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What they do better than anyone else

Eleanor Brickhill talks to Norman Hall


Eleanor Brickhill talks to Norman Hall about the impulses behind a new dance double at The Performance Space

NH I’ve had an idea in mind for quite a while to do co-productions, to work with other independent artists. As a complementary program to Aida Amirkhanian’s Credo, for three women, and as a contrast, it was practical for me to do a program with two men, called Two Men. The men are very different, experience, technique and personality-wise.

EB Is that what interested you in them?

NH They both have dedicated many years to dance work, Patrick Harding-Irmer for twenty-five years, and Derek Porter has been dancing since he was about 13 and professionally since 1990.

But more and more I am interested in individuals, because you have got to have strong performers, or very individual performers, people who can actually work with material and not just have it put on them, who can integrate it. That seems to come with experience.

Superficially, I think Derek’s talent is in his incredible flexibility. I have often wondered if he had average flexibility, how that would affect his performance. And I still think he would have that incredible stage presence. He is so focused on what he is doing that it comes across, even without those legs and that very supple back and the things he can do with his body that just amaze people.

EB With Patrick there are similarities, they share that same clarity of line and focus.

NH I think both of them are so intent on what they are doing that the audience would have to be asleep to not be drawn in. As far as the program is designed, they do two solos each and two duets, so you have a chance to see them in work that brings out different qualities. Derek is doing a piece called Divine, to a mass. Very dancey, although not in the usual way. It’s more fluid and organic. I try not to make steps.
The second piece is Toilette, from the Dance Collection ’95, a totally different work, more of a sculptural piece. People find it quite whimsical. We got that basically roughed out in about two weeks, working an hour three times a week, because all we were doing was working with shapes and images. It was a nice foil to some of the more serious works.

Patrick has made Birthday Card to celebrate his 50th birthday, and he is also performing a solo from a work by Siobhan Davies called Bridge the Distance. She made that in 1985, when Patrick was 40. There was a BBC program about it, about the mature dancer, and this was before Jiri Kylian formed Nederlands Dance Theatre Three, the mature dancers’ group. Over the last five years, in particular, the focus on the mature dancer is coming through.

EB How might that maturity manifest itself?

NH I don’t think all people of that age have it. It goes back to the intent, the focus, the performance strength. As people get older they start to appreciate all the training they have, all the fine tuning, from performing, from life, over many years. It’s the fineness, the delicacy, and a kind of subtlety of meaning, doing more with less. You suggest without doing big things.

EB So the whole aesthetic quality becomes quite different, doesn’t it? The whole point is different.

NH Jiri Kylian said you don’t ask of these older dancers what it is they can’t do anymore, but what it is they can do better than anybody else? I spent a lot of time with that company, NDT3, and I saw younger choreographers who haven’t realised what it is all about.

EB Until you get there, you don’t know what questions to ask, what material to work with. But that is one of the beauties of the independent dance world. When you are able to use that wealth of experience, it is always very much an individual statement.

NH I think independent dancers and choreographers are actually producing the most interesting work at the moment, and doing it with very little support. I like to do small, very intense pieces. I call them ‘boutique pieces’. Something like Toilette could be done in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, as a self-contained work. It wouldn’t need any lighting, just take the prop there, and just do it. And of course, I actually enjoy making smaller, more personal works rather than doing the grand production where the detail of the dance just gets lost.


Credo by Aida Amirkhanian with Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Paige Gordon & Aida Amirkhanian, percussion by Andrew Purdham; Two Men produced by Norman Hall with Patrick Harding-Irmer & Derek Porter, musician Patricia Borrell. The Performance Space, Sydney, Thursday Dec 14-17.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 28

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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