Ways of speaking

Erin Brannigan, Collaborations forum, The Australian Ballet

The Australian Ballet’s Collaborations program and Dancehouse’s Mixed Metaphor and their associated forums were my first experiences of MAP as an event. The first had me worried, the second hopeful and together they represented the very different approaches to “movement and performance” and accompanying critical engagement that MAP was expected to encompass.

The Australian Ballet (AB) forum was ultimately hampered by the chair, James Griffin from Radio National, chosen by Ross Stretton the artistic director of the AB. His lack of knowledge about dance placed him—and consequently the discussion—at an alarming disadvantage, which left me questioning Stretton’s logic. With so many informed, engaged dance commentators in the audience, this was an unnecessary impediment.

With Stretton by Griffin’s side, the conversation hinged around the AB’s “new” direction in inviting four “new” choreographers, Bernadette Walong, Stephen Baynes, Natalie Weir and Adrian Burnett, to create work on and for the AB dancers. Baynes’ comments on inspiring dancers, referring to his experience overseas in the company of dancers such as Marcia Haydee, made sense of this scheme while words failed Walong. Her difficulty was discomforting as she spoke about sound and memory in relation to her original score for Slipstream, surrounded as she was by Mahler, Astor Piazzolla, techno music and the instruments of Ghana.

Magnanimous statements from Stretton about “innovation” punctuated discussions on the novelty of pointe work in a contemporary context (“What about 20th century ballet?” from the audience was greeted with silence from the panel), and the alarming physicality of this new work described by Griffin as “intimate” or “erotic.” Natalie Weir countered this by saying she had never intended her work to be sexual and didn’t consider it so.

Baynes’ attempts to suggest that classical and contemporary are not so discrete were overwhelmed by an insistence upon the “traditional” and the “innovative.” Stretton’s comments about the importance of maintaining the classics in the company’s repertoire, keeping this “tradition” as “the point of reference” was particularly ironic with Walong sitting on the panel. Her tradition picked its way en pointe through a river of stones.

Innovation was not mentioned over at Dancehouse where the question was not why but how. This forum seemed to articulate a real anxiety about the place of the body in a dance-based multimedia environment. The discussion finally seemed to crystallise with Tony Yap and Mixed Company’s highly charged Saint Sebastian epitomising “presence” and Margaret Trail’s Hi, it’s me, “absence”; Trail’s work placed her live interaction amidst pre-recorded voices that introduced a performance place elsewhere.

Keynote speaker Angharad Wynne-Jones opened with a definition of metaphor and mixed-metaphor and a description of the project of performance in articulating a persuasive example of one or the other. (For Wynne-Jones, Mixed Company’s piece seemed sure of its methods/media and therefore presented a persuasive metaphor.) She spoke of the position of the body within this context as “vulnerable” and the difficulty of controlling the expression of the body particularly when you are creator and performer—how the body “leaks” meanings.
Tony Yap’s description of the “organic” creative process that his group underwent seemed to challenge the more methodical approach that Angharad suggested and Philipa Rothfield introduced Christos Linous’ active, invulnerable body to the discussion.

Methodologies, processes and ideas replaced the design, music and space of the AB forum and the discussion flowed without interruption or clunky changes in direction. At Dancehouse the the line between audience and panellists became indiscernible, with choreographers, practitioners and participants spilling across what had been an uncomfortable divide at the Malthouse.

Collaborations forum, The Australian Ballet, The Malthouse, July 7; Mixed Metaphor forum, Dancehouse, July 5

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 10

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 1998
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