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Matthew Day, Thousands Matthew Day, Thousands
photo Gareth Hart
TO SAY MATTHEW DAY “EXPLODED” ONTO THE AUSTRALIAN DANCE SCENE ALMOST FEELS LIKE AN UNDERSTATEMENT. IT’S ONLY ABOUT 10 MONTHS AGO THAT HE PREMIERED HIS FIRST FULL-LENGTH SOLO, THOUSANDS, AT MELBOURNE’S NEXT WAVE FESTIVAL. IN THE MEANTIME, THE WORK HAS HAD TWO REMOUNTS—AT LAST YEAR’S SYDNEY FRINGE AND AT THE 2011 DANCE MASSIVE. DAY ALSO PREMIERED A NEW WORK, CANNIBAL, AS PART OF THIS YEAR’S SYDNEY GAY & LESBIAN MARDI GRAS. INCLUSION IN SHORT WORK PROGRAMS SUCH AS CAMPBELLTOWN ARTS CENTRE’S DANCE HISTORY AND LUCY GUERIN INC’S PIECES FOR SMALL SPACES HAVE FURTHER CONTRIBUTED TO A SUSTAINED VISIBILITY.

At the recent National Dance Forum in Melbourne, Day spoke on a panel titled “The Next Generation.” As is often the case, though, with artists whose first works create something of a splash, the perception that they have come out of nowhere, materialised from thin air, is deceptive.

“I made my first dance pieces when I was like six,” says Day, now 31. “I made pieces for my sister and my friends all the time. We’d perform them in front of our families. But everybody does that, no? Nothing unusual, really.” Well, maybe not. Slightly more unusual, perhaps, is the fact that Day took up ballroom dancing when he was 15. And not only that: two years later, he and his dance partner, a daughter of world champions, came third in the Australian Championships (youth division) and were crowned Pan Pacific Youth Champions. His career as ballroom dancer, however, finished as quickly as it began when his dance partner decided to change partners. What then?

Day didn’t discover contemporary dance until he was 20, when he first attended the Sydney Dance Company open classes. Once hooked, he decided to pursue dance as a regularactivity and enrolled in the dance course at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) in 2003. After two years he called it quits and continued his studies at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) only to leave after the first year and relocate to Amsterdam in 2006. After a bit of a false start, narrowly missing out in the auditions for the prestigious School for New Dance Development (SNDO), Day ended up staying in Amsterdam for three years. In retrospect he considers that time an extremely important formative period.

“I was living in squats, always organising, always trying to make things happen. Pretty much everything was done on a DIY principle.” Together with his close friend, Australian dancer Noha Ramadan, Day put on queer performance events at which they also performed. One of them, Blue Monday, ran for three months, each Monday, and always featured a 10-minute duet by Day and Ramadan, usually performed to a couple of well-known pop songs and often made up only shortly before they went on. The aim of the exercise was to explore “instant choreography.” The premise was that “things didn’t have to be good.” It was more about “unblocking creative powers,” Day says. “Learning serious things while having fun.”

It was in Amsterdam that Day started up a rigorous physical regime consisting of yoga, swimming, running, cycling and strength work. He also spent endless hours in rehearsal studios by himself, developing a solo practice and incessantly reading cultural theory and philosophy with the works of Gilles Deleuze a declared favourite. Day says that what he took away from his Amsterdam years was the need to be resourceful, continuously making do with what was there and not asking for anything else. This lesson, he claims, stood him in good stead when he returned to Australia in 2009 to establish himself as an independent dance maker.

Shortly after his return, Day applied to the Next Wave Festival for inclusion in their 2010 program. His application was successful and in the following year he presented his solo Thousands. That’s when things started to take off for him. Thousands was largely received positively by critics, peers and audiences, drawing praise for its conceptual and physical rigour. Even though he had occasionally performed solo in the past, Day clearly considers Thousands his solo debut. “I would say Thousands is my first album,” he laughs. “I might have made a few singles along the way.” And how does he feel about the increased interest in his work? “It’s exciting. I’m aware that it’s partly because I’m new on the scene. But the interest in my work definitely makes me more interested in what I do and keeps me committed.”

 Matthew Day, Cannibal Matthew Day, Cannibal
photo Gareth Hart
After presenting Cannibal, his second full-length work, in Sydney earlier this year, Day is scheduled to start work on a new piece in October, which, together with its predecessors, will form a three-part series. Day sees Trilogy as an opportunity “to look at the same questions from different perspectives. What all these works will have in common is my interest in exploring the body as a site of infinite potential and constant transformation, creating intensely physical states of continual becoming.” The construction of Trilogy, Day says, is based on the idea that each piece evolves from questions produced by the previous one. Where Thousands, for example, explored microscopic movement, having Day’s body moving extremely slowly for an extended period of time, Cannibal presented the body in continual pulsing repetition, traversing the space. Day expects the third piece in the series, as yet untitled, to be somewhat more energetic, maybe euphoric even. “It’s some kind of release I’m after.”

Day thinks of his works as “operative rather than representational.” He explains: “It’s as if some kind of operation is taking place. The focus is on what is happening, not what does it mean? My choreography is not interesting as such, it works through its accumulative effect and how it unfolds over time.”

Judging by Thousands and Cannibal, both staged with great attention to detail in terms of their ‘look,’ it seems Day prefers a minimalist aesthetic. “Yes. I have always liked the analogy of shooting a gun with a silencer. The effect is just as powerful but it makes less noise. I like understatement. I like subtlety. At the same time I am interested in intensity and extremity.”

What is striking when listening to Day speak about his work is how articulate and assured he is. He exudes the quiet confidence of someone who knows he has done the hard yards and that the attention bestowed on him is the result of what he has invested to achieve it. It is easy to imagine that Matthew Day is in dance for the long haul. He is practically bursting with ideas: “Eventually, I would like to make duets and group works. I’d also be interested in creating a durational performance installation and possibly even curating a gallery event that brings together works by performance makers and visual artists.”

For the time being, however, Matthew Day is going to stick with the solo form: “There is an increased responsibility when working with others. I feel I need more space and time to myself so I can become clearer and find out more about my choreographic concerns. And also,” he smiles and for a moment it looks as if he is a little surprised by what he is about to reveal, “I have the feeling, I can’t put my finger on it yet, that further down the track there is a solo which I’m not yet ready to make.”


See also Pauline Manley's review of Cannibal, and Keith Gallasch's review of Thousands.

RealTime issue #102 April-May 2011 pg. 30

© Martin del Amo; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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