Dance Degree Zero. Jean Claude Gallota in Australia

Keith Gallasch

Keith Gallasch talks to Julie-Anne Long about workshopping with the internationally renowned french dancer-philosopher

“He has extremely intense, unblinking, blue eyes and an unbelievable memory.”

Julie-Anne Long (Associate Director of The One Extra Dance Company and long time collaborator with the Open City Performance Company) is describing Jean-Claude Gallotta at work with twenty-two choreographers from Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

“In the initial exercise he asked us to read each other’s bodies as maps, looking for detail to spark a memory. The next day he remembered exactly what we’d done. His feedback to us was individual, perceptive and detailed with no throw-away comments.”

I’d seen a piece of Gallotta’s shown on SBS’ Eat Carpet, a group of twelve or so overcoated dancers in a field on a chill, sunny morning stamping the churned earth, momentarily bird-like, horse-like, moving individually and then with a sudden collectivity without any musical prompting, just as suddenly struck, as if by a virus, falling into the earth. Like the best postmodern dance, here was everyday movement made strange by unapparent motives, possession, alternation between individual preoccupation and group forces. It was not surprising then to find that the likes of Long, Cheryl Stock, Chrissie Parrott, Leigh Warren, Sue Healy, Jane Pirani, Maggie Sietsma, Jim Hughes and Paige Gordon signed up to work for two weeks with Gallotta in Melbourne in January.

“His background is in the visual arts and he came to dance late. He’s a philosopher of dance in search of ‘degree zero’, encouraging us to pare down movements to an almost neutral state, free of any embellishment. Even the tiniest everyday gestures”—Long reaches for a cup in progressively simpler moves—“are overlayed by habits and personal style.

“In the mornings we were dancers learning a vocabulary for the afternoon workshops. This was a bit much, but like the rest of the process, people got into it because it was sustained. I liked the afternoons. Gallotta would outline a bizarre story and we’d each have time to choreograph and perform our solo or duo version of it. 1—You arrive in a malicious manner. (I was never quite sure if he was being translated correctly.) 2—You see a book. 3—You eat it. 4—You are in front of the fire curtain. 5—You touch your head to it. 6—The curtain goes up. 7—You enter the stage. 8—Use a phrase from the morning class vocabulary ‘as a memory’. We’d perform and he’d give his response, which, to me, added up to a dramaturgy of movement focused very much on timing and rhythm. You still had your own language of steps and movements but you had new ways of dealing with them.

“We’d absorb his astonishingly detailed comments and take them into our work on a new story the next day. In many ways it was about responding to and understanding rhythms internally. Gallotta’s focus on the interior is something not often offered dancers. I was very attracted to it. It was a good group experience and a great individual one.”

RealTime issue #1 June-July 1994 pg. 8

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

1 June 1994