A long time mentor and teacher Brian Carbee

I would be severely remiss if I didn’t say farewell and thank you to a long time mentor and teacher in Brian Carbee.

As I ride the early morning rails to Gosford this day, I am reflecting on my nearly half a lifetime relationship with Brian Carbee. You see, on Saturday he officially retired from teaching contemporary dance at Sydney Dance Company.

When I first received the announcement via email I was devastated. Yep, utterly devo-ed. And I was not alone. Am not alone, as the melancholic hangover has not quite dissipated yet. You see not only was he, correction is he, a great teacher but he is also the social glue to the stalwart group who have attended his classes for over two decades. Yes, you saw that right. It is not a misprint. Twenty years.

What is so special about this man I almost hear you speak in response to the words illuminated on your devices?

Brian Carbee’s class is, correction was, release based with a focus on movement based on momentum generated through a shift of weight at a given initiating point, or joint. The challenge for me was always letting my naturally stiff body let go, telling my muscles that they can take a back seat, that their role is to modulate the momentum, not drive the action in space. This way of moving has been an antidote, medicine to the other punishing types of embodiment I incur during my day to day life as a teacher and choreographer of my own works.

But it’s more than that, and I told Brian as did the other people who attended a special farewell lunch at the Sydney Theatre Restaurant, above the dance studios, afterward. In his classes Brian taught us stagecraft.  He taught us how to be something or someone other than ourselves, whether that be an obsequious jester of the court or the rip cord of an old Victor lawn mower.

For me Brian is a consummate performer and performance maker. I remember watching a work of his titled Glory Holy! at the Seymour Centre as part of a triple bill featured in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival program many years ago. It was a two-hander with Dean Walsh, which I somehow remembered as predominantly a solo, set in a cubicle, in a seedy back room of a sex den. In it he was the perfect mixture of funny and vulnerable, delivered with dry wit and an embodiment which was both intimate and personal, as well as deft and loose. I remember wanting to be able to make work just like that.

I will now confess, in class I would try to engage Brian in conversation just to hear his one liner comebacks. The most memorable was my statement to him, “Your class is better than sex.” His retort, “You’re having bad sex.” Touché.

Years later I would make a work titled plenty serious TALK TALK, where not only did I mention him in it, but I utilised one of his exercises to make a point about the legacy a teacher and their technique leaves behind in the bodies that readily succumb to the will, knowledge and driving or underpinning world view, of their leader.

This weekend last I saw Carbee in the foyer at Campbelltown in preparation for Raghav Handa’s The Assembly- a bastard of a place for which I was dramaturg and I couldn’t help but make comparisons to Brian’s work. Similarly, I have known Raghav for over two decades where I have seen him flourish as an artist, from former student, then dancer and collaborator in my works before embarking on his own choreographic trajectory. It was in the surreal play in which The Assembly was created including the crafting of text rich with ambiguity, which at first seemed incongruous and confusing, where I could draw a line, a lineage, to me and my training and hence to Carbee. This is how legacies are built and it is imperative that we outwardly acknowledge them. Albeit this is not Raghav’s only lineage as his work is deeply embedded with his cultural ancestry but we, Carbee and I, are definitely in the mix.

This is how art lives, not as a stagnant repository in one single body but as a fluid entity which continually morphs and adapts. While it fills me with sadness that an era has closed with the cessation of Carbee’s contemporary classes at Sydney Dance Company, it simultaneously fills me with pride and hope that it lives on in our bodies, in those that we teach and those that see and experience the works that we subsequently make.

Finally to Brian I simply say, “Thank you” and of Handa, “Watch this space.”

I lie. Brian Carbee is not a one trick pony and you will have to watch out for him in the credits of some big and small screens as he is also a writer of screen plays. So not really gone, just metamorphosed.

Until next time.

Vicki Van Hout
FORM Dance Projects
Blogger in Residence

“RealTime Arts – Magazine – issue 41 – Mardi Gras: secret men’s business” https://www.realtimearts.net/article/issue41/9789