Three great previews in the Scottish press.
The Scotsman carried an interview preview with Lucy Guerin and I.
Mary Brennan gives a great insight in the significance of the season to Tramway in The Herald.
Kelly Apter interviews me in The List.
HOT brings Australian dance to Glasgow Tramway
by Kelly Apter
9 June 2014
FLAVOUR of Australia’s dance culture is taking residence at Tramway. Expect innovation and energy, says Kelly Apter
Jake works as an engineer at the Port of Melbourne, Mike designs websites and apps for a living. But later this month, they’ll be flying to Glasgow to perform with one of Australia’s most acclaimed contemporary dance companies, Lucy Guerin Inc.
It’s a prospect that would fill most people with dread – stepping onstage with professional dancers, when your own dance tuition amounts to nothing more than a few days rehearsal prior to the show. Yet Jake Shackleton and Mike Dunbar had to fight for their place in Untrained, one of two works Guerin is bringing to Tramway as part of HOT, a festival of Australian contemporary dance and performance.
Performed by two highly trained and experienced male dancers, and two members of the public who have not danced previously, Untrained explores notions of what is, and isn’t, worth watching. All four men have to execute the same movements, be it twirling, leaping, rolling or jumping. Suffice to say, two of them find it easier than the others.
“It was a really amazing experience, having a room filled with untrained guys dancing,” says Guerin of the audition process, “and then having to decide which two really fit the specific requirements we have for the Untrained show.”
So, apart from a complete lack of formal dance training, what was Guerin looking for?
“An ability to get their personalities across on stage,” she says. “You get a lot of people auditioning who just try too hard, show off and over-perform. And then you get the ones who are just painfully shy and look at the ground all the time. But I was really looking for the same thing I look for in a trained performer – for an audience to be able to connect with them as people.”
Guerin toured Australia with Untrained, auditioning men in each area as they travelled. Sadly, due to time constraints, the men of Glasgow won’t have the chance to become temporary members of the company, hence the reason Jake and Mike are jetting in for the occasion. Like those who went before them, they’re in it for the challenge.
“Dancing is a particularly fearful area for a lot of men,” says Guerin. “But when we held the auditions, we asked them why they wanted to be part of this show, and so many of them said, to be taken out of their comfort zone. There was this desire to go beyond the everyday and have something new in their lives, it was a big motivation.”
Happily for the men involved, their willingness to enter into the unknown has been well rewarded. The sense that “one of us” has mustered enough confidence to get up on stage and dance has led to a warm reaction from audiences.
“Initially, it’s very humorous seeing these guys who haven’t trained attempting to do particular movements,” says Guerin. “But pretty quickly there’s this real groundswell of support. So whatever they do, even if it fails miserably, the idea that somebody has given it a go is very much supported by the audience.”
Guerin’s other contribution to the HOT programme, Conversation Piece, also takes contemporary dance in a new direction. Performed by three dancers and three actors, the show starts with an eight minute conversation between the dancers, all of which is recorded on iPhones and then re-delivered by the actors.
“Their conversation is random,” explains Guerin, “and we never know what they’re going to say. It can go from being quite hilarious to really very dark.”
Smart phones play a starring role throughout the show, being used to film movement, play songs, and provide apps to assist the performers in a range of tasks. “Social technology is so completely embedded for us now,” says Guerin.
She is one of six choreographers represented at the HOT festival, chosen by co-curator Robert Walton because “she’s the most interesting choreographer working in Australia at the moment”. For him, both of Guerin’s works offer audiences a new way to view dance.
“Conversation Piece is an incredibly satisfying piece of work, and different every night,” says Walton. “Many people here in Australia watched it multiple times, just to see what the difference was. And Untrained allows us to see what training does to a body, and what it really means to dance.
“It highlights the grace of both the normal human body, as well as the dancer – and how art doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. It’s the idea of the valiant attempt.”
Associate head of theatre at the University of Melbourne, Walton was the perfect choice to pull the HOT programme together. Based in Australia since 2011, he was previously a theatre practitioner and teacher in Glasgow, giving him an insight into both worlds.
“I tried to home in on what would be the most interesting work for Scottish audiences,” says Walton. “And how we could give a flavour of contemporary Australian practice.”
He’s assembled a rich and diverse programme which not only reflects the current cultural output, but fundamental aspects of Australia itself.
Hailing from the north-west of the country, Marrugeku specialises in intercultural dance theatre drawn from the indigenous Asian population in that area. Their solo, Gudirr Gudirr, features movements which, as Walton says, “have been performed by a thousand generations”.
Similarly, Shifting Ground, a performance and installation by Zoe Scoglio, uses rocks and fossils to explore the connection between geology and humans over centuries.
“Australia holds the oldest continuous cultures in the world,” says Walton, “and it’s also one of the most multicultural countries in the world. So there are all these voices, words and languages swirling around. Questioning where our culture comes from – the moves we’re performing, the words we’re saying – is one of the questions Australia is asking itself, and features in some way in all of the works in this programme.”
At the other end of the scale lies Robin Fox’s Laser Show which, according to Walton, features “full-on sound and visuals that rattle your bones”. During the show, light is converted into sound, and vice versa, to create an immersive experience for those caught in the audio-visual storm.
The desire to fuse the ancient with the modern also prompted Walton to programme Tamara Saulwick’s Pin Drop. Not for the faint-hearted, the work goes deep inside that most basic survival technique: fear.
“Although Pin Drop has a very contemporary Australian feel,” says Walton, “Tamara is working with this ancient core that we may have forgotten about. We might be in our suburban lives, but there is the potential for it to be changed or taken away.
“You sit in the theatre, and the way she messes with your senses is very creepy and exciting. I didn’t know how deep the space was anymore, whether there was anybody in front of me or beside me. It really creates a sense of fear inside you, which is fascinating.”
• HOT is at Tramway, Glasgow, 12 June until Thursday 3 July, www.tramway.org
HOT gives ‘a flavour of what is most interesting about contemporary Australian dance’
The dance events showcase the talents of Lucy Guerin Inc, Marrugeku and more
- Source: The List
- Date: 10 June 2014
- Written by: Kelly Apter
Hot: New Dance and Performance from Australia
A selection of the most exciting and spectacular contemporary dance and performance from Australia. Curated by Tramway with Robert Walton of Victorian College of Arts, University of Melbourne.
HOT’s strength and beauty from the sad, silly and sexy
Sometimes the dots just connect and individual components – live performance, dance, screenings – join up into what Aussies might call a bonzer bit of programming.
That slang accolade from Down Under is borne out by the reputation for innovation and quality that is shared by all those listed in HOT, the festival of new dance and performance from Australia that gets under way tonight at Glasgow’s Tramway.
“We would have wanted to bring this work over, even if the Commonwealth Games and the whole Culture 2014 connection hadn’t been in place,” says Tim Nunn, whose role as Tramway’s programme manager is now a key factor in the venue getting its experimental mojo back and buzzing again.
“The whole visual arts strand has been going from strength to strength,” continues Nunn. “We’re hosting the Turner Prize next year, we’re absolutely on the UK and international map with visual arts. So now we’re bringing our vision for dance and performance to the fore, and in a way responding to the audience who have made our earlier dance programmes so successful.”
Time was, of course, that Nikki Milican’s New Territories season was a valuable asset that took some of programming onus off Tramway shoulders. Nunn nods. “I think a lot of the work that audiences associated with Tramway came in through Steve Slater’s programming and his connections with cutting-edge European companies. And through Nikki’s input – she introduced a lot of very fine Canadian work, and some Australian stuff as well. But now we’re trying to find ways of doing that for ourselves. And I promise you, this is really only the start.”
Nunn did, however, have what you might call a talent scout at the end of a phone line, and on the other side of the globe: Robert Walton. Currently associate head of theatre at Melbourne University, Walton had first-hand working knowledge of Tramway’s spaces, its programming history and its audiences – during his years as a theatre-maker and teacher (at the then RSAMD) in Glasgow, he’d been regularly involved both on and off-stage.
“Having Robert constantly on the lookout – e-mailing with ideas, throwing shows into the mix, sounding out some of the companies – was incredibly useful,” says Nunn. “In a way, it meant that we could look at bringing in touring work that hasn’t already done the UK rounds. Work that I think will surprise a lot of people, whether they’ve seen Australian dance before or not.”
He’s referring to the degree of intimacy and intensity that HOT has on its lists. “A lot of Australian work that comes to the UK is at the spectacular end of the spectrum. Heavy on the special effects, big on technology – and it’s fantastic work. But there’s something else. Something that I think is a new strength coming through, and I think we’ve been lucky in pulling some of it together in one place, for our Culture 2014 programme.”
Lucy Guerin, whose work features twice in the festival, is one of the wild cards who doesn’t just surprise her audiences in Australia, she wows them in New York and Europe too. But that’s probably because Guerin doesn’t just blur the boundaries between dance and performance, she ignores them. Guerin skips over any dividing line between professional and non-professional dancers, choosing to recruit a couple of guys with no training or experience to perform Untrained alongside two highly skilled male dancers.
On paper, this might have a whiff of the gladiatorial about it – two novices, having rings danced round them by the practised pros. But like Conversation Piece – which opens the HOT season at Tramway tonight – the journey that Guerin’s concept offers audiences is as much about being an audience as it is about setting challenges for the dancers, actors and ‘outsiders’ who participate in her works.
“Lucy is just one of those talents who can take something really profound and make it fun,” says Nunn, whose grin becomes a chuckle as he recalls episodes from the two shows he’s been able to bring in. “These shows are just so easy to watch and enjoy. You don’t have to bother about ‘is is dance? is it performance?’ because it’s primarily entertaining. It can be sad, sexy, silly – and often unexpectedly beautiful. But what I really do admire is how it’s underpinned with a tremendous intellectual curiosity about humankind, and how we interact.”
Alongside the live performances, Nunn has added in a couple of Screendance showcases.
“I think Australian cinematographers really understand how to put dance on film. Live dance – you’re watching exertion and physicality in the moment. On film, it has to be a different experience.
“It has to hold your attention in a different way, maybe through the sheer impact of shapes, colour… or even landscape. Landscape informs such a lot of Australian dance and performance, but it’s only on film that you can show an audience how a piece of movement looks in that kind of context.”
There is, however, one dot that Nunn couldn’t fit into HOT. “I couldn’t engineer a special section on sound artists,” he says. “But actually, Tamara Saulwick’s Pin Drop has an audio-sensory dimension that is very sophisticated – I don’t want to give too much away, but Tamara spent two years recording interviews with women about moments when they felt unsafe. Pin Drop is the outcome.”
Australia is, apparently, only the beginning as far as Tramway’s dance fans are concerned. There are more dots on the horizon – including a biennial international dance festival that would bring Scottish and overseas work together in the same programme, “hopefully not just here at Tramway, but in other Glasgow venues as well.
“We know there is a dance audience who are interested in seeing new work, experimental work, work from abroad. HOT is, absolutely, for them. But also for anyone who’s looking for something that’s different, exciting and genuinely innovative.”
HOT opens at Tramway tonight and runs until July 3. www.tramway.org