A SPOTLIGHT ON DANCE MASSIVE The curatorial process, what it means to be a young artist in the program, the increasing presence of producers and the Sydney perspective.
Publication staff Carlee Mellow Guest Editor Justine Shih Pearson Copy Editor Yeehwan Yeoh Production Coordinator Contributors Matt Cornell Angela Goh Jane McKernan Nalina Wait
Critical Path staff Margie Medlin Director Justine Shih Pearson Acting Director Yeehwan Yeoh Program and Business Manager Joanna Fishman / Rosalind Richards Program and Communications Manager
Introduction Carlee Mellow 4 Gaps, Connections and Survival â€” An Editorial Carlee Mellow 8 The National Dance Festival of Victoria Jane McKernan 14 In Conversation: With Sarah Aiken and Rebecca Jensen Angela Goh 20 Dance Massive: An Independent Sydney Perspective Nalina Wait 28 Questioning Assumptions: Artists and Producers Matt Cornell 32
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Introduction Taking research out of the studio, into performance and beyond — a spotlight on Dance Massive.
The Dance Massive Consortium— Arts House, Dancehouse and Malthouse Theatre, in association with Ausdance Victoria—presents its biennial festival of Australian contemporary dance from 10 – 22 March 2015. In this issue of Critical Dialogues, we look at the curatorial process, what it means to be a young artist in the program, the increasing presence of producers and talk to Sydney-based artists Sue Healey and Vicki Van Hout. We also asked artists to share their most memorable Dance Massive moments and give their picks for this year’s festival. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the artists for their bold and insightful articles and for the
conversations that were perhaps too sensitive or personal to include, and to the numerous artists and producers who shared their knowledge and experiences with me. I would also like to acknowledge the previous Artistic Directors and programmers of Dance Massive: Steven Richardson (Arts House), David Tyndall (Dancehouse) and Stephen Armstrong (Malthouse Theatre). Without their energy, tenacity and commitment to profiling Australian contemporary dance at an international level, Dance Massive would never have been born. Enjoy.
Carlee Mellow Guest Editor
Atlanta Eke. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti
Hellen Sky. Photo courtesy Hellen Sky
gaps, connections and survival - an editorial Carlee Mellow
When I was invited to be guest editor for this edition of Critical Dialogues, I was instantly drawn to finding out how Dance Massive was going, almost like checking in with an old friend. I was Program Producer at Dancehouse for the inaugural Dance Massive back in 2009, performed in BalletLab’s Amplification in 2011 before moving to Sydney, and then passed on my role in Sandra Parker’s The Recording in 2013, just prior to giving birth to my first daughter. While I have in some way always been connected to the festival, since moving there’s no denying the impact the geographical gap has had on me being across the ins and outs of such an event. We’ve seen a change of Artistic Directors across the three venues and an influx of new and emerging artists presenting work. Artists now have the opportunity to weigh in on the international delegate list and networking events seem better organised and are no longer limited to those in the program. The National Indigenous Choreographers Residency at Arts House is a new initiative, as is Malthouse Theatre’s Creative Development Residencies, inviting
... I was instantly drawn to finding out how Dance Massive was going, almost like checking in with an old friend. audiences and potential presenters into the artists’ creative processes. And in conjunction with Dance Massive, The National Dance Forum presents three days of critical dialogue focusing “on the inherent concerns and realities affecting current professional practice in Australia.” Looking at this year’s program I was both surprised and excited to see so many young artists presenting work. The gap in programming opportunity for emerging and more established artists no longer seems to exist. Initiatives like Next Wave’s Kickstart Program, which supports young artists to develop their choreographic practice, has in turn produced quality work that is confident and distinctive. It also reflects the infrequent ongoing employment opportunities for
dancers, as companies now mostly engage artists on a project-byproject basis. This has necessitated dancers to create alternative, selfsustaining models and opportunities to perform—which often means they are making their own work right from the start of their career. These early years of experimenting and working to develop their own unique way of making has not only created growth and expansion of the form but also gives artists Sarah Aiken, Rebecca Jensen, Natalie Abbott, Atlanta Eke (all past Kickstart recipients) and Paula Lay the opportunity to showcase their work in this year’s Dance Massive program. Nalina Wait speaks to Sue Healey and Vicki Van Hout, the only artists (along with now Paris-based Ros Crisp) not from Melbourne who are presenting work this year. In interviews with Jane McKernan, both Angharad Wynne-Jones (Arts House) and Angela Conquet (Dancehouse) address criticism that the festival mainly programs Melbourne artists. I recall the same criticism of Dancehouse in 2009. There was, and still is, a nationwide EOI process in an effort to represent work from across Australia. However, the different directors have a responsibility to each venue and audience, and through the curatorial process maintain a right to program work that aligns with the artistic vision and ethos of their own company/
organisation. If we, as non-Victorian artists, are to consider Dance Massive as a platform for presenting our work, should we be investing our energy in initiating partnerships and/or securing funding that might enable us to connect with the venues more effectively? The most dramatic change I have noticed since 2009, when Dance Massive first started, is artists’ approach to the business aspect of making work. From my conversations with several artists, the presence of producers working with independents is much greater. While the festival is largely about presenting and celebrating Australian contemporary dance, there is an equally important agenda that looks to successfully export work to an international market. This is evident in the numerous curated networking events that connect artists directly with presenters. Why then are artists seeking the assistance of producers? And what exactly is their role? I spoke to Michaela Coventry (Executive Producer, Lucy Guerin Inc. 2006-12), Kristy Ayre (Associate Producer, Next Wave Festival 2011-14) and Kyle Kremeskothen (Producer for Shelley Lasica, Dance Massive 2015) and they all agree there is a need and a place for producers, but that the role isn’t necessary for all projects and
If the administrative activity can be offloaded even partially, the producerâ€™s role becomes invaluable to ensuring creative momentum isnâ€™t interrupted and time and energy dedicated to creative practice is maximised.
Photo: Helen Grogan and Shelley Lasica
that it needs to be flexible. Depending on the level of support negotiated between producer and artist, essentially artists want to spend more time in the studio and less in front of a computer. If the administrative activity can be offloaded even partially, the producer’s role becomes invaluable to ensuring creative momentum isn’t interrupted and time and energy dedicated to creative practice is maximised. In the context of Dance Massive and other arts market models like the Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM), Kremerskothen says, “artists want producers to be there, alongside them, representing their work. That’s the gap artists want to bridge.” And let’s face it; there are only a handful of choreographers that excel at “selling” their own work. Most I speak to feel very uncomfortable with any kind of self-promotion; usually falling into the trap of feeling like they have to validate themselves and their work. So it makes perfect sense to pay someone to do that for you, right? Further insight from Coventry suggests otherwise. She cautions, “internationals want to meet the artist, not just the producer. They want to create an ongoing relationship with the artist.” Her comments highlight the importance of the subtle dynamics required in the artist/producer relationship: “they’re interested in the artist’s artistic vision, not just for that
work but for future works also. This is the basis of networking—talking about work in an artistic way, not selling.” As Matt Cornell points out in his article for this issue, “ideally a producer is another member of the team.” Both producer and artist have a role to play. If expectations and responsibilities are clear and both support the artistic vision with the best of intentions, one would expect a happy and successful relationship. But as Cornell also points out, managing this relationship can be complicated. Another issue to consider is how a producer’s role might impact the creative process and vision. The costs associated with touring work are considered by potential presenters but not always contemplated by the artist. As a member of the team, should the producer’s concerns be voiced and have equal currency in the creation of a work, even if it means compromising the artistic vision (even slightly) in order to make the work sellable? Simply put, as artists look to their future they identify a space that a producer may fill, in order to function more efficiently and, potentially, more economically. Both artist and producer need to survive and the financial viability of a project is a reality. However it is also important to identify that survival is not just about money. Andrew Morrish, facilitator for the Ausdance National Dance Forum, reminds us that “a feeling of being
part of the community of dance is an under-utilised resource for surviving as a dance artist.” And I agree. The value of arts and culture on our individual and collective lives is unquantifiable. It enables a culturally rich and socially engaged society and connects us back to what it is to be fundamentally human. As I reflect on what I’ve written, I see that the journey from the studio to exporting our creative work is a gap that we are endeavouring to close by building more effective bridges to create smoother and stronger connections here and overseas. Dance Massive is one such platform: it offers a vital contribution to the discourse on contemporary dance, but moreover, it supports the longevity and sustainability of artists’ practice by connecting their work with an international audience. While Critical Dialogues has, in its first three issues, concerned itself primarily with discussions of creative practice, I believe this issue’s focus on ways to extend the life of our creative work and careers is also is a conversation worth having—critical in fact, for our own survival and the future of our beloved form.
The value of arts and culture on our individual and collective lives is unquantifiable. It enables a culturally rich and socially engaged society and connects us back to what it is to be fundamentally human. Carlee Mellow has worked in both film and live performance as a choreographer, dancer, actor and collaborator with many choreographers and directors, touring nationally and internationally. She is interested in developing the body’s sonic and energetic capacities to create performance where the entire musical score is created by the voice and sound of the moving body in a live exchange between composer and dancer in real time.
the national dance festival of victoria Jane McKernan
In 2009 The Fondue Set was lucky to be part of the first ever Dance Massive, performing our work No Success Like Failure at Arts House. At the time it didn’t feel so lucky as we all came down with bronchitis but even so, it was great to be part of a consolidated contemporary dance festival (though I’m not sure it was called a festival then): we had a full audience every night; I had some of the most interesting and impassioned post-show foyer and later bar conversations; there was a tangible “feel” of being part of something bigger; and we had the privilege to present the work for the fourth time, a rare event for an independent dance group.
2015 marks the fourth Dance Massive and I spoke to all three Artistic Directors of each of the Dance Massive venues: Angela Conquet, Dancehouse; Angharad Wynne-Jones, Arts House; and Marion Potts, Malthouse Theatre. I wanted to uncover how the festival has developed and changed since its initial incarnation in 2009, where, according to Conquet, it had the modest ambition of combining concurrent seasons of dance programming to increase media noise and build audience. Dance Massive is split across the three venues, each curating their own programs with no singular overarching artistic direction. It is a public festival. A common goal for each of the venues centres on audience: both the capacity to build as well as challenge and expand notions of dance for their existing ones, and to build a national and international “platform” for dance. Delegates/presenters are invited from around the country and the world, and there are a variety of events outside of the public program for artists to meet with them, and increase the potential for their work to have a life beyond Dance Massive.
A common goal for each of the venues centres on audience: both the capacity to build as well as challenge and expand notions of dance for their existing ones, and to build a national and international “platform” for dance. Each of the venues has a different frame when approaching programming for Dance Massive, which reflects the difference in the kind of institutions they are. Wynne-Jones says that one of the things the consortium has got better at as the festival has developed is maintaining each venue’s identity under the umbrella of Dance Massive. Potts agrees that while she initially found Dance Massive’s existence in her program artificial, over the years she feels she has better aligned
the program of Dance Massive at Malthouse to reflect the artistic vision of her company. At Arts House, the programmed works come from both the open call for EOIs and through what Wynne-Jones calls “semi-commissions” or direct approaches to artists. She feels there is a growing confidence as the festival continues that allows for the inclusion of work such as Rawcus’ Catalogue, which might not be strictly classified as dance but within the context of Dance Massive can expand notions of what dance might be.
the future. While hard to quantify, there is a general feeling that greater international presentation opportunity has followed on for Australian artists after being programmed in Dance Massive.
There has been some criticism in recent years, however, that Dance Massive has a strong bias towards Melbourne works and is not truly representative of the broader national scene. Both Wynne-Jones and Conquet own that the majority of programmed works are made by artists living in Melbourne, and both talk about the massive financial As the only dedicated dance venue commitment each venue makes Dancehouse has a clear position towards producing the festival, which within the consortium, particularly in precludes the ability to both travel representing the independent sector. interstate to see work and to bring Conquet says their Dance Massive interstate work to Melbourne without program is not all that different from further funding. Conquet says the their normal programming, just criticism is understandable given more intense, and says the small size how few opportunities there are in of Dancehouse and the existence Australia; but she sees it as part of of a permanent and sophisticated a larger conversation, at a higher audience allows them the privilege and level, which might address more freedom to curate more experimental, broadly a current system and mode ambitious (and less spectacular) of production that sees most funded works. Conquet is also mindful about dance works in Australia have only how the works sit within the context of one season. Dance Massive certainly an international platform, and says the provides a platform for this to be relationship between the artist, their otherwise, but need not be the only work and potential partners is deeply solution. In the meantime, however, thought-through to maximise future the festival occupies a perceived possibilities. She sees Dancehouse’s position as the national platform, role as one of support and mentorship attracting national resources and in terms of how artists approach attention. Neither Wynne-Jones nor presenters and form relationships for
Conquet shy away from stating that Dance Massive is representative of where dance is currently at in Australiaâ€”and where that is seems to be Melbourne. Jane McKernan is a choreographer and performer who lives and works in Sydney. She has never lived in Melbourne, though she has thought about moving there many times.
(This and next page) No Success Like Failure, 2008. The Fondue Set in collaboration with Wendy Houstoun. The Studio, Sydney Opera House. Photos: Heidrun LĂśhr
Hellen Sky. Photo courtesy Hellen Sky
in conversation with sarah aiken and rebecca jensen Angela Goh
When I was approached by Carlee Mellow to contribute this article her interests were trying to get a perspective from some of the younger artists who will be part of Dance Massive this year. I think there is already something in this request to talk about. What does it mean to be “young”? Is it that you are actually young, or that you feel young, or perhaps it doesn’t matter if you are or not, if there is a perception of youngness. I wonder how that impacts the way audiences might receive work. Is “young” work different to “old” work? I kind of feel like this categorisation is not that helpful or interesting, but on the other hand I’m interested in how “youth” might not be tied as much to age as it is to a particular aesthetic or mode of production. How is being young defined, and how does it impact the way work is made? I spoke to Sarah Aiken and Rebecca Jensen who will be presenting their work OVERWORLD in Dance Massive 2015.
AG: Do you think a lot of people think of you as young? SA: I guess it depends on their position, and age, but yeah I think so. RJ: And, we are! AG: So then, other people your age who are making work, do you see their work in a similar light to your own? Can you relate to their work more than you can to an established artist’s work? RJ: Ooh, I don’t know. There’s so much work out there. SA: Yeah it’s really hard. It’s not like a clear distinction. AG: So you wouldn’t really say that young people make a certain sort of work? SA: Well I guess that would be like saying that women artists all make a certain sort of work; I think that is a bit too easy, just as mid career artists don’t make a certain sort of work. It’s not like they’re making middle-aged work. RJ: It’d be fun to do an experiment though! Like a blind test! Guess the age of the person that made this work...
SA: (laughs) RJ: ... guess the sex of the person that made this work. A statistical investigation! Get the cold, hard facts! I mean there are some examples where you can tell what generation the artist is from, you can see that they’ve found a way of working that is perhaps aesthetically connected to an era and that era has moved with the person as they’ve grown, they’ve lingered there... AG: Like a time capsule? RJ: Yeah like a time capsule. SA: Generations are different, there’s different thinking and there’s different influences depending on when they grew up and when they started working. AG: Do you guys think that you’ll be a time capsule for this period in time? RJ: I kind of hope not! SA: (laughs) Is our work going to stand the test of time?! Nah probably not, it’s probably going to be really daggy in, like, one year’s time. In fact, it might already be daggy! RJ: Yeah things are moving so much faster now, what do we do? Holy shit!
b I think it is interesting to think of how youth might be connected to contemporaneity. I don’t believe that contemporaneity is gifted only to the young, or that being young and being contemporary are mutually exclusive. And here, I am defining contemporary as being specific to this current time, in both process and product, not simply just made recently. Perhaps newness is not necessarily about nowness, and similarly nowness is not always about newness. Maybe it is less important to make work that is timeless, and more important to make work which speaks to a moment in time, that inscribes itself into history. b
RJ: I was surprised that one of the girls up on the stage at the recent Nelly concert was eighteen. SA: Yeah! It’s like, you don’t know who Nelly is! AG: So maybe Nelly is an interesting example of this, in that he is like a time capsule, he represents a certain period in time. SA: Yeah, and the people there were really interesting because there were a lot of, I guess, thirty-year-olds. AG: I guess that’s when they would have turned eighteen and been in the clubs. SA: Yeah, it’s a really nostalgic thing. RJ: It was so nostalgic! There was
Perhaps newness is not necessarily about nowness, and similarly nowness is not always about newness. Maybe it is less important to make work that is timeless, and more important to make work which speaks to a moment in time, that inscribes itself into history. a certain recognition of that time, through the eyes, through the ears, through the body... Robbie Williams was playing and there was an eighteen-year-old guy, and I said, “Oh Robbie!” and he was like, “Who’s Robbie?” And I said “Robbie Williams, this guy that’s playing now!” AG: So in that moment you felt that this guy was in the young category, as in younger than you? RJ: Yeah. SA: I definitely think that there are people that are younger than me and that there is a distinction there...
RJ: Yeah. More and more so. SA: I know. They just keep being born!
b It is also interesting at this point to think about the difference between ageing and dating. Maybe the body itself can age, but not date, and dance can date but not age? Here, there is an important distinction between the body and dance. The bodyâ€™s aging processes happen through linear time. Time goes on, and the body gets older. With dance it is different: time goes on, but dances can be revisited, reinvented
for a new generation, go out of fashion, and come back into fashion. And now, our relationship to the historical has changed. Most things that have been documented are readily available on the internet. The internet is a kind of special place where the past exists simultaneously with, and indeed in, the present. The internet is a place where you can choose your influence, perhaps giving the opportunity to go outside and beyond the restrictions of time and place, where legacy can be taken, instead of given. I donâ€™t think this equates to disrespect though, perhaps
(This and previous page) OVERWORLD rehearsals. Photo: Eliza Dyball
Hellen Sky. Photo courtesy Hellen Sky
if anything it creates more respect for the past and the artists who drove certain eras forward. b
SA: I’ve heard of artists who don’t perform their work after a certain number of years. RJ: An expiry date? That’s interesting. That makes a lot of sense. I do get confused sometimes when companies tour work which has been around forever... SA: Maybe that’s because it takes a long time for it to get together. RJ: And for people to notice that the work exists in the world, and then want it in their festival. SA: Yeah, because I’m sure ideally for an artist they would want to just do it straight away. Maybe for them going back to old works is a bit hard too. AG: So how do you feel about going back to OVERWORLD? RJ: It’s still fresh... AG: So it’s not “expired” yet? RJ: No! (laughs) SA: It’s actually nice to go back to it and get a chance to redo it again. AG: Do you think OVERWORLD is an example of young work? Would you have made this work if you were not the age you are now? SA: I think OVERWORLD looks like
young work. Because that’s kind of what it was about. It’s not based on a twenty-year process, it’s about now. And we were thinking a lot about our generation when we were making it. AG: How did it come about that OVERWORLD was programmed into Dance Massive? SA: We submitted an EOI, before we premiered it at Next Wave last year. AG: Does Dance Massive give you a producer? SA: No, we deal mainly with Arts House. They expect you to know what you’re doing! RJ: Yeah they really do; and we don’t! SA: Yeah, I guess in that respect, we’re really young, and really inexperienced. AG: What is there to do? I mean other than practising and performing the show? RJ: Getting people to come! Time schedules, WorkCover, getting flyers printed, getting interviews... SA: ... hiring people, paying people, organising people, superannuation, making sure that the cast is available! Dealing with the lighting designer living in Berlin! And then there’s being in the show!! AG: It’s a lot... SA: Yeah it’s a really big thing and it keeps surprising me how much there is to do.
RJ: It’s endless email threads... SA: So I guess when you’ve done ten full-length works you’ve kind of got it down, or at least you’ve learnt to pay someone else to do it for you. RJ: There’s so much to do it’s all a bit confusing, but I guess that’s where you need a producer; but then that’s also confusing, like what their role is. AG: But it’s exciting. Do you think Dance Massive will... SA: ... boost us to international fame and fortune?! AG: Yeah?! SA: Probably... (laughs)
b The sort of acknowledgment and indeed exposure offered by a platform like Dance Massive is a great thing for an artist of any age. Perhaps being programmed for the first time in Dance Massive is even more of a milestone for Rebecca and Sarah. There is something exciting and magical about firsts. I read an article recently about how this Dance Massive represents a coming of age for some of the younger artists programmed this year. I wonder if turning points like this are perceived externally or internally. I think it definitely has some connection to gaining a certain maturity in your practice, but I also wonder if these kind of statements are more about becoming visible instead of invisible,
rather than of a “coming of age”. b
SA: It’s never true that you “burst onto the scene”; it’s like, no, you’ve just been ignoring me for five years. I think it just makes a better story if you’re just appearing. AG: It does make a good headline. But do you feel it internally though, like you’re at some kind of turning point? SA: I feel like it’s been pretty steady. But I feel really grateful that we are in Dance Massive because we’re some of the least experienced in there, but I know that they also want that in the range of what they program. RJ: Turning point? Coming of age? I kind of hate those clichés... It feels like it’s definitely been a steady plough. For the last five years I don’t think I’ve stopped working hard at what I want. AG: Do you think about your future as artists? RJ: Of course. I think about my future as a human. SA: And sometimes that includes being an artist. RJ: I do sometimes think, how sustainable is this career choice? SA: And I think that’s where I have a lot of respect for artists that have been doing this for a long time, because it’s really hard. But it’s also a great world to be a part of.
Hellen Sky. Photo courtesy Hellen Sky
dance massive an independent sydney perspective Nalina Wait
As dance lovers prepare for the fourth Dance Massive, independent Sydney dance choreographers Sue Healey and Vicki Van Hout share what it means to have their work presented in our biennial dance festival. To say â€œourâ€? is to claim this Melbourne-based festival as ours collectively as a nation of dance artists, despite the fact that the majority of offerings are from Melbourne, because supporting the joy of like-minded communion is at the core of what a festival does. Like previous inter/national dance events before it (such as the Green Mill Dance Project 1992-98, Antistatic 1997-2003, Dancers are Space Eaters 1997-2002, and the Armidale Summer Schools 1967-76) Dance Massive will, along with the National Dance Forum, replenish our desire to engage with dance as a community.
While Healey and Van Hout are the only independent Sydney choreographers to be presented in Dance Massive 2015, this Melbournecentric curatorial bias is an extension of the ongoing challenge of touring dance works across a large nation.1 Both Van Hout and Healey are enjoying the rare opportunity of multiple seasons for a new independent work by presenting their works in Sydney (Van Hout in Sydney Festival, Healey at Performance Space) and Melbourne. Healey emphasises the vital role Dance Massive plays in creating a profile for independent dance artists by hosting inter/national delegates. As an alternative to the â€œmarketâ€? atmosphere of the Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM), presenting at Dance Massive increases the chances that new works will tour. As we know, presenting a work over several seasons and locations is highly beneficial for the development of choreographic and performance expertise, but it is often difficult to achieve. Throughout her career Healey has addressed this issue, and ensured the ongoing life of her work, by creating multiple performance
outcomes within a common theme. This model also allows her to arrive at the premiere of a major production having interrogated an idea deeply over time. She credits this flexible methodology for her success in Dance Massive with her latest work On View: Quintet, as she is able to tailor the work to a given set of situations, audiences and economic constraints. Healey is delighted to present her work in a festival dedicated to dance. She feels that this focus on dance is crucial at a time when interdisciplinarity is a dominant theme; particularly in crossovers between performance and the visual arts.2 Despite her prolific accomplishments as a filmmaker, Healey emphasises that the choreographic will always be at the core of what she does. As a starting point for On View: Quintet she asks, what is a dancer as an artist? What does dance do that other artforms donâ€™t? She is particularly fascinated by the nuanced virtuosities and performance qualities of specific dancers, which has become the subject of her most recent series of live installation performance works.
Van Hout is curious to see how her latest work, Long Grass, will be received in the context of Dance Massive. She observes that Indigenous audiences freely laugh at her culturally risqué humour but suspects that non-Indigenous audiences may not feel they have the same permission, which is, for her, interesting and challenging territory.3 Van Hout plays on the tension between her raw, handmade style that reflects a garish “can do” attitude and the sophistication of a theatrical context. This tension is crucial to artists positioning work about real people and places within the façade of the theatre. The proliferation of dance festivals, symposia and other events in cities other than Melbourne, such as recent improvisation events held at Critical Path and STRUT, are a welcome development for supporting the ecology of dance in this country. A national festival is particularly important for independent Sydney artists because our scene is notably heterogeneous. As performers tend to work with specific choreographers the sensibility of each artists’ work remains distinct, producing a variegated dance landscape. While I believe the lack of homogeneity is one of Sydney’s greatest artistic strengths, it can also engender a sense of isolation. The Dance Massive festival fulfils a vital role in bringing artists and dance lovers together to celebrate
and share in the current state of this artform in Australia. This is vital for independent dance artists, and the ecology that supports them, to not only survive but to thrive.
Nalina Wait is a Sydney-based dance artist, collaborator and researcher working predominantly with improvisation. Her current PhD research at UNSW investigates how somatic intelligence contributes to the composition of improvised performance.
31 1 This is evident in the extensive list of partnered funding sources that all the Dance Massive offerings need to participate in this festival; see http://dancemassive.com.au/ about/. Editor’s note: see also Jane McKernan’s interview with Dance Massive’s presenters in this issue, page 14.
2 Interdisciplinarity was a major theme among the finalists of the inaugural Keir Choreographic Award. For further discussion, see http://realtimearts.net/article/issue123/11724. 3 For a more in-depth discussion of Long Grass, see http:// www.danceinforma.com/magazine/2015/01/long-grass/.
As we know, presenting a work over several seasons and locations is highly beneficial for the development of choreographic and performance expertise, but it is often difficult to achieve.
Sue Healey, On View. Performers: Martin del Amo, Nalina Wait and Benjamin Hancock. Photo: Judd Overton.
Hellen Sky. Photo courtesy Hellen Sky
questioning assumptions: artists and producers Matt Cornell
“There is the business of making art and the business of putting it on.” —Sydney-based producer
Through conversations with independent producers, producers who work inside companies, independent artists with producers, independent artists who self-produce, and even Artistic Directors within established company structures, one thing becomes clear above all else: most people are playing most of these roles. Either simultaneously or subsequently, artists with producers also self-produce and producers within companies are often also producing independently. These conversations also generated the following list of questions and statements about producers, within the context of the contemporary dance sector in Australia. Some ideas contradict each other, which nods to the complexity and nuance involved. And while many ideas may seem outright provocative, hopefully they make for ongoing consideration, discussion and connection.
• If an artist doesn’t have a producer, they are their producer. Some makers wouldn’t have it any other way. Others see it as a means to an end. • In some contexts, having a producer is another box to tick, a validation that the artist is serious about capitalising on their efforts. • Should only a capitalising artist receive resources? Should art be subject to an economic cost/benefit framework of validation? • If having a producer versus not having one affects the support your project may receive, then the decisions producers make about who to work with does act as “curation” that affects the work that can exist and be seen (another layer of gatekeepers, similar to presenters, venues and funding organisations). • Producers are on the frontline. • Artists are pushing boundaries. • Some artists don’t want a producer. • Some artists would rather be producers. • Some producers would rather be artists.
• Producers are also taking risks. • Should a producer be involved in artistic decisions? (choreography, creative team selection, dramaturgy, etc.) • Should the artist be involved in logistic decisions? (finance, negotiation, crediting and public representation) • Who is working for whom? • Who gets paid how much and when and from where? More importantly, how is risk shared? • Is the producer replaceable? Is the choreographer replaceable? Is the dancer replaceable? • As more Australian dance companies make redundant their Artistic Director positions (for example, Legs On The Wall, Dancenorth), and non-artists are appointed to others (Melbourne Festival, Melbourne Theatre Company), is the Producer the new visionary artistic leader of our cultural institutions? • How did that even happen? • How will Australian art change as managerial roles like “Artistic Executive” and “Executive Producer” replace the Artistic Directors of our flagship performance companies?1 Perhaps we need an info sheet detailing what all of these new titles mean... • A producer is often working with
more than one artist. Should the artist have more than one producer assigned to each relevant project? Some do. • There was a wave of mentor programs, then a wave of questioning the need for a dramaturg and now we question the role of producers. Perhaps we are simply assigning job titles to the support previously given by friends, peers and other members of our communities from whom we would seek council. (As society reorganises itself, we gather in groups perhaps more genetically diverse but at the same time more subculturally and generationally similar. That leaves the individual to manufacture/ instigate, through employment, the wisdom and roles that were once simply a matter of course.) • Division of labour is “the specialisation of cooperating individuals.”2 • Are producers translators between makers and managers? Does this empower or disempower the maker? • Is it possible for any artist to produce themselves? If so, is it just as possible for any producer to be making their own art? Does the artist follow a creative process and the producer follow a business process? How overlapped should this Venn diagram look? Especially when the roles are being performed by the same person. • Making great work is the best thing
an artist can do. (Or is it naïve to not also be pimpin’ and hustlin’?) • Will independent artists begin marketing themselves to producers in the way they are currently packaging themselves to venues and presenters? Or is the producer on the inside? Ideally, your producer is another member of the team. As with anyone you invite on your team, there needs to be trust, mutual respect and never-ending communication and consideration. Everyone should care so much about the project that they would remove themselves if at any point they began to stand in the way of it. Of course not everyone who cares has the right skills to bring it to fruition and not everyone who has the skills necessarily cares or is in it for the same reasons. Whether a project needs a producer at all is a matter of scale. Involving a producer isn’t a big deal. Instead of a mindset of securing money to entice a stranger towards an official position who will take over all operations, more likely there will be a very specific thing or few things that an artist doesn’t have the time or the skills to do. And the natural solution is to share the load, to ask for help, probably from someone you already know. As well as scale, the artist should consider: how much do I already know? How much do I need to learn? Who do I already know that has the skills that I lack?
More people will become independent contractors until we arrive at an empty “Arts Centre” building that sporadically contracts an entire organisation worth of positions but only short term, a day or week or project at a time. These labourers will spit out artistic produce and promptly be returned to unemployment. This frees up the premier arts building to be leased out as a car park so that it can be cost neutral.
Hellen Sky. Photo courtesy Hellen Sky
Let’s pause here momentarily to wonder more broadly why we’re talking about producers at all. Is it a positive sign of the robustness of independent dance in Australia? Or is it just a decentralisation of bureaucracy, an outsourced company structure, vertical integration obliterated, everyone an “independent”,3 meeting and working on the level? With no hope at job security we have been “liberated” into a post-Fordist structure at our own peril, by the industry’s need to operate as “leanly” and efficiently as possible.4 This slippery slope leads to one logical conclusion: a venue which previously may have had a resident company with all roles fulltime (a salaried artistic position these days almost seems an oxymoron), now only offers administrative roles an opportunity at a salary. This is also being eroded. More people will become independent contractors until we arrive at an empty “Arts Centre” building that sporadically contracts an entire organisation worth of positions but only short term, a day or week or project at a time. These labourers will spit out artistic produce and promptly be returned to unemployment. This frees up the premier arts building to be leased out as a car park so that it can be cost neutral. Thus we sacrifice the key luxury afforded to only prosperous nations, and that is to fund arts and culture, that it may be practised at a professional level. A future with no
artistic professions means everyone is a hobbyist and so our cultural cringe deepens. Money is the quickest and easiest motivator to bring people to work together and perhaps it is lucky that there is not much of it in dance. Perhaps this scarcity forces people to come on board with the noblest of intentions. Instead of $$$ signs in our eyes, we are mobilised by the artist’s vision. The artist’s vision is the greater asset.5 It is what the producer aims to facilitate and what the artist is sacrificing their potential superannuation for. Let’s not assume either job is easy. In my experience so far, when people first come together to make something happen, there is a lot of faith and goodwill. There is also business, ego, risk, and the unknown. The producerartist relationship is arbitrary, invented, and we can reshape it at will. In a very complex, always shifting way, we’re all in this together, playing different roles, motivated by different things. The artist’s role in society as a whole is a vulnerable one. The quest to value things outside of an economic mindset is fragile but integral for our humanity and social cohesion. The producer has a separate task, just as arduous. These two roles are not the same but we are fighting for the same things, which is important and encouraging to remember against a world of seeming indifference.
The quest to value things outside of an economic mindset is fragile but integral for our humanity and social cohesion. BalletLab, Amplification, 2012. Photo: Jeff Busby.
1 See Ralph Myers’s 2014 Philip Parsons Memorial Lecture for more on this line of thinking: “The subject of this lecture is what I see as a grave threat to the artistic life of this country: the creeping replacement of artistic leaders with managers and producers, and the far-reaching consequences this, if it allowed to continue unchecked, could have on our national cultural life.” 2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Division_of_labour 3 Interdependant is more accurate: http://www.fairwork.gov. au/find-help-for/independent-contractors. 4 The Australia Council for the Arts determines in its Dance Sector Plan 2012-2013, “Smaller dance companies have very lean staffing structures which can lead to burnout and loss of expertise.” http://2014.australiacouncil.gov.au/__data/ assets/pdf_file/0004/130972/CURRENT-Dance-SectorPlan-2012-2013.pdf.
Matt Cornell choreographs shows, composes music and performs (usually onstage). Matt is a positive-nihilist, liberated by our grand pointlessness while simultaneously indulging in the self-generated significance of empathy and humanity. He likes to think about, deconstruct and question the arbitrary configuration of systems, and is passionate about seeing through cognitive bias (aka bullshit) to the practicality at hand.
5 Artistic vision has use value, in Marxian terms, where money has none; although money has exchange value and is thus a more liquid asset. Hellen Sky. Photo courtesy Hellen Sky
OVERWORLD. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti
what are you most looking forward to iN dance massive 2015? Seeing what else the form can bring in 2015! KINGDOM by BalletLab, Solos for Other People by Shelley Lasica and presenting a showing of my work, Confusion for Three. Jo Lloyd
On View: Quintet by Sue Healey. Lisa Synott
Performing with Matthew Day, Rennie McDougall and Luke George in KINGDOM. Phillip Adams
MEETING by Antony Hamilton and Alisdair Macindoe and Solos for other People by Shelley Lasica. I heard amazing things about a development of MEETING last year and Shelley’s work just sounds fascinating. Nicola Gunn
MEETING by Antony Hamilton and Alisdair Macindoe, Merge by Melaine Lane and The Boom Project by Ros Crisp. These three are some of my favourite artists, whose work creates an unexpected world from a rich imagination and physical investment. Rosslyn Wythes
Performing in Lasica’s work with the stellar cast of artists she has assembled in addition to the general discourse which happens during the Dance Massive period. Deanne Butterworth
MEETING by Antony Hamilton and Alisdair Macindoe, SPACE PROJECT by Prue Lang, The Boom Project by Rosalind Crisp and 10,000 small deaths by Paula Lay. Carlee Mellow
what IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE DANCE MASSIVE MOMENT?
BalletLab, Amplification, 2012. Photo: Jeff Busby.
What is your most memorable Dance Massive moment? Top 3! Performing in BalletLab’s Amplification—the show is so rock’n’roll! You get totally lost in the choreography and drama of it and dancing with composer/DJ Lynton Carr live is amazing! Dancehouse’s program for 2011—I was really proud of our program and so excited to support the amazing artists involved, particularly Deanne Butterworth whose work Dual Reperage in Threes brought me to tears. Morphia Series by Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham (2009). My partner and I went to this show as our first date when it premiered in the Melbourne Festival (2002) and so it was very special to experience it’s intimacy again seven years later. Timeless. Carlee Mellow
FUTURE PERFECT by Jo Lloyd in 2013. Nicola Gunn
The “reveal” in Stephanie Lake’s Dual (2013). Nalina Wait
Seeing BalletLab’s Amplification in the 2011 program and yet again being completely amazed by the work. Deanne Butterworth
One of my favourite moments of the past Dance Massives occurred at the Malthouse in 2011. After an extremely powerful performance of BalletLab’s seminal dance work Amplification—just as the audience was about to leave the theatre—three independent dance artists (Atlanta Eke, Tim Darbyshire and Amelia McQueen), jumped on the stage and announced that they would present a contemporary adaptation of the Ballets Russes’s Beach Drama on Bondi Beach
(1939). Clad in old-fashioned swimming costumes, they proceed to do just that.
artistic sensibilities could be argued as “guerilla” themselves.
Their three-minute intervention came out of nowhere. And it was difficult to read what was going on. About half-way through the performance, the BalletLab dancers came back on stage, sat on the floor and watched the piece. Were the two pieces related? Was this in fact an encore created by BalletLab director Philip Adams himself? Eke, Darbyshire and McQueen issued an online statement a few days later, declaring themselves “guerrilla artists” and their performance an “act of cultural terrorism.”
What remains for me is a thoroughly memorable evening of dance—the experience of a compelling and stimulating dance work followed by an unexpected and thought-provoking intervention. Can’t get much better than that. Also, it’s interesting to note that Atlanta Eke and Tim Darbyshire were both programmed in the following Dance Massive (2013) and will again present work this year. In both cases BalletLab also showed/will show work. Martin Del Amo
According to their statement, the artists’ intention was to question the dominant curatorial models prevalent in the Australian dance industry and provoke discussion regarding the agency of artists within those models. While many independent artists welcomed their gesture, some pointed out that a BalletLab performance might not have been the most poignant platform for their “demands.” Especially as the company had just proven most impressively that their work—more than ten years on from its premiere—had not lost anything of its impact and artistic relevance. Then again, the artists might have hoped for sympathy and solidarity from BalletLab, a company whose
FUTURE PERFECT by Jo Lloyd. Seriously cool energy, costumes and dancing with great post-show chats. Rosslyn Wythes
There is no better time to be in Melbourne and no better time for the dance industry in Australia. Dance IS massive. —Sara Black Hellen Sky. Photo courtesy Hellen Sky
Published on Mar 5, 2015
The curatorial process, what it means to be a young artist in the program, the increasing presence of producers and the Sydney perspective.