Virtual Dancing

Karen Pearlman previews the Green Mill Dance Festival

It’s pretty hard yakka starting a festival—so much funding to raise, so many sensibilities to offend. A dance festival is particularly rough, dance being neither especially commercial, nor especially high up in the ranks of high art. All of the inclusions and the exclusions are fraught with meaning for the small and tightly knit dance community, and pretty insignificant to anyone else. But coming up in Melbourne in January 1995 is the Green Mill Dance Festival’s third year, so the organisers should be congratulated on their tenacity.

The Green Mill survival strategy seems to be to mix the mainstream, the experimental, the academic and the general public with a generous dash of government funding priorities. The program offers performances: this year an intriguing collection of seasoned professionals each of whom has a personal signature. The sum of this series should be a sharp, speedy look at the mid range of the Australian contemporary dance sensibility without digression to the extremes—neither fornication onstage nor pointe shoes on anorexics are likely to be seen. There are also forums that cover the spectrum from academic through technical to talk show. And there are classes and workshops for professionals and the general public.

Ostensibly the theme of Green Mill this year is “Is Technology the Future for Dance?”—a chic but ambiguous theme, and one that apparently was on the minds of many attendees at last year’s festival. General Manager Mark Worner says that in last year’s feedback sessions many people voiced their concerns about technology and dance: aesthetics, politics and access.

So the programming committee has put together an appealing series of events to address or circumvent issues of technology, dance and the future. Most of the blurbs about performances have managed to include the words “technology” or “computers” or at the very least “film” or “video”, though actually only Hellen Sky and John McCormack (Company in Space) have an extensive history of working the high wire of hybridity by mixing dance and computer technology. However, a company like Fieldworks, which, according to Mark Worner, uses little more than bodies in space and some light, has been included because of their particular relationship to technology—they’re having none of it. So it’s up to audiences to draw their own conclusions about those tricky “aesthetics, politics and access” issues when they see the two companies side by side.

The forums cover computers, science, cyber strategies, virtuality and other techno terms in relation to dance. There is also an extensive range of film/video showings or related discussions. And there are frequently scheduled personality interviews with the artists in the performance series and with the overseas guests. The schedule of forums seems designed on the same model as the Melbourne Writers Festival (not surprising since Mark Worner formerly worked on that very successful event). But Green Mill doesn’t have any officially schedule schmooze sessions, like book launches, which is a shame, because talking to each other is one of the most significant benefits the gathered dance artists can expect to get from a festival. Mark does say, however, that he hopes people attending the festival will find the opportunity to sit down and talk to overseas guests like Rhoda Grauer (US) and Mayumi Nagatoshi (Japan), since one of the reasons they particularly have been invited is to help expand opportunities for Australian artists overseas.

Finally there are the workshops, a wildly diverse collection of experiences available to the professional from a dance video workshop to an American postmodern workshop with Bebe Miller, to Body Weather with Tanaka Min, to Hip Hop, to Feldenkrais. And, for the general public, free classes given by professionals are being pitched like easy listening radio—accessible and not too demanding. The idea here is to give people a physical experience they can then relate directly to the work they see performed. Admittedly, the fear-of-dance factor is an important one to address when wooing a more general audience to the form. But it gets my back up a bit that professional dance practitioners who are notoriously impoverished have to pay for everything while the only mildly interested are offered the experience for free.

However, if you can afford it, it’ll probably be great fun and highly stimulating to attend Green Mill. And since it’s this year’s attendees who will determine the theme of next year’s festival, it might well be worth making your voice heard.

RealTime issue #4 Dec-Jan 1994 pg. 32

© Karen Pearlman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 1994