For many years now, there has one major resource for researching contemporary Australian dance, and that has been RealTime online. In terms of the breadth of artists covered–whether east or west coast, emerging or established, company or project-based, locally-oriented or internationally networked—there is no other resource that offers the big picture of the field of play for dance in Australia.
For the first time, in this archive RealTime draws a line under this contribution by collecting and arranging articles, interviews and reviews that provide unprecedented information on Australian dance over the past 17 years. Beyond the mere scale of the collection, it is the editorial work of Keith Gallasch and Virginia Baxter that underscores its value: having the right person at the right place at the right time.
What RealTime offers readers is consistent coverage of an artist, tracking their development and major ‘moves’ both nationally and internationally. This commitment year-by-year has a substantial pay-off in terms of documentation for a local disciplinary field where repertoire and remounts are rare, touring opportunities are scarce and mainstream media coverage is slight. There is an impression that through the pages of RealTime, you have access to key players and important newcomers and can ‘witness’ the major moments of these artists who may be working anywhere in the country. This also means you can begin to map connections and shifts across artists and communities—discerning the morphology of the terrain for Australian contemporary dance across time and space—that would otherwise be impossible. Through delivering and sustaining this web of information, RealTime has been a major contributor to a sense of national community for Australian dance artists and others working in the field.
Of course a key element here is the quality of the writing, and again the challenges for dance are specific. Writing about dance is not easy given the artform works outside the structures of knowledge that have been built alongside language. And perhaps for this reason writings on dance have, historically, taken an experimental approach from Stéphane Mallarmé’s symbolist approach when negotiating turn-of-the-century dance, to the radically descriptive turn of Village Voice critics such as Deborah Jowitt dealing with American postmodern dance in the 1970s. The editorial approach at RealTime has allowed writers to continue this experiment where desired.
Across all forms, RealTime has provided a place for writers to develop their craft alongside developments in the field of practice. Commissioned dance writers have been free to find the right language for the specific work they encounter. For this reason, RealTimeDance includes some of the most considered, intelligent and informed articles by people committed to both dancing and writing. One result has been some significant ‘dialogues’ such as Eleanor Brickhill’s writings on Rosalind Crisp, Philipa Rothfield on Shelley Lasica, or more recently John Bailey on Lucy Guerin. Rarer, important voices on dance also appear in the archive, including Sarah Miller, Amanda Card and Rachel Fensham, while new writers such as Martin Del Amo and Jane McKernan found their voice with the support of RealTime writing workshops.
The work that these writers are inspired by is conjured through image and word, and is testimony to the creativity and resourcefulness of some of Australia’s most under-resourced artists. Over 150 Australian choreographers and 35 companies are represented in the archive to date and RealTime has followed many of them overseas and back again. Strong connections with film and video, new media, performance, writing and the visual arts is threaded through and across the work, and references to genres from ballet to somatic practices and traditional dance forms jump and dart from artist to artist. Genealogies are shared: significant mentors such as Nanette Hassall, Margaret Lasica and Russell Dumas pop up again and again. The period covered by the archive marks a time of major evolution for the form in Australia with an unprecedented number of migrations both to and from our studios, significant changes to the landscape of major companies, a steep upward curve in training resources for dancers and choreographers working outside classical ballet, and a subsequent burgeoning in dance artists pursuing their own movement research.
An editorial commitment at RealTime to publishing interviews with artists has resulted in an exciting aspect of the archive. The words of the choreographers themselves are really at the heart of this resource, and are of course invaluable to fellow artists, students and researchers alike. Debunking archetypes of the inarticulate dancer, these interviews demystify choreographic process, revealing so much about each artist's genealogy, approach, practice and awareness of their place within both dance and the broader arts milieu. The interviews go a long way toward allowing the reader into the world of contemporary dance, a world that has been unnecessarily closed off to non-practitioners in Australia mainly due to a ringing silence that has encased the form. RealTime has provided a forum for discourse and dialogue around dance in an environment that is slowly, slowly changing.
While the Australian journal Writings on Dance has had a long-term commitment to writings by dancer/theorists working within specific terms of reference, the recent Campbelltown Arts Centre catalogue for What I Think When I Think About Dancing (2009) provides important shared space for dancers and writers, while the Ausdance journal Brolga #33 (2010), edited by Amanda Card, includes writing by several Australian dance artists including Shelley Lasica, Martin Del Amo, Trevor Patrick and Helen Herbertson. These publications, along with other online resources such as the National Library’s Australia Dancing collection, constitute the broader field to which the RealTimeDance archive will contribute. A forthcoming book on Australian dance from Routledge as part of its Celebrating Dance in Asia and the pacific series has also been slated.
Along with the comprehensive range of Australian choreographers described above, RealTimeDance features 12 choreographers included in a projected publication, 12 Australian Choreographers (Eds. Virginia Baxter and Erin Brannigan). This set of artists was selected for a book that forms a companion to the online archive. Selection criteria included the longevity of the artists’ careers and body of work, their influence on other dancers and choreographers and their international standing. This important publication goes some way toward filling a gap in current literature on Australian performing arts and an acute need in dance studies at secondary and tertiary education levels where international artists are the usual subjects of major studies. Each chapter in 12 Australian Choreographers consists of a profile, critical essay and key interview, linking these to a major work that will serve as a case study. The archive pages for these 12 artists include links to resources beyond RealTime including reviews in local, national and international press and links to the publications mentioned above.
Other aspects of the archive include sections on international artists (such as major players Akram Khan, Alain Plaitel, Deborah Hay and Jerome Bel), festivals (Montpellier, Lyon, Nottingham), and a dance screen section that highlights the commitment from RealTime to nurturing a new field of practice within dance and across forms. An important focus is education and it is here that RealTime shows real commitment to the future of the art form. More than a dozen articles in this section from a broad variety of writers map the increasing tension in Australian universities as the technical training/research tug-of-war continues to play out. Senior academic Maggi Philips, then post-graduate fellow Yuji Sone, practitioner/lecturer Shaun McLeod and others repeatedly investigate issues relating to training, independent creativity, industry networking and research. This is a strand of discourse that benefits greatly from RealTime’s national remit and will no doubt continue to find a forum in its pages.
Dr Erin Brannigan's career includes being a dancer, dance journalist, academic and curator of films and installations that feature the moving body. She teaches Dance History and Dance Analysis and Composition at the University of New South Wales. Brannigan's first book is Dancefilm: Choreography and the Moving Image (New York: OUP, 2011). Her essay, Moving Across Disciplines: Dance in the 21st Century, in the Currency House Platform Paper series, explores interdisciplinarity in contemporary Australian dance.