JUNE 11TH 2018 - IDEAL IS JUST AN IDEA
DANCENORTH A.R.T. RESIDENT NADIA MILFORD DISCUSSES HER TIME AT DANCENORTH DEVELOPING HER WORK 'IDEAL IS JUST AN IDEA', EXPLORING THE UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS OF SOCIETY AROUND THE 'IDEAL BODY'...
In a society that imposes unrealistic expectations of an ‘ideal body’ how can we see ourselves for who we really are - that is, individuals with unique bodies, each possessing their own beauty and potential?
I took this concept up to Townsville for Dancenorth’s A.R.T. residency and spent two weeks immersed in the development of a new work ‘Ideal is just an Idea’.
With the question - What is an “ideal body”? in mind, I interviewed Dancenorth’s diverse community network of dancers to explore their differing perspectives on dance and body image. I expected to find creative aspirations for superhuman bodies or painful self judgement however what I found was something much more beautiful and profound.
I was deeply inspired on the first day by my conversations with members of Kith and Kin - a group of participants with varying disability and impairment. We discussed dance, how it makes them feel and if they ever think about the way they look. Their purpose in dancing was to have fun, connect with friends, and improve their mobility in a functional way - they weren’t concerned with how their bodies looked. There was varying ability across the group and they were wholly accepting of each other and themselves. When asked if they would change any part of their body they invariably said “no”. One participant explained this by acknowledging her support network, “I don't need to change any part of me because there’s always someone to help”. Understanding their perspectives really shaped the entire process. The work’s aim was to inspire a positive outlook on body image, however, working with these people added a deeper layer of meaning, that of the need for kindness and acceptance of ourselves and others.
I went on to interview more of the Dancenorth community - Forever Young (aged 50+), Kids Move (ages 5-8), Latin dance group (social dance), and Merge (varying abilities). Further discussions with these groups revealed that the way they learnt to consider their body through dance, directly affected their perception of self. By connecting with their body internally - the way it felt and moved functionally, as opposed to the way it looked externally - they perceived their body differently and more positively.
With the creative support of dancers Reina Takeuchi and Asher Bowen-Saunders I began working with these new understandings of body image in the studio. We played with how we would act if we were discovering our bodies for the first time, learning how they moved and what they could achieve - stripping our perception of the body down to pure functionality.
To convey the impossibility of achieving imposed ideals, we explored opposing forces within the body as if trying to fit some ever changing, external mould. We attempted to progressively overload the body with many simple functional tasks - (reaching, bending, jumping and stepping) past the point where it is achievable.
During the second week of the residency I worked alone to develop these ideas. The result was a 30-minute solo where I interacted with the audience so at times they were the performers too. It began with an innocent and playful character, who tried to walk before learning how to bend her knees - adding an element of humour and an understanding that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. She became fascinated with discovering other bodies on the stage - their differences and their abilities. As she learnt to discern labels of “good” and “bad” she was led down a path of self-destruction and the message became more serious. However, she appealed for help and was offered kindness and support by the audience. The performance ended with everyone participating in the dance to celebrate individual bodies and acceptance of one another.
The Townsville community opened their hearts and minds to me, informing and enriching the development in a way that I’m extremely grateful for. I attribute their openness to the beautiful connection Dancenorth has established with its community.
The residency offered me two weeks of blissful creativity and open engagement that have left both my heart and mind full. I believe the power of dance, and art in general, is to offer audiences a new perspective and I’m motivated to continue the development and engagement of this work to inspire others. Many thanks to Dancenorth for their incredible support and to its community for embracing my ideas.
MAY 11TH 2018 - BLUR
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR KYLE PAGE EXPLORES THE CONFINING NATURE OF LABELS/WORDS/FAMILIARITY DURING A WEEK IN RESIDENCE AT LA COMèTE, CHALONS EN CHAMPAGNE, FRANCE.
Words hold power, potency and potential, they allow us to frame and shape the world, albeit through a singular lens. Words both define and limit our existence.
Born of evolutionary necessity, our need to categorise, codify and label has become a barrier to deeper insight and understanding, a barrier to connection in an increasingly depersonalised world.
When we assign a label to something, to someone, we reduce to singularity, a lone quantifiable characteristic, limiting our immeasurably enigmatic nature.
To be told is too easy.
To know is too safe.
Face value absolves our innate creative capacity for profound insight, awareness and sense perception.
How do we transcend the confines and mundane ordinaire of the labels we have come so heavily to depend upon?
What exists beyond words, beyond labels, beyond familiar?
How would that feel?
How would that sound?
I have just enjoyed a week in residence at La Comète, Chalons en Champagne, working on a new project titled Blur with Rianto and Amber Haines. Rianto was born in Kaliori village, Banyumas, Indonesia and trained in classical Javanese dance and East Javanese folk dance from a young age, specialising in the cross gender form of Lengger. Amber was born in Melbourne, is my favourite person on the planet and inseparable creative collaborator. Our son Jasper was also in Chalons, enjoying time with a lovely French baby sitter named Anneke.
Blur tapped into something nameless, something shapeless. We spoke, we sensed, we danced and most importantly, we listened. The exchange was fluid and familiar, creatively energising and deeply thought provoking. We asked many questions of one another and ultimately discovered that there is an inseparable dilemma in the translation of language. How do we find freedom from the clandestine trappings of our often-unconscious cultural biases?
We searched for something deeper, more innate, fundamentally human and less confounding than words. Our exploration led us away from thinking and further towards feeling. It was there, in the thick blur between bodies, cultures, minds, senses, agendas, sonic experience, consciousness, spirit, unconsciousness, and ingrained habitual patterns that we began to cultivate this work.
The physicality was visceral, wild and abandoned. Our bodies ached when we woke up and by midmorning we were thrashing about once more. We provoked one another toward states of being beyond the familiarity of facade, beyond the very best versions of ourselves that we craftily deliver to the world, both physically and emotionally.
Until we meet again we are each left to ruminate on all that was unearthed, all that was felt and all that was heard. We are left to think about what it was that we think we discovered. And in the midst of all this thinking, I hope to hold on, ever so lightly, to a glimmering awareness of just how futile thinking can be.
march 8th 2018 - challenging inequality through the art of dance
Delving into the complex and multilayered space of race and gender equality, Dancenorth Dancer and Assistant Rehearsal Director Jenni Large discusses the development process and inspiration behind her new work ‘White Woman’. This piece questions flawed labels within society to form a beautiful and raw representation of the ‘unstoppable creative power of the female voice’…
What are you currently working on?
A solo piece titled White Woman. I have a strong interest and developing practice in choreographic duality, I think there is duality in everything if we look hard enough or stay long enough. The dichotomy of women as inferior and whites as superior is the relevant duality that I am and experience. By placing opposition side by side, for example, objectification and sexual liberation, I hope to reflect what I notice in my own life and reveal an irony and ambiguity which causes viewers to reconsider women and whiteness.
What is your process to develop this?
Throughout the week I worked mainly with improvisation, in the form of moving, writing, drawing and vocalising. I spent a lot of time with props and costume, the props quickly became important metaphors and opportunities for ironic references. I made an altar, a fence, I dressed myself up and down, performing as strange characters and as myself, I wrote non-sensical poems, talked to myself and I used sound to set or oppose mood.
I love to work with durational improvisation, often I will prepare a playlist or set a timer that lasts between 30-60 minutes, then I improvise for its duration. Working with time like this challenges me to inhabit my ideas and can pave way to a newness which is born from perseverance and commitment.
The loudness of subtlety (another duality) also drives a lot of what I do, for White Woman I experimented with how I could dramatically change the content by changing the context (context being; music, costume and props) and subtly shifting the ‘way’ in which I perform.
I film everything I do, watch it back, take notes and try again and again. I like this process of documentation because it holds me accountable for my practice and offers objective perspective. I also generally use the footage to make short films, the editing process gives me a different choreographic perspective of my work.
Early development time is so preciously playful and far from the traps of a sometimes inhibitive analytical brain. I find being alone in the studio very freeing and I thoroughly enjoyed not knowing or understanding what I was doing most of the time, trusting that sometimes, simply the process of doing is the most valuable practice.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
For me, feminism has always innately been a strong interest and undertone in my work. So the notion of being white was a new layer that I became fascinated by. I was particularly inspired by an article written by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette, who comments that “Whiteness is invisible because it is assumed… The term “Black Art” is indicative of the unstated fact that “Art” itself is “white.”… Using labels like “white male middle class American” seem to be a modest attempt at making whiteness visible.” Willette argues that “The purpose of studying whiteness, then, is to make whites aware of being white and all that whiteness entails and to examine exactly what “whiteness” really is.” I wanted to utilise a particularly white space to emphasise “whiteness”, to pile white on top of white, both literally and metaphorically.
How has your dance experience enabled you to do this?
So far in my career I have been lucky enough to experience both independent and company working environments. Working in the vastness that is the Australian dance landscape has taught me versatility, discipline, drive, creativity and given me a robustness which I am very grateful for. I have been fortunate to work with an array of artists whom I deeply respect and admire and who have always encouraged me to trust my instincts, dig deeper and consider otherness.
What do you hope to achieve moving forward with this work?
More development time of course! I dream that White Woman will eventually develop into a fully realised work, maybe a one-woman show, maybe a group work, a film or a work for a gallery space. One week was a tiny but nourishing taste of what could come and I am still revelling in the buzz of making and performing my own work.
I am still new to making work so distilling and improving my creative process is something I really want to do. I am currently working on a short film edit of White Woman as well as editing the showing footage into a trailer.
Beginning development on White Woman has reinforced my urge to highlight the unstoppable creative power of the female voice and gaze in performance in this (robustly changing, yet still) white male dominated world.
January 5th 2018 - adventures of greenland
KYLE PAGE AND AMBER HAINES EMBARK ON THE AAJUNA ARTIST RESIDENCY IN QAQORTOQ, GREENLAND.
We are currently bunkered down at the Aajuna Artist Residency in Qaqortoq, Southern Greenland, a picturesque town of 3000 people. We are here to write, research, create, listen and dream – we are here to take breath, to recalibrate and reenergise in preparation for the truly enormous year ahead.
We love this part of the world and are continually drawn to the high North’s long star-studded winter nights and 24hours of sunlight in summer. Our most recent Arctic adventure was in 2015 when we spent 3 weeks sailing a Barkantine Tall Ship around Svalbard with 20 artists and thought-leaders from across the globe.
Here our days are filled with books, podcasts and slow meandering conversation. We are revelling in the freedom that comes from being so far away from all that is familiar. We love not knowing anyone in a small town where everyone knows everyone. We are a constant source of mystery and intrigue: Who are you? Where are you from? Why are you here… and why in winter?
Since arriving we have hosted a number of workshops at the Qaqortoq outreach centre, known locally as the Kkaassassuk. We love that we can share our skills with the Inuit children and open up their eyes to the possibility of dance being a full time occupation – a very abstract notion for many of them. Moments like these truly remind us of how fortunate we are to be doing what we love – they also remind us how vital it is to continue sharing our gifts with the world.
We are alive with the cold wind biting our faces as we wander the expansive coastline - free from deadlines. We are on our own schedule, and in this way even the jetlag was a welcome disruption, free from the need to be anywhere on time we rode it out easily, sitting comfortably in the haze of disorientation – enjoying the abstract sleepy lens through which we viewed the world.
Our nights are dotted with shooting stars and dazzling displays of the Aurora Borealis overhead - there are few things that so easily drag you back to that sense of pure childlike wonder – the Aurora does this like no other.
With just over one week left we are beginning to consolidate and arrange our disparate thoughts into new shows and new projects. The weather forecast shows a high of 3 and a low of -13, a few more snow storms and three days of sunshine, hopefully followed by starlit nights and maybe, just maybe, a dancing Aurora above our heads.