For me the choreography is a vehicle that I use in performance...I feel like I’m more interested in using the material—going past the dancing, supported by technical foundations that I can move off from. I’m not concerned so much with being a good dancer—I’ve become interested in something on the other side of the dancing.
Could this be a difference in your sense of ownership of the material?
That is an issue—being the choreographer definitely effects the relationship. I can do what I want with it in a way. However, the material I’ve made with them has definitely come out of the dancers’ bodies too. The solos in traffic were worked out with them, were made on and with them. So the material itself is material that they do best. I think they ‘own it’ really well. We recently performed traffic in Melbourne at Bodyworks and that was one of the comments—that Katy and Nalina were right ‘in’ the movement.
There’s something else?
Well it is what I’m interested in. I’m not sure that I am getting to the other side or going past doing the choreography well. Perhaps it’s a kind of different maturity…The dancers are concerned with looking good and that’s one of the things that makes them dance well, but I’m not concerned with that anymore. I think I probably was once. Now I simply use the material and the body I’ve got.
There’s always been a strong sense of performance when you dance—a presence and impression of spontaneity.
Years ago when I was doing more improvisation I think I probably did rely on my performance to pull it off, which may have developed a particular strength. But I’ve realised I really like working with the detail and that’s been a shift. Now I like to study the detail so that it’s very precise. And I’ve arrived at that without really knowing…Rather than creating freedom in the work itself, which can be a kind of trap in performance, I clean the choreography and I feel I have a reason to be out there. It gives me a different freedom—a space to listen and to be present to the moment. For instance, if it’s based on momentum, like the last section in traffic and some of the material in the new solo, there’s still a precision. Even if it’s very loose I can trace it and know it’s going to go through particular positions. I’ve got the template. There are degrees of improvisation and I’m convinced that the structure supports the improvisation I do.
Your work has been getting shorter recently and there does seem to be a particular challenge involved in creating an evening length contemporary dance piece.
It’s the tradition of being entertained as opposed to the tradition of the gallery for example. The length of a work can be a nice creative challenge. I’ve been commissioned to create a 30 minute solo. I’ve done an hour long solo back in the dim dark past and I like the challenge of creating something that long. However, 30 minutes is actually quite long for a solo, especially as I’ve been in this ‘moving-a-lot’ phase lately. I think I’ve been making shorter pieces because what is interesting me is paring the work back. I make copious amounts of material and then I’m very liberal with the scissors. Hopefully there’s enough repetition in different variations or movements through phases so that you do get enough to ‘read’ it. Although I do find it difficult with repetition as such—why you choose to do it.
So what’s the process of cutting back. Why is the choice to eliminate made?
I like to be focused around one idea—put it on the ‘coat hanger’ of one idea. Once that idea becomes clear, then it is also clear what movement is relevant. What I tend to do when I’m making new work is to take threads from the last work and spend a few months reprogramming my body and the other dancers’ bodies, trying to get into some new vocabulary and actually undo the last work. I’ll try and subvert the habits and the familiar pathways, redirecting and getting into some new territory. It’s about trying to create a new vocabulary each time. And of course it’s never completely new; there are always habits and histories. And when you reprogram, that becomes familiar and that is what you want otherwise you wouldn’t be able to create a phrase.
We spend a lot of time creating new vocabulary around some particular movement idea, a physical idea. I describe these ideas in words. I make up words like ‘anchoring’ where one part of the body is stable and things happen around it. Or it could be a relation around a joint, or a shape, then a shifting and rewinding or a change in scale. I find words to describe physical ideas that come out of improvisation and then use them as a score to develop material with. Then it becomes clear what’s in or out, what is relevant to that idea.
So there is a challenge to resolve between doing and talking about what you are doing?
A lot also happens through watching and osmosis. And a lot of words are used throughout the training process that I develop with the dancers, so there is a foundation to work with. You can see it in class—the difference between people I’ve been working with for a while and someone else who comes in and doesn’t have the same field of tools. There are layers of common ground created through training and improvising and watching and working on material: it’s not just about words although we do share words.
There is an evasion of the term ‘technique’ in new dance practices, to avoid locking things into patterns, so how do you describe this common physical language you share with your dancers?
I think there are tools and techniques. There are some things I would say are technical…like having weight in the pelvis and underneath support in the body, as opposed to “pulling up”. And I work with Contact Improvisation as a technique to get people in touch with their weight and have a 3-dimensional awareness of the body in space. There are lots of improvisational and choreographic tools which someone else may call techniques—like how to develop an idea, for example folding and unfolding as a score, shifting levels or speed or emotional quality or taking up more space. I think of those things as tools.
I guess it’s that opposition between technique and ‘original gestures’... the idea that you can evacuate the body of technique and have a blank slate. I always wonder where personal idiosyncracies are meant to go.
I think that’s really interesting. We’re so loaded up and the more technique we do the more loaded up we get. There’s no such thing as neutral body. It’s also just a use of words—you could take ‘emptying’ as a movement score. But getting back to the idea of going past dancing, it’s about how you use your history and the accumulation of sensation information. The older I get the more stuff I’ve got to use. My instrument feels richer all the time, and it will I guess until it starts emptying out…
The history in the body does seem to be a motif in recent Sydney dance performance.
I’m not trying to perform my history, but I’m aware that I am accumulating history. It may be more relevant in relation to my process rather than performance—what’s in my body, what this instrument does or is interested in, the way it works and the way I work it.
On another note, can you tell me a bit about Antistatic, the dance event— the impetus to set that up and how it’s panned out.
Angharad Wynne-Jones (then Artistic Director, Performance Space) set it up in 1997. Mathew Bergan was involved, Sue-Ellen Kohler and myself and Eleanor Brickhill, and others…It was quite a large group. In 1999, I curated it with Sue-Ellen and Zane Trow (the next artistic director). We wanted to bring to the fore dance practices that we felt were not given enough support here and to acknowledge the work of established practitioners who were doing amazing things in these areas and had been working away at it for years. We were trying to elevate their work and open up the notion of practice. It was definitely a choice for me to focus on the newer approaches to the body—Contact Improvisation, Body-mind centering®, release work and improvisation. It was very particular and I think that’s good. It didn’t take care of all aspects of dance, but there’s plenty of time and space for other events that do that. In a way I felt there was a need for positive discrimination.
I did feel very attached to Antistatic and it was difficult when the group was opened up in 2001 [there was a return to a large curatorial committee] and the program was dispersed throughout the year. I’m really pleased that it has gone back to the concise, intense model this year.
Now I’ve stepped out of it and Julie-Anne Long and Performance Space will take it where they want and that’s great. I’ve let go. I didn’t want to leave a half-baked vision for them to realise. I’m sure it will be completely different. I was looking forward to doing it with Julie-Anne. I chose her because I felt she brought another point-of-view and we’d bounce off each other. I also think the climate has shifted and I would not do it the way I did last time. We are not in that space; for example, there is a lot of work happening now that crosses over into text and physical theatre, probably more than there was then. The landscape’s different now and I’m sure they’ll respond to that as much as they can.
See RealTime 48 for Part 1 of this interview: “Rosalind Crisp: a European future”, online or on page 28 of the print edition.
RealTime issue #49 June-July 2002 pg. web
© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org