WHO IS CLARE DYSON? By Sonia Kwek
With her bright red lipstick, beautiful tousled head of curls and an oversized black lace bowtie around her neck, Clare Dyson is still the picture of quirky artist cool at age 40. Often wearing a bright smile and an engaging gaze, Clare is always composed, calm and collected. Most well known as a dancer and choreographer in Brisbane, Clare Dyson has been creating beautiful works of art since the early nineties. Some also know her as a lecturer and tutor at Clare Dyson in The Voyeur Image Credit: Nichelle Strzepek
Queensland University of Technology, while others know her as the woman behind Room 60, the newly opened bar at Kelvin Grove.
Wearing such a variety of hats, one can easily glean the zeal and enthusiasm of Clare Dyson. Yet beneath all these labels, who exactly is Clare Dyson? Sonia Kwek speaks with her to find out.
Background Dancing since she was 6, and being exposed to dance from the tender age of 3, dance has always figured as a huge part of Clare’s life. Even as a child, Clare knew that dance was what she always wanted to do. Growing up with a family involved in the arts was certainly a big influence in shaping this decision. “Oh yeah, for sure! Mum was a dancer, so I wanted to be as well,” Clare said. Clare’s mother, Julie Dyson, is currently the National Director of Ausdance, while brother Mark Dyson, a renowned lighting designer, has been Clare’s longtime collaborator for the past 10 years. Born and raised in Canberra, Clare left the comforts of home at 17 to pursue dance at Queensland University of Technology, which offered the best degree in the country then. Despite having travelled and worked overseas extensively, taking up residencies in Berlin, Paris and the U.S., Clare still chose to return to Brisbane to focus on refining her art. “I think Brisbane is actually really lucky! It’s always had such a supportive environment for different voices.” In the freedom of the growing
independent sector in Brisbane, Clare found the freedom to form her own voice.
Forging her distinct style Clare’s turning point, when she began to find out what she really wanted to do, came when she was in university. Specifically, Clare was strongly inspired by a lecturer she had in her first year, choreographer Wendy Morrow, who is now based in Tasmania. “(Wendy) was the one who introduced the idea of moving away from dancing and really starting to create,” Clare said, a huge amount of respect evident in her voice. Indeed, this influence largely permeates Clare’s work. Clare’s work has a distinct style, often challenging and resisting the demarcations of what exactly dance entails. “I don’t think to be a dance work, you need to ‘dance’ necessarily.” Inevitably, in a discipline characterised by history, tradition, craft and precision, this has been met with mixed responses. As Avril Huddy, associate lecturer of dance at QUT, said “There is still a need for some ‘dance’ audiences to see ‘dance’ steps and yet in the broader performance context, the ‘dance’ steps can be interpreted as superfluous and irrelevant; and such is the complicated dance that is Clare’s work.” Avril has also worked with Clare in a number of her previous works, from back when they were both studying in university to the award winning Churchill’s Black Dog. Speaking from a dance perspective, Avril candidly noted, “I think the dance element to Clare’s work is actually the weakest.” Clare is aware of this, and in fact seems to be consciously pushing this boundary. “I think defining dance by the amount of dancing in it is limiting the artform a bit! It’s more important for me to try and expand this idea of what we think dance is… otherwise it becomes boring and inarticulate, and alienates audiences.”
Clare’s artistic vision This connection with the audience lies at the heart of all her work, informing its form and content. Clare continually emphasises that this is the most important element in all her work. “If we’re not doing that, then we are not really communicating, you know?” She said, in a heightened tone. With her piercing eyes slightly widened, holding a steely gaze, it is clear this is something Clare feels most sincerely and passionately about. ”For me, the essential thing is how we communicate; it can be dance, performance, visual art, or whatever.” This extends to her methodology as well; Clare prefers to let the structure and format of the work reveal itself, so that the
metaphor will be better translated to the audience. As a highly visual person, the design element inevitably tends to feature largely in her works. Clare also holds a Visual Arts degree, specialising in the choreography and performance element. Having already majored in installations and stage design prior to that, the progression to doing visual art came naturally to her. “It is who she is,” Avril said, “She designs even in the way she writes! Design has always been important for Clare’s work, this is part of what she does well. Her works have always been heavily layered, and part of the beauty is (in) all the design work.” Although her work is clearly interdisciplinary in nature, melding forms and blurring boundaries, Clare makes it very clear that she would still like her work to be seen as dance. But why is dance so important to her? For the first time in the interview, Clare visibly paused. She pursed her bright red lips, and clasped a hand over, allowing herself to stop and ponder amidst the busyness of Room60, which had been steadily increasing in traffic as the afternoon progressed into evening. “There is a visceral connection you get in dance that you can’t get anywhere else,” She exclaimed, “The performer has to be present, you can’t pretend to be somebody else. The dancer actually has to be there. There is such a real immediacy in the way it is made”. This is especially evident from how Clare often makes time-based, durational work, as she is absolutely fascinated with capturing that ephemerality, where what is can only be seen and experienced in the moment it is in, then it is gone. The works Clare makes often capture the moment she is in her life, as she reflects upon that moment of her life, and invests herself into translating that honestly yet meaningfully into her work. “Truthfulness,“ Clare revealed, is what really sits at the heart of it all, and is the most important thing to her. “It’s even more tangible than honesty… and it’s really hard to see right now”.
Looking Ahead Staying true to herself, Clare is returning to basics, stripping away everything. She has decided to transform from large-scale, group efforts to making small-scale solo works, coming full circle to how she began her career. “It’s very liberating, I’m making just what I want to, basically.” Clare was invited to perform as part of Snapshot, by SYC Studios, an experimental performance night that was held on 16th of April, where she presented a newly created performance piece – Unsettled. It
involved her having an unsettling conversation with one audience member at a time, allowing for truly intimate one-on-one interaction.
The interior of Room60 Image Credit: Sarah Oxenham
For now, Clare is also running Room60 by herself, right down to serving customers drinks from behind the bar. “It feels really logical to do this bar (actually),” Clare remarked, “Feels like an extension of the kind of work I want to make…making people feel comfortable”. With its quaint mix of the old vintage furniture and new emerging artists’ works, Room60 does create the feeling as if you’ve stepped into someone’s lounge room. “Clare is the ultimate hostess,” Avril declared, “She can talk to anyone”. Subhadra Mistry, 19, a creative industries student at the bar that night, agreed, “Yeah Clare is really friendly, she remembers regulars and always asks how’s your day. She’s really involved in all the different aspects of art too… there’s always something new happening at room60!” That last bit is poignantly true about Clare’s character as well. Although Clare said that she is taking a break from making art, she is not resting on her laurels. She divulges that there are plans to run a performance art festival with Rebecca Cunningham, one of the emerging artists who performed at Room 60 earlier this year. Clare has also created an ongoing series of deconstructed cocktails, her way of ‘playing and making little artworks’, and is visibly excited about how it excites audiences with the potential to play in tasting the drink. This need to create arises from a genuine desire to express deep within herself, and simply cannot be denied. Indeed, Clare Dyson is the true artist. Clare smiled, “You’ve just got to keep doing it, to keep trying to do things…if not, it’s just not going to work.”