Dance criticism, writing, and discourse

I’ve just realised that a video exists of the panel I joined, at Australian Dance Forum 2015, with the brilliant Matt Day, Jordan Beth Vincent, and Vicki van Hout, to discuss the relationship between dance and writing. Chair Ashley Dyer navigated us fantastically, and we had a really good time.

All the really thorny questions get raised – can you review dance is you can’t dance?. what is the value of a review?, can dance professionals write?, how do you write about dance? – and at the time we felt we discussed them extremely well.

Hope you enjoy.

Audio Stage, s.4, ep.2: Rachel Perks, and some thoughts

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If there is a voice of the new generation of Australian women, Rachel Perks is it. I have been in awe of this young, but very wise, woman, for a few years now, watching a string of shows that attack head-on some of the most toxic and problematic assumptions about what it means to be a woman today. Having her on Audio Stage, talking with Beth and myself, was a rare and precious opportunity to get under the pink, so to say, of womanhood in Australia today: how to deal with our hatred of our bodies, of our emotions, of our needs and desires.

“Feminism is still, in most circles, seen as radical… What you’re really saying is, misogyny is equatable with normativity.”
– Rachel Perks

What is interesting about the contemporary queer performance in Australia is that it diverges significantly from the queer historical canon. Our episode with Zvonimir Dobrović opened that conversation already: queer art used to be about the body. Queer identity, somewhat in parallel, used to be about the body. Butch or femme? Twink or bear? Trans or cis? How do you have sex? What got lost, and what this new wave of Australian queer performance is unearthing – and I am watching it with immense interest, because nothing else exists anywhere else in the world – is emotion.

Emotions are feminised and invalidated, says Rachel in the conversation, and this is what makes her show Ground Control so heart-breakingly important. What makes it queer sci-fi is not simply that the main character is queer: it is the emotional landscape she brings out, a landscape of care and invalidation, of self-hatred and success, that is so fundamental to being a woman because, as Nora Samaran says in her incredible essay, in a culture that does not expect men to show up for their own emotions, women get blamed for unaddressed male shame.

We discuss rape, in this episode, I should say. We discuss sexual assault with a candidness that is still too often lacking. We discuss it carefully, but you should still listen with care, because sexual assault is a topic that hurts, and sometimes it seems there is not enough warmth in the world, not enough hugs, to make that hurt go away. And we discuss sexual assault close to home.

No one is going to prosecute this person. How do we deal with this situation? My only answer was, let’s just get all these women in a room. Because that’s something that doesn’t happen: women are not allowed to speak to each other about their experience and feel that their experience is valid.”
– Rachel Perks

This is the part of the conversation that re-emerged in editing as a stand-out statement. I have thought about it a lot, this month, as I publish two pieces about rape, one here, one in print, soon.

I have long found the concept of radical honesty very interesting, because it has the potential to cut through that shame that cloaks the lives of so many of us, as we’re stumbling to play perfectly our roles of man, woman, girl, boy. I teach a class at the VCA, in which we delve deep into gender and race performance, and it is a class that has over the years become a sacred space of intimacy and confession, and in which I try, as best as I can, to hold space as sadness and grief emerge. To validate, and frame, experiences, as not unique, not shameful, and not too horrible to be heard, accepted, embraced. The change in public discourse helps: this essay, by Alison Croggon, helped; this video, by Van Badham, helped. No one has the obligation to talk about their personal experiences, far from it. But the space it opens up,

In that amazing apology to the LGBT folk on behalf of the state, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews quoted Peter McEwen say: “We learnt to say ‘black is beautiful, women are strong – and gay is good.’ Once I learnt I was good, it led me to question everyone who said I was evil and sick.”

In a certain sense, I am thinking as I am releasing this precious, precious conversation into the world, the queerest thing one can do as a woman is to talk with other women, as women. To bypass that discourse of shame and invalidation. To tell each other that we are good. As we are.

Thank you, Rachel.

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I started Audio Stage because so often our conversations, in the arts, remain short and snappy and commercial: we put on our best faces to sell our shows, and we sell it as entertainment and as inoffensive and as fun, fun above everything. And yet, we are not doing justice to Australian art when we do so. We are not doing justice to the personal, political, moral, and imaginative quests that our artists are actually undertaking. To give an artist a large space, to let them speak about what they do and how with a greater grounding in our society – that is why these long conversations happen.

We hope you enjoy them.

Discussed in this episode:
that Cyborg Manifesto, I Love Dick, femme invisibility a.k.a. what a lesbian should look like, The L Word, being angry while a woman, sexual assault in our circles and what can be done about it, the validity of emotions, queer emotions, emotions in Australia, and ‘Why do people think that women are debasing themselves when we reveal the conditions of our own debasement?’

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

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Audio Stage, s.4, ep.1: Zvonimir Dobrovic

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This year, we splice up our seasons: to our season of conversations on value and price of dance performance, we are adding one that has been on our minds for some time, one that we have been keen to discuss.

Queer is a season we have been meaning to do for a long time – and this conversation with Zvonimir was recorded during that preparation. Queer performance, which has been so important in defining queer identity, queer theory, queer practices, is having a powerful resurgence today. And yet – what is queer? What is not queer? How does queer exist in performance? How does queer performance exist in the world? What is its political power, and what its aesthetic urgency?

Zvonimir Dobrovic, the curator of Queer Festival in Zagreb and New York, is one of the seminal figures of queer performance today: curator, presenter, taste-shaper, conversation-shaper. Zvonimir was in Australia to give a lecture at Performance Space in Sydney and see some work at Dance Massive in Melbourne, and we jumped at the opportunity to talk to him. Queer Festival was very important in Croatia, both as a very visible part of the LGBT activism in the 200s, and for decisively redefining the notion of queer away from the narrow LGBT question and into a broader political gesture of resisting normativity. In this episode, we take time to talk about formative experiences, about being young, and about how arts festivals are so conducive to falling in love.

“Queer is everything outside the norm. It is subversive, but never violent.”

Discussed in this episode:
what we did in the 1990s, James Welshby’s HEX, what is gay and what is queer, the tabloid press, teaching tolerance in schools, barebacking in Australia, BalletLab’s Kingdom, Jerome Bel makes queer art!, single mothers are queer, heteronormativity, the monochrome Western uniform of LGBT sexuality, pulling flags out of your pussy VS lesbian pottery, whether art can really change the world, and how, if you must be gay in patriarchy, at least don’t be a bottom.

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

audio stage, s.3, ep.2: deborah jowitt

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And today, Angela, Beth, and I talk with Deborah Jowitt, the seminal dance critic. To say she is everyone’s idol is an enormous understatement: Deborah has taught me not only how to write about dance, but how to look at dance, and how to see dance. The conversation was held during the weeks of Keir Choreographic Award, which gave us a rare opportunity to discuss Australian contemporary dance with someone who really knows a lot – and to talk about what value has been created, and continue to be created, by dance criticism.

As often happens with Audio Stage, it was a very emotional experience. Please have a listen, enjoy, and share.

If somebody says it’s a dance, it’s a dance and we’ll deal with it.

Discussed in this episode:
it’s not ‘the body’, but ‘the dancers'; the 1960s revolution against elitism; incorporating the building janitor into a choreography; pilates; Keir Choreographic Awards, and where is the dancing in contemporary dancing?; ideas that cannot be physically fleshed out – what fuels it in Australia?; the overuse of the word ‘ephemeral'; how to legitimise a new form; Judson Dance Theater; how criticism creates desire; and that not being a good artist doesn’t mean you’re not a good person.

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

Audio Stage, s.3, ep.1: Chrysa Parkinson

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And Audio Stage is back, for a season in which we look at price and value of that most ephemeral of all performing arts: dance. Angela Conquet, the AD of Dancehouse, and I, will speak to an incredible line-up of international dance thinkers, and we start with esteemed dancer and thinker Chrysa Parkinson.

Chrysa now lives in Brussels, after many years in New York, where she worked with Tere O’Connor Dance. In Europe, she has worked with Boris Charmatz, Rosas/Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Jonathan Burrows, Mette Ingvartsen, Phillip Gehmacher, Eszter Salomon, John Jasperse, Deborah Hay, Meg Stuart, and many others. She is an esteemed pedagogue, teaching annually at PARTS and is currently Director of the New Performative Practices MFA program at DOCH/Uniarts in Stockholm. Chrysa would say that her practice is dance.

Chrysa was in Australia as part of Adrian Heathfield’s project ghost telephone presented by the Biennale of Sydney, and in Melbourne invited by Dancehouse as part of the Keir Choreographic Award public program. It was such a pleasure to speak with this beautiful mind about the creativity and importance of doing, the false split between the mind and the body, and Richard Sennett. This episode of our little podcast has truly lived up to our wildest ambitions for Audio Stage.

I am always attended by what I called the ‘art dog’, which is just there: pretty big, at my shoulder, a little bit of a nice wet nose, it’s kinda looking around, it sees: ‘that’s life, that’s art’.

Discussed in this episode:
dance as manual labour, choreography as middle management; working with Deborah Hay; Richard Sennett arguing with Hannah Arendt about the importance of handiwork; the split between thingliness and beingness; who owns a choreography?; teaching as ‘trafficking in procedures'; differences in audiences between New York and Europe, where afterwards at the bar other artists just say ‘hi'; and can praise replace a living wage?

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

Audio Stage, s.3.1, ep.1: Andrew Haydon

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This week, Jana speaks with independent theatre critic, Andrew Haydon, about audiences, histories and European vs English theatre.

Andrew is one of the few British theatre critics who regularly travels around Europe to see new work, and who is conversant in contemporary European theatre (and not just what happens on the British Isles), approaching it with a distinctly British, but never parochial, perspective. In his writing for The Guardian, Time Out, Exeunt Magazine, and in his respected blog Postcards from the Gods, Andrew has long championed unusual work, difficult work, and has often argued that the British theatre is unnecessarily conservative in terms of form and interest.

“I always wonder what it would be like to get a hardcore German theatre theoretician in to watch a load of the really hardcore naturalistic productions that still exist in Britain but just tell them “it’s all a concept” and they are not allowed to go “oh, you’re just being British”. They have to believe that it’s a metaphor. How that would read? I’m sure there’s actually some really creative thinking if we didn’t all just go “urgh! It just looks like a room. It’s meant to look like that.” If we actually thought about it more creatively. There’s probably better ways we could understand what’s going on. There is craft in the way these things are put together, obviously. But craft and possibly not philosophy.”
– Andrew Haydon

Discussed in this episode:
‘Live art’ and its global history, stage metaphor, the white male default, new writing and authorship, national identity, what defines a ‘national theatre history’, the demographics of theatre goers, the importance of arts writing, the fallibility of the critic and can theatre ever just be bad?

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

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Audio Stage, s.2, ep.5: Esther Anatolitis & Angharad Wynne-Jones

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In our momentous final, fifth episode on responsibility, Fleur and Jana spoke with two great women of the Australian performing arts: all-round cultural leaders Angharad Wynne-Jones, Artistic Director of Arts House Melbourne, and Esther Anatolitis, Director of Regional Arts Victoria (formerly CEO of Melbourne Fringe). In an emotional ending to the series, we touch on some important, often neglected questions: how do we create an ecology that supports the artist, as well as the arts?”

“Risk is not so risky. It’s a necessity. It is how forms develop, how we find new audiences, new artists, how cultural conversations happen.”
– Angharad Wynne-Jones

This is a very special episode. Angharad and Esther spoke with an authenticity and feeling that is rare in public discourse. We felt very privileged to have them with us, and we all left in tears.

Discussed in this episode:
George Brandis, being a person with a ‘decision-making potential and capacity to be confused’, the future, ‘creating new artistic frameworks for established arts companies’ and what that could possibly mean, the difference between advocacy and lobbying, audiences, the importance of having rigorous conversations about art, being accountable to the rate-payers of the City of Melbourne, bushfires, Kat Muscat, burn-out, and what is cultural leadership anyway?!

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

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Audio Stage, s.2, ep.4: Jolyon James & Sonya Suares

This week, Fleur speaks with Sonya Suares and Jolyon James on how the concept of responsibility relates to the actor: the responsibility of the actor, of the director to the actor, diversity in casting and the potential impact of not providing a multiplicity of stories and voices for our stages, and the responsibilities of creating work for children.

“There’s a consciousness that needs to be put around the way that we behave. We can’t just keep patting ourselves on the back or excusing it: ‘We’re creating art! It’s not real!’ It is also really happening to somebody.”
– Sonya Suares

Discussed in this episode:
Finding the ‘truth’ as an actor or lying about finding it, 8 Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography, creating a sense of safety in the rehearsal room, onstage nudity and vulnerability, We Get It, drama schools, bullying in the rehearsal room, actors learning to say ‘no’, sexual abuse within creative exploration, experiences of acting and casting as a woman of colour, the transformative body of the white actor, racial dramaturgy, Arena Theatre Company, creating work for children.

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

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audio stage, s.2, ep. 3: roslyn oades

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In the third episode of our season on responsibility in art, we talked to Roslyn Oades, director, actor and a pioneer in the field of headphone verbatim theatre. We talked about responsibility in the field of verbatim theatre: what it means to represent someone else’s story, building a right of reply into your work, ethical eavesdropping and how the response and willingness of the individual participant does not necessarily reflect the response of the community they are a part of.

“I am very interested in the question of who’s allowed to say what in Australia.”

-Roslyn Oades

Discussed in this episode: 
The manipulative power of the voice, whose allowed to say what in Australian society, the actor’s body as a piece of documentary, authenticity and the illusion of authenticity, verbatim theatre and the responsibility an artist has to their participants, Brecht and alienation, Ugly Mugs and the reaction of the sex worker community, community engagement.

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

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Published in 2015/2016

THE GUARDIAN
Audience takes centre stage in pioneering virtual reality dance film, review of Stuck in the Middle With You virtual reality film, a collaboration between ACMI, Sydney Dance Company, and Gideon Obarzanek, 7 March 2016
Festival of Live Art review – nudity and confessions on the outer edges of experimental theatre, review of the first week of FOLA, 8 March 2016
Vitesse review – Australian Ballet serves ambitious contemporary triple bill, review of Australian Ballet’s contemporary bill, 15 March 2016

REALTIME
Francophone dance; a difference, RealTime 131, Feb-Mar 2016, Belgium/Germany/France column #06. Includes: two works by Kevin Trappeniers and Daniel Léveillé.

THE LIFTED BROW
The Critic #04, in the episode ‘ANZAC’, The Lifted Brow 25, The Relaunch Issue, 1/2016
The Critic #05, in the episode ‘Depression’, The Lifted Brow 26, 2/2016
The Critic #06, in the episode ‘Break-Ups’, The Lifted Brow 27, 3/2016
The Critic #07, in the episode ‘Tony Abbott’, The Lifted Brow 28 (The Art Issue), 4/2016
The Critic #08, in the episode ‘Rebounds’, The Lifted Brow 29, 1/2016