campbelltown arts centre goes dance mad

keith gallasch: emma saunders, oh! i wanna dance with somebody

WeTube LIVE, Stompin’ Youth, Junction Arts Festival 2010

WeTube LIVE, Stompin’ Youth, Junction Arts Festival 2010

WHEN I WAS CHILD, OTHER THAN FOR INTERMITTENT, SADISTIC OUTBREAKS OF ERSATZ FOLK DANCING (WHO WERE THESE FOLK?) IN AN OTHERWISE ART-POOR PRIMARY SCHOOL CURRICULUM, I THOUGHT DANCING WAS THE UNNATURAL EXTROVERSION PROMULGATED IN MGM MUSICALS AND THE NUMEROUS 60/40 (60% MODERN, 40% TRADITIONAL) GATHERINGS MY PARENTS FREQUENTED ACROSS THE 1940S AND 50S. THE DANCING WAS ACCESSIBLE, DILUTED BALLROOM. NOT INFREQUENTLY, I WOULD FIND MY FACE THRUST AGAINST THE TUMMY OF SOME HEAVILY CORSETED MATRON VIGOROUSLY TRIPPING THE LIGHT FANTASTIC.

Such events were wonderfully sociable, staged in a variety of halls in a wide range of nearby suburbs, organised by sports clubs, businesses and lodges and with quite a class mix (if not ethnic in the 50s). My mother’s disdain for Catholics partially evaporated when she discovered a local church held dances of a Sunday evening. A title like Oh! I Wanna Dance With Somebody conjures for me a time when dancers actually held each other, pre-Twist, pre-disco, as a matter of course in massive numbers for many hours across the globe. However, although the program for Oh! I Wanna Dance With Somebody features Tea Dancers, most of the partners in dance that we’ll see perform are engaged in quite some other intimacies.

In RealTime 109, in “New niches, new dance audiences,” Martin del Amo updated us on the burgeoning contemporary dance scene in Sydney’s west. One of the main forces in that thrust has been the perpetually innovative Campbelltown Arts Centre, its dance program curated by Emma Saunders, a member of Sydney’s famed The Fondue Set. As the culmination of three years developmental dance work, CAC is presenting Oh! I Wanna Dance With Somebody, programmed over three days in October and rich in community, cross-artform and intercultural engagement.

I spoke with the inimitable Saunders, a prodigious improviser, who volunteered a five-minute concentrated rendering of the program (she could do it), but I opted for a more leisurely drip-feed. Asked about the motivation for staging this dance fest, Saunders says, “The project has come out of my idea to house some of the outcomes of the dance programs of the Campbelltown Arts Centre over the last three years into one event. There were different models set up over this period, asking artists to work in different ways and with different structures—interdisciplinary projects where I might ask a dancer to work with an artist from a different field to make new work together. It might also be an intercultural commission as in the case of Narelle Benjamin and Anandavalli (Lingalayam Dance Company).”

Saunders explains that “these commissioned works are a mix of my own and Julie-Anne Long’s curatorial outlook; she was curator for a year while I was away having a baby. The works have had various stages of development over the past one to three years.”

However, she admits, “actually housing the outcomes is a bit trickier than just showing them in a theatre. For example Paul Gazzola and Paul Granjon are making a work called The Experimental Body Extensions Manufacturing Unit. They are working with communities around Campbelltown to create practical, physical projects that look at human body extensions, that locals can wear. It’s not a joke, although it has a humorous edge. Over a month, the artists will invite people into a kind of factory process and then stage a catwalk showing, or I should say, a product demonstration. I invited [Berlin-based] movement artist Paul Gazzola who in turn invited Welsh artist Paul Granjon, a specialist in robotics but who is also a performer, to work with him. The movement has come out of the project quite organically in that it’s people having a dialogue with their own bodies in terms of how they might develop these practical extensions. For example, someone has developed a Personal Space Activator, a skirt made of plywood, which, as you go to shake someone’s hand, flares up and prevents you from connecting. Therein lies the movement.”

Saunders cites “two other curatorial thoughts running behind the project. Oh! I Wanna Dance With Somebody looks loosely at where dance and community can intersect. It’s very ‘in’ to have community projects and I’m very interested to see what that means for artists—how does work connect with an audience, where does it start, finish, who are we dancing for, who’s dancing with us? That’s an ongoing dialogue I’m floating with each of the projects.

“The other idea is, ‘What would it be like to swap the black and white spaces of the theatrical and the visual arts and see what that does to a work?’ Lots of visual artists are making very performative work, which is really exciting: but how do they relate to each other and to community? So, the same work will be repeated in both spaces, gallery and theatre, and the audience might be able to see both versions when they plot their path across the day.” Although, in the end, says Saunders, it might not matter, it’s about the thing itself, the body. “It’s a fun and fresh way to see innovative new dance work.”

We chat about the partnerships which have been nurtured. Saunders tells me that “dancer Anton and visual artist David Capra are developing a dancing duo. They look similar, both are of Ukrainian origin and wear black-framed glasses. We put them in a room and a work has organically evolved over four weeks in two-week blocks. They’ve had a good, strong critical dialogue. And David is a good dancer and is a very physical visual artist and this gives Anton the opportunity to dance in a different way. They’ll present the finished work on the weekend.

“Narelle and Anandavalli will present an early showing of a work they’ve been commissioned to premiere here in 2013. They will be performing with a visiting Indian singer. Each presentation will run for about half an hour. Elizabeth Ryan (of the Fondue Set) is coupled with fashion designers Romance Was Born—I wanted to do an age-old thing in an innovative way, and fashion has been with dance at least from the Ballets Russes to Akira Isogawa working with the Sydney Dance Company. Elizabeth will be performing in a new gown by Romance Was Born’s Anna Plunkett Cole and Luke Sales who make amazing gear.”

There’s also a regional aspect to the CAC dance program, with Saunders setting up a dance exchange with NORPA in the Lismore region. “I’ve worked up there myself a number of times. Phil Blackman in Lismore is working with Martin del Amo in a residency at the moment. We’re sharing the love around our dance ecosystem so that not everything is city-based.”

As part of CAC’s international dance residency program, Saunders has invited German dance artist Jochen Roller to create a new work called the Dance Tourist, about being a tourist in Campbelltown. “It stemmed from him being in residence in Campbelltown in Kintyre, Scotland which will parallel the work he’s doing here. He’s looking at the social ‘fabric’ of Campbelltown. He’s been to the fabric shops and made some purchases and is making a series of objects to create a sense of how he sees Campbelltown. It’s a very beautiful work from a dance artist working in the visual arts! His presentation will be more like an exhibition. He’s working with dance theatre performer Nadia Cusimano. “

Julie-Anne Long is involved in the event on two fronts: “She’ll do our Whitney tribute, a dance marathon across the weekend. We’ve also commissioned her to make a film with Sam James of her work with local women from her Invisibility Project (see page 34). Titled Dancing in the Dark, it will screen across the event. It’s another aspect of how work is being commissioned here at Campbelltown Arts Centre.”

Readers might remember the excitement occasioned by Ben Speth and Stompin’ Youth’s WeTubeLIVE for the 2010 Junction Festival in Launceston (RT99). Saunders has invited Speth to realise a version of it for her dance event in which she will “fill the gallery spaces with 100 performers. This involves a great deal of work,” she admits. Saunders has been corralling dance groups, line dancers, Indian dancers and community members who have had something to do with CAC in recent years. “The performers each choose a favourite clip from YouTube and perform it forward and backwards at timed intervals in a one-metre square each.” The audience move among the performers.

For Oh! I Wanna Dance with Somebody, the galleries will be cleared of artworks, says Saunders, “so that the bodies are the art,” and the foyer will become more like a lounge.

WeTUBE will be performed on the opening Friday night. The dance partnerships will be on the Saturday from 10am-10pm with improviser par excellence Andrew Morrish commencing the day’s proceedings by anticipating what he thinks he will see and then, later, declaring precisely what he has witnessed. On Sunday there’ll be a forum with the artists, community leaders and audience with a performative curator’s introduction from Saunders. There’ll also be handouts about works, a publication down the track and a photographic record created by Heidrun Löhr. As we conclude our conversation, Emma Saunders finally mentions the Tea Dance Project performers who, on opening night, “will actually dance with each other.” Could make us all wanna dance.

Campbelltown Arts Centre, Oh! I Wanna Dance With Somebody, curator Emma Saunders, CAC, Oct 19, 20, 21; for program: www.campbelltown.nsw.gov.au/Dance; box office 02 4645 4100, 10am-4pm

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 33

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

9 October 2012
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