Garry Stewart’s vision for the ADT

Anne Thompson interviews Garry Stewart

Garry Stewart

Garry Stewart

Twelve months into your Artistic Directorship of the Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide, where are you at?

I don’t know whether it was just naivete on my part or because I was so focused on the work but I didn’t really think about the history of the company when I took the job. In every interview that I’ve given, up until very recently, the situation with the previous director, has been brought up. But for me, an organisation advertised a job, I applied for it, I was the successful candidate. I’ve always wanted to have a cohesive unit of dancers and a creative team to work with on an ongoing basis. Now I find myself in this situation, I’m really doing what I’ve always wanted to do. However there has been a change in the culture here. I’ve come into a company that’s had a particular mode of operation and a particular way of presenting itself within the artistic and greater community. That’s probably been the biggest challenge—to come in and shift the culture within this company. I feel my ideas have been embraced by the Board and the management although with every new idea I come up with they don’t say, “Great! let’s do it tomorrow!” They are governing the company responsibly by asking me to bring them more information and to talk it through and I really appreciate that.


Can you give examples of some of the ideas?

We want to push towards film and multi-media as part of our agenda. We plan to work in alternative spaces, not only virtually and digitally but also in real alternative spaces. We want to continue curating seasons of work by local, independent choreographers and support the local dance community. I want to try and open up rehearsals from time to time so that local dance practitioners and members of the public can walk into rehearsals and talk to the dancers and gain some insight into our rehearsal process. I want more sense of community ownership of the company. We want to throw open the doors and offer our studios for next to nothing to local choreographers who are underfunded. We have rehearsal studios that sit here vacant from 6pm every night and on the weekends and as far as I’m concerned they are not our property completely. They are the property of the community. Once a month I want to have showings in the Balcony Theatre and from that process works will emerge for a more formalised season that may occur once every 6 months. I’ve always felt that flagship companies should be more than just the director and the dancers and the touring of proscenium arch works. We certainly do have a charter of responsibilities and that is why we are funded to the level that we are—to maintain performance levels in particular spaces of representation. But we should also try to be dynamic and far-reaching in our relationships. I mean it’s nothing radical. It’s nothing new at all. But it hasn’t happened. When I first applied for the job I envisaged ADT, these studios, as being a real nerve centre for dance in Adelaide, a hive of activity and not always from or about myself and my dancers.


Could you talk about your interest in multimedia? Why film/video? Why dance? Why the mix?

When I create I like to manipulate a very open palette. I’m interested in projecting a contrasting semiotic layer, something that’s going to skew the image of the live dancing bodies, some other text which will create a new image and a new experience and allow a different reading of the performance. I’m interested in finding fresh aesthetics and meanings and experiences through incongruous juxtapositions of texts. If ever I employ any technology within a live performance it is there, as the platitude goes, to serve the idea of the work. Because this generation of artists is pioneering the use of new media in performance, much weight and time can be taken up by the technology at the expense of the ideas and the conceptual terrain of the work. I wonder if the artist should know what the technology can do but at the same time be separated from it when it comes to making the work, should let go of the need to have a “hands on” approach. I have. I’ve actually shied away from multimedia works because I think what you can do with technology in performance is still actually quite crude and basic. Unless the audience is armed with knowledge of what is technically occurring, they don’t have the same impression of the work as the creators of the work do. I am interested in working with film and video technology but that’s not new technology. If we’re talking new technology, we’re talking developments on the web and also digital broadcasting.

What I’m interested in and what I’m planning at the moment is doing a multi-platform work. It’s one project but its delivery is on a number of different media platforms. Its working title is Mind Game. It will have an online delivery, a digital broadcast, a separate film that’s a composite of the film within those works and perhaps a CD-ROM. although I wonder about the future of CD-ROM. It hasn’t really taken off. This work is about the mind and paranormal phenomena. It started off as an interest in Jung but from there I’ve developed an interest in telekinesis and mind reading and these strange pockets of mental phenomena that can’t be absorbed by science.


But why film and dance?

I have an interest in dance and in certain aspects of culture or civilisation so I want to bring the human body into dialogue with these. Using video and film in performance allows me to do this. I think it would be difficult to stage this dialogue with just bodies in space although I fetishise pure movement to a degree as a choreographer and uphold it as a totally valid point of view.


Could you talk more about what attracts you to certain movements?

It’s a really strange connection between my subconscious desires and my body trying to fulfil those, which drives me into dance and hence choreography. And I don’t understand that connection and I don’t even know if biologists understand that connection. A fundamental desire of mine is to see bodies manipulate themselves through space at great velocity and in an ambiguous orientation. I remember reading an interview with Edouard Locke from the Belgian dance company La La La Human Steps about 12 years ago. He was saying when a dancer is spinning horizontally in space, like in a full twisting butterfly, it connects us to our dream state because floating in space is like dreaming. I really identify with that statement. I receive a great deal of psychic satisfaction from watching dancers perform those kind of phrases and those kind of movements. So I choreograph in this way for very individual, personal reasons. It’s not that I think because it’s spectacular and high risk that people are going to be drawn to it. It’s not about that at all. It’s a personal pursuit.


Your dancers seem really trained up in that kind of movement now.

Because they’ve had an incredibly steep learning curve with regard to movement, they are hypersensitive to the complexity of constructing a move. They have a heightened sense of how to regulate their own bodies to approach a move. They have developed this awareness from having to pick up a diverse range of skills in a relatively short amount of time. It’s something they don’t get too much relief from. We have a training program that’s very constant and consistent. Not only do the dancers do release classes and ballet classes but they also do advanced yoga, and 3 training sessions per week in gymnastics, breakdance, martial arts and Capoeira manoeuvres. From these movement disciplines we have developed a vocabulary that is specific to this company over the past 12 months. There’s a misconception about my process. What the audience sees on stage is really difficult, risky work which looks really punishing on the body. There’s an assumption in the dance community that I just take dancers and force them to do these difficult movements that are way above their level of ability. That’s not the case at all. We have probably the most well thought out, well planned, training regime of any company in Australia.


And you have a diverse range of bodies?

That’s because I’m attracted to individuals. I get attracted to certain individuals that I meet and come across.


Any last word?

I feel incredibly supported in what I want to do with this company. It’s not something you can do overnight but it’s happening.

RealTime issue #40 Dec-Jan 2000 pg. 27

© Anne Thompson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2000