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Sandra Parker, Document Sandra Parker, Document
photo Rachel Roberts
MELBOURNE CHOREOGRAPHER SANDRA PARKER’S LATEST WORK DOCUMENT, “AN IN-DEPTH EXPLORATION OF THE WAY IN WHICH A ROOM RETAINS THE RESIDUE OF HUMAN OCCUPATION,” WILL PREMIERE IN JULY. THE WORK IS EMERGING FROM A 14-WEEK RESIDENCY AT DANCEHOUSE. PARKER WAS ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF DANCE WORKS 1998-2006 MAKING DISTINCTIVE CROSS-ARTFORM CREATIONS. HER WORK HAS BEEN SHOWN INTERNATIONALLY, INCLUDING NEW YORK IN 2007 WITH THE VIEW FROM HERE, AND IN CHINA WITH PLAYHOUSE FOR THE GUANDONG MODERN DANCE COMPANY.

Will you physically create a room or use video and movement to do so?

I’m interested in trying to evoke a room, a rehearsal or performance space in image and light; and also through using language to describe the qualities of the space. I’m keen to play with the juxtaposition of the actual performance space with details about the space conjured up by using other media. This may or may not confirm what is actually there in the ‘real’ space, or might have been there at another point in time.

Who are the artists you’re working with and how will each contribute to your exploration?

Rhian Hinkley (projection designer; see p29), Jenny Hector and Rose Connors Dance (lighting designers), Steven Heather (composer) and Rebecca Jensen (dancer) will bring responses to the ideas and offer material. Our collaborative approach is to see where the correspondences, counterpoints and parallels lie between forms then try to find combinations that open up and suggest ways of experiencing the ideas at play within the performance. For example, I might make movement that I think feels one way but, when watched with certain sounds, radically alters the perception of the movement. I look for ways to use collaborative material as active in the performance and not just ‘accompaniment’ to the main action. I’ve also asked performers I have worked with before to contribute to the process of making the work.

Precisely how do you generate the material—do you have a particular methodology?

I began the project by asking dancers Deanne Butterworth, Carlee Mellow and Joanna Lloyd— with whom I have worked previously, but who won’t be directly involved as performers in this project—to come into the studio with me and respond to a series of questions through a ‘performed interview’ about work we have created together. In one case, this spanned back some 15 years. I am interested in not only what they remember of the movement and why, but also other things that are remembered about making work. Responses have ranged from things like describing the atmosphere of the space, how they felt about what they did, how they approached performance and personal things that were going on in their lives at the time.

I’ve also been interested in trying to describe movement. The gap between what we think movement is, what we say about it, how it appears and if it can ever be ‘perfectly’ documented in language, video or sound; and also the sometimes vastly different perception of process, choreography and performance that can exist between the choreographer, external to the work and the dancer internal to it.

I’m working with Rebecca Jensen for the first time. We met at VCA and again when I led the Learning Curve residency for recent graduates at Dancehouse in 2010. Earlier this year Rebecca also came and worked on secondment during a creative development for my new project, The Recording. She represents a new generation of young Melbourne-based dancers. I was interested to work with someone with whom I have little history, as opposed to the long-term relationships I have with Deanne, Carlee and Jo. I am interested to see how Rebecca works with material that is passed on to her through these dancers and how it changes. What detail is maintained, or left behind.

Elsewhere you’ve used ‘documents’ to describe what comes out of your process?

By documents, I mean creative material. I usually work by generating a lot of material and collect movement phrases, sound, text, video material, then start layering things. I look for tension between elements: a summation of parts. The collected material will range from drafts of choreographic material to ‘formed’ phrases that we have decided are finished. I want to try to use everything—even if it isn’t necessarily ‘finished’ material.

You’ve expressed “an interest in capturing the physical traces and after-effects of movement once it has passed,” saying, “ Document will chronicle the evidence of events that are seemingly over and complete, yet somehow remain.” Given the preoccupation with “the now” in the work of a number of contemporary practitioners it’s fascinating to see you addressing traces. How did you come to this preoccupation?

I think this interest harks back to some really early works, in absentia (1997) for example, a work with 16mm film that I made with Margie Medlin. The ephemeral nature of dance is so fundamental to working in the form that it poses a central problem that I have always found challenging and opens up many questions about how to approach dance making. I’m interested in the problem of trying to capture movement—actually ‘choreograph’ it, to set it down, if in fact that is ever really possible. The problem of trying to set movement and then return to it and re-perform it, could be seen as a futile exercise in trying to reclaim that which can never be recaptured; but for me it also offers a way to question assumptions about what you think is ‘there’ and to make it anew, to reinvent, to ask what else movement can do.

The fact that movement is ephemeral lets you give it up and move in new directions. So if traces exist in the work they are there as tools to show this difference—not simply as nostalgic recollections, but to say, this is what it might have been, but now this is what it could be.

You’ve written, “the process of creating Document will seek to investigate how choreography can be understood as a record of bodily memory and sensation.” What do you think the ramifications of this are for choreography?

A few years back I watched a documentary on the Ballet Russes that contained footage of company dancers re-enacting choreography. I was struck by how their bodies held very clear sensations of movement, even though they weren’t leaping through the air. I was intrigued by how this represented a dance experience because much of what we normally expect from dance was completely taken away, yet it felt so ‘full.’ I became interested in the ramifications of this for choreography, to move beyond representation or conceptualising movement to the co-presence of phenomena interior to the body as it moves. I’m interested in exploring the possibility of creating a poetic choreographic rendering that envelops and embeds a density of experiential phenomena under the surface of choreography, what French dance writer Laurence Louppe suggests is “the tracing of what the letter does not say, but where another text shows through, another reading of living substance.”

I think this is especially relevant given the current preoccupation in dance with needing to produce ‘product’ that has a sense of solidity about it. Or that appeals directly to particular tastes or markets or can be identifiable in certain terms. I am interested in trying to open up and question what is there before us on stage.


You’ll find reviews of Sandra Parker’s works in our extensive 1994-present
archive, RealTimeDance

Sandra Parker, Document, from Housemate VII Residency, Dancehouse, July 27-31; www.dancehouse.com.au

RealTime issue #103 June-July 2011 pg. 33

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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