Girls just wanna…?

Eleanor Brickhill talks with The Fondue Set

Jane McKernan, Emma Saunders, Elizabeth Ryan, The Fondue Set

Jane McKernan, Emma Saunders, Elizabeth Ryan, The Fondue Set

Jane McKernan, Emma Saunders, Elizabeth Ryan, The Fondue Set

The Fondue Set have rocketed to semi-stardom almost overnight in Sydney, moving from small beginnings in local pubs to well received showings in Anstistatic at Performance Space and Dance Tracks#4 with Endorphin at the Opera House Studio and now they’re about to become the glistening stars of their own first full-length show at Sydney’s Seymour Centre. So, who are these 3 young dancers, Elizabeth Ryan, Emma Saunders and Jane McKernan? Are they really just facile twits, heterosexual stereotypes in red tulle and boob-tubes who just want to pick up men and have fun?

Starting out

Emma: Jane and I met at Omeo Dance Studio, and I thought Jane was a bit of alright, I liked her skirt, and her brain too, that was okay. Elizabeth and I were at uni together and I thought she was a bit of alright too, so I put us all in a room together. I thought, if it works it works, and if not, well…After that it became very clear that it was the 3 of us making the work. We’re really fortunate, and I feel privileged that we’re still happy to work together. We try to look after that.

Jane: Firstly we wanted to make dance that all our friends would love to see, which wasn’t about the audience having to be there on time, because my friends never turn up on time. We thought about performing in pubs, and went bar crawling.

Emma: The 3 of us had plenty to deal with, spending a lot of time dancing around, being idiots, having a good time, drinking a lot of beer, actually getting to know each other. That’s a major part of what we do: our work really does reflect our lives, and that is its spirit.

Jane: We have friends in bands, so we thought to use bands as a model: wanting to make something, but you do it with your friends and it’s very local and easy to make and a lot of people come and see it because it’s about socialising. The themes for the shows came out of that.

Emma: What interests us most is when the movement communicates something, where it’s meaningful. That’s what we struggle for. Modelling the group on the bands took the seriousness out of the process—although people see our stuff as not so serious, it was clearly there in our approach to crafting work and it couldn’t have been that funny without that seriousness.

Elizabeth: Yesterday, we had a photo shoot and that became this big performance in itself, being specific about how you’re moving, or how your face is moving. That ‘look’, that discipline about how you’re doing that ‘look’ is much more dancing than acting.

The mini-manifesto

Emma: There’s joy in having our mates enjoy it as well and we clearly began with wanting our audience to have a good time. Now we realise there’s a power in that audience and we can begin to play on it a bit. We deny ourselves nothing really. As long as it has real meaning, then we’re happy. And us being happy is probably the main thing.

Jane: We’re actually much more aware of what we do than we were 2 years ago, so that this new work is coming more out of that awareness.

Elizabeth: We also think more about what the audience might have come to expect, and we want to play with that. If people expect to laugh, do we give them that, or do we give them something that is slightly different, something not so funny?

Blue moves

Emma: The ending of the last show [Blue Moves, Antistatic 2002] was a bit different from what we usually do [“from frenetic comedy…to slow motion ugly humour…to the dark pathos of attempted seemliness”, RT 52, p24], and that reflects where we’re heading. The new one has the same name because we’re working with some of the same material.

Elizabeth: There were lots of ideas that we didn’t get around to performing, that were just on bits of paper. [At Antistatic] it was all pretty fresh, a case of just putting it out there to see what happened. Now we want to expand on that material, to look at the richness that’s there.

Jane: There are also new ideas. Our other shows, Evening Magic and Soft Cheese, were in the same mould: girls on a night out, and Blue Moves still has that element. But now we’re thinking about what happens to the girl on her way home. Lots of people are working in that area—spookiness, horror or thriller—we’ve seen the work of Cindy Sherman and Vanessa Beecroft, the woman alone or woman as object. Almost any B-grade film has an element of sexism there, women being victims. We’ve already set up our characters as fun-loving girls, so we want to look at other facets of that. What’s our responsibility to those girls, what’s their power, their intelligence? And how are people seeing that?

Emma: We’re moving away from our own experience, looking further afield. We’ve set up our own archetypes, a mix of a lot of ideas and now we’re trying to break them open, to see what they are. We’re questioning the idea of a victim, a woman on her own—she’s either a helpless victim, or a helpful victim. She’s not sure. That victim lets us begin to look at who’s in power here, to subvert those roles. She’s on her own journey here and she quite likes it. The woman is more than one archetype.

Jane: What kind of sexuality are we portraying? It’s obvious that we’re heterosexual and that we want to pick up men, but are we talking about this absent man thing all the time, or that girls who are wearing very little are saying fuck me, or just enjoying what they’re wearing?

Emma: We’re also clearing up some archetypes, really focussing on them, taking to an extreme everything that we’ve been setting up, so those archetypes get a bit thicker and a little more artificial. This gives us room to come in as normal individuals, even if we’re dressed up.

Jane: I became uneasy about putting out these crass images of women all the time and also wanted to take more responsibility for who The Fondue Set is by saying, ‘We recognise that you might think these women are foolish, but we’re also saying that we, Emma, Jane and Elizabeth, are women, and these are our experiences.’

The 3-way thing

Jane: As individuals, Elizabeth and I probably aren’t as outgoing as Emma, but the dynamic in the everyday process is much more collaborative.

Elizabeth: Inevitably you get a 3-way thing. One person has an idea, and that gets tried out by all of us, and we each bring whatever we bring to that idea.

Jane: It’s going to be interesting now, because we’ll be working with other people: a set designer, Imogen Ross, and a dramaturg. [The Fondue Set recently did some intensive work with UK dancer-choreographer Wendy Houstoun.] Our ideas need to become stronger so we know what we’re presenting to other people. And I’m not sure how much of a hold we really have on it either. People will see stuff that we don’t see, because we don’t necessarily view ourselves in the same way as others do.

Elizabeth: We’re looking at that in terms of, say, layering up with costumes and makeup. You’ve got all these do-dads and tulle and wigs and necklaces. Is that more revealing or does it hide more?

Eleanor: It sounds likes its all good, all a celebration of women and being who you are, choosing to reveal things or not. Is there anything you wouldn’t care to reveal?

Jane: Actually the construction of The Fondue Set almost protects us from doing bad theatre, because it all gets written into the script and becomes part of the material. Someone described Blue Moves as a reference to all those gang rapes that were occurring. I got worried that people thought that’s what we were saying: women are asking for it if they wear these tiny dresses. So there are always mixed messages. While we’re trying to be empowering, saying you can wear whatever you want, there’s the opposite happening: actually you can’t run very fast if you’re wearing high heels. It’s easy for someone to totally misread what you’re doing. So that makes it scary.

Emma: In Blue Moves there was a section where we struggled about what we meant. Elizabeth had a kind of character, but Jane and I weren’t sure. So we made that uncertainty a part of it. We were quite happy to reveal that we’re not sure, so it’s not so slick, not so tight.

Elizabeth Ryan and Emma Saunders are graduates of the Dance Department at UWS (Nepean) and Jane McKernan of QUT. Elizabeth travelled and performed in Scotland and studied dance as meditation in India. Both Emma and Jane have worked with Rosalind Crisp. All 3 are regular contributors to Sydney’s burgeoning impro scene and have performed in collaborations with other local dance artists. Jane has also been successfully pursuing a solo career (see review of Mobile States, p.41).

Blue Moves, The Fondue Set, One Extra Dance, Seymour Theatre Centre, Mar 6-8, 13-15, 2003 www.oneextra.org.au

RealTime issue #53 Feb-March 2003 pg. 39

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2003