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tess de quincey & stuart lynch: dancing the city

keith gallasch, compression 100, de quincey lynch, rt11


Stuart Lynch, Tess de Quincey, Identity Stuart Lynch, Tess de Quincey, Identity
photo Freddy Tornberg
Tess De Quincey and Stuart Lynch brief Keith Gallasch about 100 collaborative, free, unrehearsed performances scheduled for Sydney in May

Posing the questions “Can a city be danced” and “To what extent do artists form the shape, sound and feeling of a city?”, two Butoh-trained performers will collaborate directly and indirectly with Sydney artists (performers, musicians, visual artists etc.) in one hundred performances and sites. The discussion began with Lynch and De Quincey describing where they are working now and why.

SL We had been doing many performances across Europe and Australia and it was becoming difficult to do certain choreographic projects that needed a firmer base. So in a way, the next step was to form one base in Sydney and one in Denmark, and to see if that could work.

TD We’ve wanted to bring our work into some kind of arena which makes sense in relation to an Australian content as well, so that an exchange can take place. I guess I’m fascinated by the sense of a global basis and having people from different nationalities working together. I’ve been doing this for a long time, but I want it to make more sense, with a rich load of cultural referencing. I can find all nationalities in Sydney.

SL The idea is also that the project could form a formula, a module. More like a circle, not so specifically focused on two people. So we are collaborating with many different Sydney artists.

KG Would the same approach translate to Copenhagen?

SL We’re not sure yet. Because of the ‘new’ Europe it’s in a very different frame of mind from Australia. On the other hand, very exciting things are happening in the arts in both places cutting across practices.

KG You’ve added a high level of chance by planning one-off spontaneous collaborations with a lot of artists.

TD This project is really built around people, artists from Sydney who represent varying aspects of artistic discipline and the city. They represent certain areas of language and definition. We wanted to get hold of this whole grid of what Sydney is and represents.

KG How well do you know Sydney?

SL I’ve been coming here since ‘89, My father lives here but I grew up in England and with the myth of Australia. I don’t know it as well as people born and bred, but fairly well.

TD My mother was born here and her family is here. I wasn’t born here but my knowledge is strongly affected by my family background.

KG It’s good sometimes to have a sort of semi-grasp of a place, that outside-inside thing. Even for locals, it’s a tricky city. Like many a metropolis, it’s highly pluralised, hard to define.

SL The most difficult aspect is the size of it. To what extent can we deal with that?

TD Of course, we’d like to take hold of the whole animal.

KG It’s a time of rich exploration of the city in literature, visual arts and performance. There’s the debate about the Burley Griffin vision of Canberra, Richard Sennet’s new book about cities, Peter Greenaway’s big city projects, the 1996 Adelaide Festival focus on architecture, Adelaide and Canberra. Your approach, though, is quite different—involving many locals, very open-ended and looking for spontaneous responses.

TD We’re talking about a compression, a combustion, by bringing many things together. The immediacy of meeting and the ‘non-preparation’ can offer an enormous space to the collaborators. When we work we often have long preparation of basic training but we’ll actually put a performance together almost instantly. So we wanted to see how this would work in terms of meeting other people, A musician might rock in without any preparation and just do their thing on the spot. A visual artist might spend months thinking about it, or as long as we can give them when we first make the actual initial contact. We don’t want to meet and define whole areas of—“Well, are we going to do this, or are we going to do that?” It’s a matter of how we can make this space come together and open up the space for meeting through our practices.

KG How important is your selection of the collaborators?

SL What we’ve done is ask several people to choose for us, adding to the element of chance. We don’t want to send out some stiff questionnaire: “Do you want to be involved in non-narrative/narrative performance? Please include a CV.”

KG So it has to be informal.

SL Yes and no. There’s got to be a middle ground. But I imagine each collaboration will define its own codes and parameters.

TD We did ask our consultants to choose on the basis of finding people who represent different areas, generations and practices. It has nothing to do with whether or not we relate to their work, absolutely nothing. That’s going to be the challenge when we meet these people.

KG What spaces will you meet them in?

SL We’re investigating different venues all around the city, and hopefully many of the artists will also want to choose a specific site particularly for this collaboration.

TD The cross-points that spark: “Oh, my grandmother’s bathroom would be fabulous to do something in,” or “There’s a nook just down the street that I’ve had my eye on for years”.

KG Will you begin these spontaneous collaborations with a performative element of your own which the other person slots into, or do you wait until you see what they do?

SL I think it’s going to depend on the relationships being made as we meet. Probably we’ll have to define new strategies for each collaboration.

KG You write about “assaulting the language of dance and performance’. Now, there has been an ongoing assault on the language of dance and performance in theory and especially in practice for many years. For example, you acknowledge there’s a lot of interdisciplinary work that has happened in Sydney. How will one hundred meetings with a wide range of artists intersecting by chance affect notions of performance and dance?

TD One of the things that sparked this project was talking with a sculptor whose work we were immensely impressed by. When we actually came to mention performing in that space she looked absolutely amazed and said she couldn’t possibly envisage it. Our jaws dropped because the possibility had been so obvious to us. Why is there this gap? It must be possible to bridge. Is the problem because sculpture is assumed to relate to inanimation? So we started out partly from frustration. The issue lies in the relationship and awareness between history and matter and space.

SL We want to work with people who might never have even considered it. Sometimes the practice and theory get lost, they don’t meet, and what we very much want is for the theory to come from the practice of working with these people.

KG So you’d rather work with those who don’t already have some kind of formulated notion of the interdisciplinary? Because in Sydney there’s such a strong interknit performance scene, it’s very easy to create self-fulfilling projects.

SL I hope it’s a danger that we will get over by asking others to choose artists who represent a broad range of language.

TD Yes, but on the other hand, the ‘assault’ is also on our practice: the reality of performing three times a day is a massive assault on us and our language. We’re really wondering what is going to happen.

SL Our language has developed not only from our work together, but also from our experiences in Japan, and from the people we’ve been working with over the past few years. For us it’s very much about how that language can define these collaborations, and meet each performance, but also how it can be changed. How strong is that language, and how will it meet and move with the challenge from artists coming to work with us?

There is a bigger question for us at the moment of the legitimisation of Europeans working within the Butoh tradition. What we see a lot of is European performers who copy the image of a Japanese making Butoh. Without being xenophobic, I think it necessary at present to cut out the middle man. The actual essence of the works can also be found in a non Japanese body.

KG You trained with Min Tanaka and the Mai Juku Performance Company. Did Tanaka’s performance Subject, where he travelled the length of Japan and performed every day for three months, inspire this event?

TD Laterally. This was 20 years ago. He was talking about “dancing the space” and “in the space in which you are the space”. There’s now a great deal of talk of kinaesthetics and the body in the environment. For us, it’s great. Suddenly we’re talking with people who hadn’t hitherto really understood how we work in terms of the body as environment and this is straight from the tradition of Min Tanaka and his company. To go back to your point about Compression 100 being done around cities and whether it’s a physical or architectural sense, I think the body is the city.

KG The word ‘dance’ crops up every now and again in your notes as distinct from performance. Do you make a serious distinction between performance and dance?

TD For me, performing in Japan has often been extremely different from performing in Europe. The nature of the language that exists around performance in Japan is different. There are things which are considered natural in Japan but for which there is no language in the West. If you’re working within a Butoh tradition it has another set of definitions. As soon as you move outside this tradition it can be immensely problematic: the whole question of nothingness and to dance nothingness and to be nothingness and to have emptiness. For a Westerner, there is no language around emptiness.

KG How does that relate to performance and dance?

TD What I would consider to be dance, my audience won’t necessarily consider to be so in Australia. On the other hand it shifts around. If you’re in Paris there’s a lot more language around it because they’ve had Butoh performances since the seventies. But again, this has its own limits and it’s also very Parisian.

SL What’s interesting is that I do know when it’s dance and when it’s performance—I can recognise the differences, and yet where do they meet and where are they totally different? Are they ever the same? It’s a question of semantics. I very much want to go back to Japan and talk with Min again in order to ask him these questions. He’s always talked about ‘dancing the space’, so intrinsically it was ‘dance’ although his relation to ‘performance’ is strongly defined by ‘performance art’. He says ‘I dance the space’ Well, do you not ‘perform’ the space also? Whatever, we’re asking “Can a city be danced?” Or performed.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 4

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

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