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BalletLab-ing in Melbourne, Australia

For two-weeks now I have been inside the process of Philip Adams’ latest work in development titled Aviary.
Week one started humble, learning past development material, developing these, editing them, cutting them from the work and our minds and teaching newbies-oldies-no longer aroundies roles.
Week two was bashful and eventful, exploring new ideas, contextualising a new “act”, running around like birds in a park pre collecting soggy sticks after a truly melbourne summer storm rain unpredictable madness.

I have had many thoughts to do with dance and performance making since being here, due to two differing factors I think. Firstly, Melbourne has such a stylistic, cultish and collected individualistic style that emerges from the local companies that resonates within the emerging independent scene. Secondly, my recent isolation in Malaysia from trends of dance and time to reflect and know myself and my own ambition.
As an Adelaide based dancer choreographer-I notice the biggest difference between dancing in Adelaide and dancing in Melbourne is the respect and attention to dance technique and a traditionalistic view regarding the pursuit of technical perfection. I find Adelaide dance to be so stimulating because of the potential of the physical. Dancers in Adelaide take their technical training (ballet, contemporary, astanga yoga) very seriously. In turn the work produced although at times is seen as “generic” or “too dancey-dance” (a term i hate by the way). I have seen many works where by entrenching dancers within their bodies in the form of regular technique training means that in many cases the work in Adelaide is a showcase and serious study of how we might develop the artform that is dance and how to constantly evolve the possibilities of dance in its non-verbal, physically communicative persona.
In Melbourne an emphasis is placed upon the desire to be different, imperfect and “contemporary”, beauty of the ugly, seamlessness of the awkward, intelligent of the dumb. It is not likely unless you are working with Melbourne titans Chunky Move or Lucy Guerin Inc. that company class is considered of great importance. The shame of this is not so much the product of the technically void work but the potential of the artform as serious. A conservative-traditionalist views this with a sense of confusion, “who can’t dance like that?” is a question that provokes an opinion of the topic. The more I personally engage and practice dance performance making the more I feel it necessary and imperative that I stand by my interest in perfecting technique and striving for all those things that you do strive for when your a child watching your favourite dancers on stage; higher legs, pointier feet, more limber spines, greater use of dynamic, choreography set to counts married to music that is listenable and makes you want to dance in your seat. Now I am more often forced to think and analyse a subject that I share no personal connection with, block my ears and “calm down” as apposed to appreciate the creative craft of choreography and the dancERS.
In saying this I do indeed celebrate all forms of contemporary dance and do admire, respect and root for all the variants in views of choreography and performance, but I think that recently a real consolidation of my own interests has been clarified. What I do not appreciate is dancers who slander pure movement based dance work, even if it is combinations of “steps” linked together, it seems that in these times that doing this is outrageous anyway and when one does attempt to transpose anything through a pure form of movement that is reprisingly technically based/orientated it is put down by other dancers. I think of late, I am troubling finding fellow dancers sharing a discord with dance as a medium as we constantly progress and attempt to find the new. Why dance if you don’t like what dance is and means?

Creating dance work for a broad demographic and larger audience base is in my own interests now. As an Australian dance maker I must acknowledge the country, its development, its cultural settings and the adolescent stage of art practice here. What is more important to me? Making dance work because it fulfils my own selfish artistic curiosities, or creating work that respects its cultural place enough to invite an audience and provide for them? I will now, for the next little while play in the latter, believing that the opportunity to contribute my own practice to Australian dance and its audiences as a gesture into the improvement of a beautiful country, perhaps the most significant political initiative I can personally commit to.