In Profile: Miranda Wheen

Gail Priest

Miranda Wheen, Quest

Miranda Wheen, Quest

Miranda Wheen, Quest

Miranda Wheen is one of those dancers with an ineffable quality that makes them utterly compelling, your eyes constantly drawn to them amongst other dancers on stage. Such performers shine in any work, but they positively shimmer when matched with just the right choreographer.

All in the detail

Most recently Wheen has been shimmering in the extended and complex solo Quest, choreographed specifically for her by Martin del Amo. The work was originally commissioned by Chronology Arts and Dirty Feet in 2012 and has recently been reprised by the commissioning companies for the Vitality season at the Seymour Centre. A week later it formed part of del Amo’s Little Black Dress Suite at Riverside Theatre presented by Form Dance Projects.

Quest is a slow and intense work in which Wheen is always in control of minute muscle shifts, trembles and tensions, until she explodes into a confused, but somehow still elegant flailing. Performed to an angular composition by Alex Pozniak, it is an exacting work for both performer and the audience but rewards with its obsessive accumulation of detail and rigorous shaping. Del Amo’s idiosyncratic choreography, initially so interlinked with his own performance, is developing in interesting directions in the hands (or bodies rather) of strong interpreters, of which Wheen is definitely one.

Cross-cultural relations

A distinctive aspect of Wheen’s career so far has been her involvement in inter-cultural collaboration. She travelled to Senegal in 2007 to study under renowned African choreographer Germaine Acogny (http://www.jantbi.org/spip.php?rubrique6). In an email interview Wheen says of this experience, “Dancing for two months in Senegal significantly changed the way I felt when I danced. It was a lesson in setting physical information aside for a time in order to let new things enter and be absorbed into the body. I think a successful intercultural collaboration is constantly in flux; you are at the same time an expert and a novice.”

Game On (2011) was a collaboration between choreographer Annalouise Paul and renowned classical Indian tabla player Bobby Singh. Wheen says, “I was lucky enough to work with Bobby Singh over a period of six or seven years on a number of projects. Like any good friendship, a good collaboration can transcend the sensitivities and politeness of working across multiple cultural histories.” Keith Gallasch commended the balance of this relationship in a review of the show: “Wheen met Annalouise Paul’s considerable choreographic challenge and Singh’s rhythmic demands with total fleet-footed commitment…The response to rhythmic change was never literal, neither artist simply speeding up because the other was moving or playing faster, instead producing a marked visual or sonic counterpoint.” (RT105 online).

Bobby Singh, Miranda Wheen, Game On

Bobby Singh, Miranda Wheen, Game On

Bobby Singh, Miranda Wheen, Game On

Most recently Miranda Wheen has been in Broome working with Marrugeku on their Listening to Country Laboratory. Wheen says, “I love working in intercultural collaborations. They have taught me a deep appreciation for the infinite ways of knowing, learning and communicating culture and the necessity of careful cultivation of relationships, which inevitably take time and constant re-evaluation. The major difficulty with a lot of these projects is that they often feel like the tip of the iceberg. Working with a company like Marrugeku in Broome is inspiring because of their commitment to collaboration simply taking time. With Marrugeku, while the work remains central to the process, things like family, community, country, food and story are very much important elements to the process.”

Ecole des Sables in Senegal

Ecole des Sables in Senegal

Ecole des Sables in Senegal

Internal motivations

While Wheen definitely is still in her dancing prime, it’s almost inevitable that she is going to want to explore her own dance language sooner or later. I asked her about where she sees her practice heading. “I’m not sure whether I’m moving away from being a dancer, but I’m certainly deriving more and more pleasure from creating work for myself. As an independent dancer I am involved in quite a diverse range of projects and collaborations with many different people and processes. I think you have to be constantly prepared to work beyond your existing skills and experience, so a lot of new information is constantly flowing into my practice. I guess turning to creating my own work is about sifting through all that information and giving myself time to linger on a particular interest or idea.”

We will have an opportunity to see Wheen’s choreographic vision in October when she and nine other dancer/choreographers—the Dance Makers Collective—present Big Dance in Small Chunks through Form Dance Projects. For this Wheen will be making a work that takes as its starting points the corrupt NSW politician Eddie Obeid and the pelvis. I ask how these two ideas connect. Wheen replies, “After my time in Senegal I developed an interest in the internal lineage of movement that existed in my body when I danced, in particular movement that was driven by the pelvis. The movement that emerges when thinking about my pelvis is very internally motivated, as if the pelvis is the conscious centre of the body—what is driving the dance. Of course the importance of the pelvis is by no means a new concept to modern/contemporary dance practice…Recently I have been struck with the concept of the ‘faceless men,’ the expression used to describe scheming back-room New South Wales politicians such as Eddie Obeid. This pelvic-driven movement I’ve been working with seems to have a quality that resonates with this idea of ‘facelessness,’ that the conscious or expressive centre of the body is not the face. What if Eddie’s expression of self was not in his face but in his pelvis?” An intriguing proposition the results of which will definitely be worth checking out.

25 September 2013