Category Archives: dance

Audio Stage, e.3, ep.3: Bojana Cvejic, and some thoughts

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Bojana Cvejić has long been one of my intellectual idols, a dramaturg and performance scholar whose books, articles, and lectures show one of the most exemplary engagements with philosophy in the performing arts. Together with that other Bojana (Kunst), Cvejić thinks deeply, rigorously, and uncompromisingly about contemporary dance as a system, not merely of signification, but of production; of social relationships, modes of authorship, modes of creative and intellectual labour, modes of being, modes of citizenship -in her analysis, all are produced and reproduced in the arts just like they are would be on the factory floor. Bojana Cvejić’s enormous mind handles it all simultaneously, the ethical and the aesthetic and the pragmatic and the ideological. Reading her is always a pleasure. Speaking with her was momentuous.

“To affirm another politics of authorship means to control the conditions in which value is produced.”

What makes Cvejić particularly beautiful to listen is that she is not one of those thinkers who will throw a lot of ideas in the air as equally weighted possibilities, which cheapens them even when they have been thought through rigorously. Cvejić asserts, posits answers. Her thoughts form slowly and carefully and accurately, and listening to her is like watching a very large edifice – say, a bridge – being built from the bottom up, thought by careful thought, until an entire perspective on the world has sprung up.

“Artists… lack political education. I think it’s unclear to everyone what it means to be a citizen – this sense of belonging, of entitlement, of claiming, how one could be part of decision-making.”

In this conversation, which is so precious to me, Bojana charts the path that contemporary dance, as well as many kinds of participatory performance, have traversed since Bel and Le Roy’s experiments in the late 1990s, from collective authorship to participation and immersion. And this sentence keeps resounding in my mind: “I think it’s unclear to everyone what it means to be a citizen”.

Of all the art forms, theatre is singular in how closely it is related to participatory democracy, and yet how deeply, on the ground, it is immersed in what we might, for a lack of better word, term ‘narcissism’. There was a time when participatory performance offered the dream of restoring to theatre that dimension of political participation, that sense of agora; of us all coming together as people with rights, agency, ethics. To those of us interested in what it means to come together in real space, those of us who know the work of Brecht, Piscator, Boal, there was a sense that theatre was remembering its own political agency. And I still believe that theatre can play that role (as does Bojana, I believe): there have been performances recently, like Hot Brown Honey, like Zoe Coombs-Marr’s Trigger Warning, like Elbow Room’s We Get It, that left such a trail of electricity behind them: we were there, together, and something was happening in the room. At its finest, there is still immersive performance such as Miguel Gutierrez’ Deep Aerobics, which harnesses our being-there-together to make us angry and sad and armed for political change. But too often, theatre invites us to an evening of self-indulgence; of forgetting, rather than engaging, with the world.

The shift between coming together in public for a protest, and coming together for a flash mob – and a flash mob, it bears repeating, exists mainly on social media afterwards – that is the shift that Bojana talks about. Could it be that the immense precarity of our lives, the precarity of our jobs, our housing, our social safety nets, and our relationships, results in a kind of collective nervous breakdown, in which the selfie, the public performance of the self, is genuinely confused for personal agency? I don’t know. But between the extremes of performance where participation is measured in selfie numbers, and the aloof self-absorption of the solo, there is a hypothetical, if rarely utilised, middle ground, in which performance could still be a space of collective agency.

This is what we talk about today.

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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:
Marx, dance in museums, who authors dance?, Xavier Le Roy’s early works, creating new values, dancers associated with certain choreographers – are they ‘damaged goods’?, collaboration vs collectivity, Marcel Mauss and social choreography, “I’ve done Vietnam, I’ve done the Paris Ballet Conservatory, I’ve done Wall St.”, the high-paying executive who gives it all up to find out who he is, ‘selfie-expression’, choreography as a cottage industry, YouTube, and remember when we used to think we could decide to make a viral video?

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes, find us on Facebook, or listen on the official website.

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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.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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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

Some overdue house-keeping

What a year it has been, dear reader. I have been writing a lot, but I have not been so good at keeping track of it on GS. Apart from The Critic, my column for The Lifted Brow, which I have been dilligently tracking here, here are the other articles I have had published this year:

The Guardian:
Review of Chunky Move’s Depth of Field, March 16, Dance Massive 2015.

Review of Rawcus’ Catalogue, March 18, Dance Massive 2015.

Review of Roslyn Crisp’s The Boom Project, March 23, Dance Massive 2015.

Dancehouse Diary:
An Ethics of Touch, Dancehouse Diary #8 / 2015.

RealTime:
Review: Dance Massive 2015, RealTime 126. Includes: Atlanta Eke’s Body of Work, Tim Darbyshire’s Stampede the Stampede, Motion Picture by Lucy Guerin Inc, MEETING by Antony Hamilton.

De Keersmaeker’s dance of ever more simple movement, RealTime 125. Belgium column #01. Includes: Augustus ergens op de vlakte (August: Osage County, by Tracy Letts), by Tom Dewispelaere and Stijn Van Opstal at KVS; Partita 2, by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker/Rosas; Golden Hours (As You Like It) by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Kaaitheater.

The deep roots of revelatory performance, RealTime 126, Belgium column #02. Includes: Le sorelle Macaluso by Emma Dante; Sonja by Alvis Hermanis.

Unburdened Australians in an adventurous mix, RealTime 127, Belgium column #03. Includes: For Your Ears Only by Dianne Weller at Beursschouwburg; Into The Big World by David Weber Krebs at Kaai Studios.

Going for the burn, RealTime 128, Aug-Sep 2015, Belgium/Germany column #04. Includes: Foreign Affairs Festival; Angélica Liddell & Atra Bilis Teatro: You Are My Destiny (lo stupro di Lucrezia); Barbarians by Hofesh Shechter Company; Deep Aerobics by Miguel Gutierrez.

Regaining equilibrium, RealTime 129, Oct-Nov 2015, Belgium/Germany column #05. Includes: Tanz im August, Berlin; 6 & 7 by TAO Dance Theatre; SCAN by Rosemary Butcher; Occasion III by Isabel Lewis.

Audio Stage, s.2, ep. 2: Jane Howard & Richard Watts

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“One of the interesting things about theatre criticism… is the breadth of works that theatre critics are supposed to see…. A literature critic isn’t going to review 50 Shades of Grey unless it’s a joke. Most of them aren’t reviewing commercial fiction; they’re reviewing literature. But theatre critics must review both small, independent, artistically difficult work and we review musicals.”
– Jane Howard

In our second episode on responsibility, Fleur and I are talking to arts journalists, critics and advocates Jane Howard and Richard Watts, in the lovely 3RRR studios. What you will get from this episode is an insight into how some of our prominent arts advocates understand the responsibility inherent in their work. What you WON’T get from this episode is any sense of the incredibly hot weather we had on that day! We were all exhausted!

Discussed in this episode:
processing difficult art, writing about famous people whose work you have never seen before, conscious and unconscious bias in writing about certain people, Cameron Woodhead, feminist comedy, how bad art can make for a very good review, Strictly Ballroom, drunk Saturday night crowds that laugh at anything, Margaret Pomeranz, Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical, being a feminist reviewer, so many white voices!, issues of race and gender, and whether 200 words could ever be enough.

“My rule of thumb is, if they’ve been to my house for dinner, or I’ve been to their house for dinner, I’m not going to review them.”
– Richard Watts

Listen to the episode:

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