The slippery path

Erin Brannigan follows choreographer-filmmaker Sue Healey’s creative journey

Sue Healey’s choreographic work spans more than 2 decades, involves performance, installation and film work created across 3 cities where she has made a base for herself since the mid-80s—Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. She has also had an ongoing interest in working and presenting in Japan since 1997.
Sue Healey

Sue Healey

Sue Healey

Last time RealTime spoke to Sue (RT61, p48) she talked about her Niche series which included performance, film and installation. Healey has now turned her attention from space to the theme of time. Her work in this current series has included the award winning dancefilm, Three Times; a second film, Once in a Blue Moon; a live work, Inevitable Scenarios, which tours 2006-7 to Sydney (May), Melbourne (June) and Japan (TBC); and an upcoming installation/dancefilm project, Will Time Tell? The latter was funded by Neon Rising, the Asialink Japan-Australia Dance Exchange project and consists of 3 stages, the first of which (filming in Japan) has just been completed. Stage 2 involves installation research and rehearsal in Sydney at Critical Path (July 2006) and stage 3, performances in Japan in 2007.


How does the Japanese co-production, Will Time Tell? fit into your current series on time?

I was given a small grant and a lot of freedom, which was great. So I took dancer Shona Erskine and cinematographer Mark Pugh and a translator with me and in 2 weeks we shot a film on Super-8 and HD video on the streets of Tokyo and Yokohama. I still haven’t cut it together but I’m really excited about that project. It got me out of the safety of the studio and challenged me to deal with available light conditions and creating choreographic narratives ‘on the spot.’ We played with contrasts of time—placing Shona still or moving slowly in ridiculously chaotic places like Shinjuku, and then reversed with Shona moving frenetically in serene Japanese gardens. And we had 4 Butoh-trained Japanese dancers who were in each scene as my ‘controlled’ Japanese environment.

Stage 2 involves a further grant from Asialink to bring one of the Japanese artists here to work with an Australian dancer, to do more filming and then spend a week researching a live work, which incorporates some of the footage. I want to create a room of screens with multiple projections. So a film/performance installation and a film will come out of it. This stage involves Critical Path giving me 2 weeks free space so we will then work towards a public outcome. While I was in Japan last year I met up with a producer who is keen to get us back for stage 3 in 2007.

How does the Time series connect to Niche?

The Niche series had a very satisfying journey starting in film, then site-specific work, a collaboration in Japan, the performance, Fine Line Terrain, and culminating in a film, Fine Line, which was very much like a full stop. And Shona was the link across that work. So starting this new series I really did try and move into new territory. From being really linear and angular we started making something rhythmically complex and round-edged rather than hard-edged to describe the basic material difference. All the focus on space is still there but also temporal ideas, which are so much more slippery.

So I started with a filmic study, Three Times: 3 solos with 3 different sorts of time. Lisa Griffiths was looping and repetition; Shona was timeless and suspended, but with glitches and cuts out of time; and Nalina Wait ended up sort of floating (she was pregnant at the time and her body was changing in fantastic ways). Then I spent about a month working on Inevitable Scenarios, thinking about more theatrical ways of dealing with time beyond the abstract. And my work with film really assisted me for this stage. So reversing, slowing down, focusing on rhythm, a sense of glitching. Working with percussionist Ben Walsh was fantastic—he talked about how infinitely varied the space between moments in time can be. The score was so diverse rhythmically and aesthetically it demanded an episodic structure—many scenes of temporal play, from pure melodrama to intense physicality.

Shona Erskine is such a constant element in your work. What is it about her dancing that obviously inspires you?

Shona has been essential to my work over the past 6 or 7 years. She’s not just an incredible technician and performer; it’s the way she connects imaginatively to what I do. Her focus is psychology; so to have her in the studio from day one is extraordinary because she demands a rigour in investigating an idea. What she brings to the other dancers—that sense of enquiry—is just fantastic. It’s such a treasure working with her. She’s also given me the sense of an ongoing evolution of an idea. I don’t feel like I’m constantly having to start over again. And that goes for Lisa and Nalina as well. They bring the ideas with them to a new work and we can work deeper. I guess that’s why you form a company. And I’m still trying to find a way to make that viable. This last work was a huge undertaking for me as choreographer and producer. And I have lost 2 dancers prior to Melbourne and need a substantial amount of money each week to rehearse…which I don’t have. There’s no safety net for artists like me who are working independently. And I’ve done pretty well so far. I’ve got by because I’ve learnt administrative and producing skills.

I am feeling like film is more viable in that I have more control over it in terms of scheduling. But I do have interest in the live work from Japan and New Zealand, so having a manager or agent is really the key. These things are essential for me to move forward.

Inevitable Scenarios, choreographer and filmmaker Sue Healey, composer, Ben Walsh, performers Shona Erskine, Lisa Griffiths, Nalina Wait, Craig Bary, Michael Carter, James Batchelor, Rachelle Hickson; Arts House, Melbourne, June 13-18

RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 pg. 40

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2006