Samaya Wives: One-minute dance award winner

Keith Gallasch

The Samaya Wives’ wittily inventive The Knowledge Between Us, performed by Tara Jade Samaya and James Vu Anh Pham and filmed by Pippa Samaya took out the Outstanding Achievement in Dance on Film or New Media in the 2017 Australian Dance Awards this week. It had already won awards in Scandinavia’s 60secondsdance 2016 competition. I spoke by phone with Pippa.


Congratulations on the award. How did you come to making dance film? 

I’m a photographer and I shoot a lot of dance. When I first discovered dance it was through Tara Jade, before she was my wife. I’ve known her since 2006, the beginning of her time as a dancer with ADT. I’d taken some photographs of her just out of interest and what I discovered blew me away and definitely started a journey. What really took me as photographer is that dance allows me to capture things that are outside of myself and it’s purely visual. Dance provided me a visual language for all those complex, inner emotional states of being human. It enabled me to express things that words can’t and allows a level of empathy that’s otherwise difficult to find. So I became somewhat obsessed with dance, and still am. Being a moving form, I think it was a pretty natural progression for me too to move into film.


Tell me about your first videos.

The very first was with Tara and I think it was for one of the first Rough Draft seasons at ADT. We put together, quite impulsively, a little half stop-motion, half film, called No Ordinary Moments. We just naturally went on from there. I’ve made a few things without Tara as well but we work together really well and increasingly we’ve made things together. That’s how Samaya Wives was formed very organically — just out of passion and love and curiosity.


I guess the name Samaya Wives is self-explanatory. You are each other’s wives?

Yes, exactly.


How did you come to make The Knowledge Between Us? 

I’ve become increasingly interested in a more surreal approach to imagery. I think that’s where the idea of having a ridiculous number of books in it came about. We wanted to explore humankind’s obsession with knowing everything, the constant hunger for knowledge and how it can also stand in the way of that beautiful state of wonderment and awe of not-knowing. So we were sort of bouncing between those two things.


The making of it must have posed some interesting challenges.

Yes, very interesting. I researched all the area within a six-hour radius of where we were and I found this incredible location, a young volcano basin. I don’t know if we were technically allowed to go in there but we did, and as soon as I saw it, I said, “That’s the place. It has to be there.” Naturally, the dancers [Tara Jade and James Vu Anh Pham] were uncertain at first because they have to protect their precious bodies. There was a very, very steep descent to the bottom, so I had to do a bit of persuading and we all had to muster a bit of courage. We had massive suitcases full of books, which I ended up rolling right down to the bottom. It was quite an adventure but such an incredible natural space.


How long did it take to film?

Till sunset. Probably about three hours.


Was it improvisation-based, trying to find out what could be done or did you have a storyboard?

It wasn’t completely mapped out. We had some images we wanted to find: a few sketched out images like the one of Tara and Jimmy facing each other with the books between their chests. That and the one of them flying out from the stack of books turned out to be practically very difficult. But then there was a bit of task-based improvisation.


Why the short duration?

We made it specifically for a 60-seconds dance competition, which is held in Scandinavia It’s quite an incredible competition. That was what inspired us to make something so short. Before that we’d always made works of four minutes minimum. It’s quite a challenge to get something that’s poignant and has depth and flow and has a completeness about it and all in 60 seconds.


And it’s done really well, which must be very satisfying.

We won the 60secondsdanse award this year in the Denmark and Sweden sections. It’s extremely satisfying and very humbling as well.


Pick Yourself Up from The Samaya Wives on Vimeo.


I like another of your works, Pick Yourself Up.

That’s another of our favourites and, again, made with our good friend Jimmy. That was definitely a lot more improvised and shot in a studio, so I got to play with my lights. We had the idea about using paint and the concept itself was born of an actual experience of Jimmy’s. He’d gone through a very difficult break-up and it was essentially based around his process of picking himself back up, as the title suggests.


Beautiful filming of the footwork.

Thank you. I do love the macro-lens shots in that film.


The flared contrast between hands, the flow of the paint on skin and the fall of the black cloth on the body look digital at first glance.

That’s all for real, actually. There’s nothing added in. Obviously, I’ve edited it quite a lot but there are no added elements. It’s all in-camera.


When did you make it?

That’s quite a while ago, in my last year at university, 2014, doing a Bachelor degree in Commercial Photography at RMIT, which was very spread out because I kept having to take time off to travel and learn in that way, which I think is equally important. In the last year I came back and my major project was making the full-length documentary about contemporary dance, Dancing in the Now. It won an award last year. We shot Pick Yourself Up in one of the holiday breaks.


Read a 2015 article in which I respond to Pippa Samaya’s documentary Dancing in the Now and interview Tara Jade Samaya about its making.

See the full list of the 2017 Australian Dance Award winners.

Samaya Wives, The Knowledge Between Us, makers Pippa Samaya, Tara Jade Samaya, performers Tara Jade Samaya, James Vu Anh Pham, film Pippa Samaya; An Ubuntu Samaya Production

Top image credit: Samaya Wives, The Knowledge Between Us

26 September 2017