially in this case because it really was written on the page, it wasn’t made through improvising. It’s hard to get it into the air, into the speaking voice, into the body. It’s hard to make it live. It was this almost physical desire to tear it up, throw it into the air and release it into life. For Dark Matter I worked a lot with Tim [Etchells]. We got a very nice flow going of exchanging text and remanipulating stuff. J: I’m interested in this distinction between when things are improvised, when they’re coming live through voice, or whether they’re written… K: Well what tended to happen, a typical procedure would be that I would write things, swathes of text and he would write back and say you could rearrange it like this and the idea would be clearer, or maybe you should rip out that whole idea. Sometimes it was an editing job but other times I would say to him in
Dark Matter, 2009. Photo: Luc Massin
All Ears, 2013. Photo: Robin Junicke
my mind: there’s a section about multiple worlds, parallel realities. At one stage maybe I’m pointing out to people in the audience, particular people what parallel realities they’re currently living in, then he spits out a bunch of text and sends it back to me. I literally print that out and I take it to the studio and I’ll try five ways of [ . . . ], then I think, actually this would be really fun with some music behind it and there’s three performers so we can make it one of those girl groups kind of things and split it up and sing harmonies. I would either send a video to him, or tell him I’d like to take it more in a song-like direction, asking if he could simplify it. He does a bit of that, and then I readjust it. What was nice too was that sometimes it was very surprising for him what we physically did with the text. It was very dynamic in that sense, very mixed in with the physicality of what was going on. I write a lot in rehearsal in my notebooks because oddly enough I need to in order to just remember things. Again I tend not to do it in one book in an organised way; it’s on napkins and scraps of paper. I use it as a way to keep track of conversations, like making maps of things that have happened. I tend not to use it as a tool to project into the future. Even when I start writing a text for myself, it always starts on the floor. I’ll pick up a microphone and just start to sort of rant. Somewhere in there I’ll make a weird leap and think, ‘there’s something in that’. I’ll run over to a pen and write some stuff down then get straight back up and try again. But I’ve found it very often distressing when I sit at home and write something. I try to stand up to do it and then I’m like, ‘this is terrible, this can’t come out of my mouth’. I prefer to know what the strategies are: I’m going to move through three ideas now, and I’m just going to find my way. I’m not going to set it yet. But that’s the difference with the skills: writers can imagine themselves into a voice.
It’s hard to get it into the air, into the speaking voice, into the body. It’s hard to make it live. Kate McIntosh (spinspin. be) is an artist working across the boundaries of performance, theatre, video and installation. From New Zealand and now based in Brussels, she has collaborated and performed with Wendy Houstoun, Meryl Tankard, Forced Entertainment, Cie Michèle Anne de Mey, Random Scream, Simone Aughterlony, Eva MeyerKeller, Tim Etchells and many more. Kate McIntosh will be facilitating Misuse/ Displace a workshop on strategies for installation and performance at Critical Path from 18 to 22 November. To find out more about Kate’s workshop please visit criticalpath.org.au/ seam2013.
Some Jottings from Working Wendy Houstoun
We ask: Are we making a piece? We worry: We are not using the studio enough. We are not sure: Who is leading. We have talked about the desire to move away from pastiche. We have contemplated the notions of iteration—and wonder whether re-iteration is not the same thing or not. Somehow we have thought about: Reggie Watts; Nicole Beutler; people laughing on the BBC; Ken Campbell and his lectures on being funny, or his theories of starting a scene with a performer who has negative charisma, or the possibility of hiding in front of things; the notion of things in threes. We thought about Deborah Hay and her scores and Lucinda Childs and her scores. We were surprised Lucinda Childs looked like she did. We watched John Cage doing Water Walk; we listened to John Giorno and his incantation of thought. We listened to a band—whose name has buildings in it—we watched Kevin Slavin on the TED talk and his algorithm scare stories. We thought about computers and had conversations with them about age, the future, about Australia. We recorded ourselves laughing about philosophy and wondered about how to steal work and borrow work. We watched Zizek talking about jokes, about God, about
belief, about everything. We looked up the names of philosophers—we watched Lacan looking like Harpo Marx—we watched Derrida looking like a salesman. We reported back each morning at length in roving fashion while doing small stretches and making half shapes. We sat on a step near a lump of wall and ate Spinach Borek, or rolls, or carrot salad, and drank Apfel Schorle or Lemon Drinks. We tried and tried to get a good coffee but didn’t really succeed. We conquered transport systems and started to get casual about our routes to work. We always went slightly over so the women in her (often blue) leotard and neat hair would creep in a lie down while we packed up and carried on talking. We did small improvisations based on mock philosophy and Ada’s magic tricks. We sometimes had the feeling that someone might have crept in and added one small thing to the picture—one of the pebbles from around the pillars, say, or one of the mats from the corner. We often arrived when it was cool and left when it was hot. We avoided moving for some reason. We talked too soon and made it hard to move. Perhaps we didn’t want to move. Perhaps we weren’t ready for that kind of thing. We talked of relocating, of being in transit, of the amount you pack, of staying in someone else’s room. At times, it didn’t seem we were doing enough, at other times it seemed like we had done a lot. This is an edited version of a piece written by Wendy at the conclusion of two weeks working together at TanzFabrik in Berlin in 2011 as research for a new solo work. Wendy Houstoun is a London based artist who has been working with experimental movement and theatre forms since 1980. She has maintained a practice that moves between devised company involvement, collaborative projects and solo work.
We thought about computers and had conversations with them about age, the future, about Australia.
Wendy Houstoun at Fringe Launch Party, Brighton 2010. Photo: Paul Kondritz
In pictures Daniel Jaber
Images of Daniel Jaberâ€™s working process in the studio by Chris Herzfeld. Daniel Jaber is an independent dance artist who has performed with ADT, Balletlab and Gabrielle Nankivell among others. He has choreographed his own work since 2009, and will premiere the full length Nought for ADT in September this year. danieljaber.com
In Pictures is a regular series in Critical Dialogues which features selected photo essays by local choreographers and dancers. To make a submission of images, please email (no more than 5 jpeg images at a time) to admin@ criticalpath.org.au, and include a title for the image series, full image credits (photographer, name of work, name of people photographed), your name, a 2-3 line bio, and your contact details. As a guide, the size of your image should be between 500KB and 1MB.
Clockwise from left: Daniel Jaber & Composer DJ Tr!p creating too far again, not far enough… image © Chris Herzfeld - Camlight productions Daniel Jaber’s Nought - material and research board. image © Chris Herzfeld - Camlight Productions Daniel Jaber rehearsing Gabrielle Nankivell in Jaber’s Degradation image © Chris Herzfeld - Camlight Productions. Daniel Jaber - Creating solo piece too far again, not far enough… image © Chris Herzfeld - Camlight Productions