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Tobiah Booth-Remmers, Lisa Griffiths, Lewis Rankin, Skeleton Tobiah Booth-Remmers, Lisa Griffiths, Lewis Rankin, Skeleton
photo Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions

McGowans’ first full-length work, Skeleton, will premiere at the 2013 Adelaide Festival and then play at Dance Massive in Melbourne. Meanwhile, the short work Fanatic, which premiered in Sydney’s Spring Dance festival last year will feature as one of three works in Sydney Dance Company’s De Novo, opening in March.

Born and dance-trained in Brisbane, McGowan subsequently graduated from the VCA, joined ADT in 2000, toured internationally with the company and became assistant choreographer to ADT Artistic Director Garry Stewart in 2008. She’s won Helpmann, Green Room and Australian dance awards; created Zero-sum for WOMADelaide in 2009; was a guest choreographer for two seasons of So You Think You Can Dance; greatly impressed with Slack, performed by ADT in the 2009 Spring Dance season (RT94, p38) and toured to France and Holland by Link Dance Company; created Transducer for a Tasdance double bill; and premiered Fanatic in Spring Dance 2012 for Sydney Dance Company’s Contemporary Women program.


Fanatic is as physically precise and dextrously realised as you would expect from McGowan. Three dancers lipsynch the YouTube voices of besotted fans of the Alien and Predator films, but more than that they become the creatures, at once funny and frightening. McGowan tells me that her collaborator on Skeleton is theatre director Sam Haren: “We did a piece many years ago, a solo work made on myself, called Theatrical Trailer to Alien 5. Fanatic, for Spring Dance last year, was an extension of that. The process with Sam was just so interesting because I was working with somebody from a theatre background. So we thought, why don’t we use this process to make a full-length work?” That work is Skeleton.

I spoke by phone with McGowan about Skeleton, a work that conjures up aspects of the artist’s childhood memories centred around certain beloved objects and cultural artefacts. But more than that, it’s about the body’s dangerous engagement with those objects, be they bikes or bats (see our cover image). Fundamental to that, of course, is damage to the skeleton. This has led McGowan not only to reflect on growing up and physical trauma, but also the nature of the skeleton, including the ways that artists regard it and the prostheses like high-heeled shoes and instruments with which we extend it.

How would you describe the structure of Skeleton?

A puzzle. Pieces of life you see being formed and re-formed onstage, conjuring questions about who the person was, what they looked like, what kind of life they lived and how they died. It’s been a really great way to structure a work choreographically, exploring in a kind of archaeological way, putting things together. For me it’s really about the material reality of the skeleton, that final trace of a human being, and about traumas and their effect on our psyche in a collage of images.

When you say a collage, what sort do you have in mind?

The five dancers in this work are very different, unique-looking movers. They’re oddities in their own way, fused together. And the objects we’re looking at in Skeleton have pretty much come from 80s, 90s popular culture. They’re things that remind me of my youth, and movies at the time.

What kind of things?

Skateboards and BMXs and bats—all the things that can cause trauma just through playing. The people I researched in order to make this work were looking at the same era of objects. For instance, Ricky Swallow is a phenomenal Australian artist who makes objects—his skulls resonate with a dark kind of feeling. I like that playful, ironic look—the skull in a hoodie—that brings up things from my past that I think are dark, but humorous in some way.

We have five objects and five dancers. There’s a bike, a skateboard, a baseball bat. There’s a T-shirt because at the time people were wearing slogans. There’s also the heel of a shoe. Some of these objects came from looking at the work of UK artist Nick Veasey who does amazing X-ray image stuff where you actually see the ‘skeleton’ of an object. It’s really quite beautiful. There’s a bone-like stability [in the shoes in Veasey’s picture] that looks like an extension of the bone of a woman’s leg through the heel to the ground. I find it interesting that things that we use and wear really can become a part of our own body structure. [See]

Is there a design element in Skeleton beyond bodies and objects?

There are screens that move across the space in order to suggest the feeling of things being removed and put back in place, but you don’t actually see a dancer or object actually enter. Design has become a huge part of this piece.

Lisa Griffiths, Larissa McGowan, Skeleton Lisa Griffiths, Larissa McGowan, Skeleton
photo Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions

And who has designed it?

Jonathon Oxlade. He’s quite amazing. I wanted something very simple and very clear in its design in order to enhance what’s going on in the movement onstage. And it’s really done its job. It’s great.

And what about sonically? In what I’ve seen of your work there’s a very precise connection between sound and movement.

I think it drives the movement that I do. I love to hear layers. That’s one of the things that’s amazing about the human body when we’re trying to make movement—just the number of layers and systems within our bodies that can work so cohesively. The composer is Jethro Woodward whom I’ve worked with quite regularly. He can work with any type of instrument. It’s a recorded score but it’s going to be tricky because, as usual for me because I enjoy it, it will work very, very tightly with the movement, [but not all the time] because the work needs layers and it needs texture.

Would you like the audience to go away sensing the body as a bit more complex and strange?

Well, that would be lovely if it were possible. But I really wanted to make a piece—my first full-length work—that actually is about dance. It’s not about the technology that I’m seeing in dance everywhere. I really want to go back and remind myself, and hopefully others, that dance is an amazing artform due to the fact that it’s all coming from inside the human body.

I’m excited to create movement that is still virtuosic without it being the trademark stuff that I’ve done in the past. I’d like to tap into a younger audience that might not know exactly what contemporary movement can be—making it accessible for everyone.

You are performing in Skeleton?

Yes. I really appreciate choreographers who have come from a dance background and who continue to persevere as dancers while making work. I think that being in both worlds really assists in your own practice in both areas. That’s what I strive for.

Are you already fantasising the work that will come after this or is this enough for the moment?

Hopefully Skeleton will give me a platform to start producing new work. I’ve definitely got lots of people I’ve been talking to about future projects. But I feel like I just need to make sure that this one is heading in the right direction first before I jump into the deep end.

Adelaide Festival, Skeleton, directors Larissa McGowan, Sam Haren, AC Arts Main Theatre, March 2-9; Dance Massive, Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, Melbourne, March 15-23; Sydney Dance Company, De Novo, works by Rafael Bonachela, Alexander Ekman, Larissa McGowan, Sydney Theatre, March 1-23

See Philippa Rothfield's preview of Dance Massive 2013

RealTime issue #113 Feb-March 2013 pg. 26

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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