Dance Forum 2015

Image courtesy of ArtsHub

Dance Massive over and done with, I flew back to Sydney to replenish my burgeoning career as an academic-in-waiting; as novice university student at Macquarie. Had no choice really, my Writing the Real lecturer noted that there was no point enrolling if I was going to miss three weeks. (I conveniently failed to mention my impending season as performer in the Gong.)

In diligent pursuit of all things dance, I caught what was almost akin to the red eye, back to the sophisticated city renowned for its fashion and food. It was dark when I left the house, dark when I boarded, but promising colour sifted through a grey dawn upon touching down on the tarmac at Tullamarine in Melbourne.

The previous week had been warm, the sky failing to threaten its infamous four seasons in a day.

My crocheted day bag beat a heavy tattoo against my thigh as I counted down the seconds with each anxious footfall. I was not going to be late, I was not going to unwillingly take the scenic route. I was going straight to Footscray Community Arts Centre, straight to the National Dance Forum.

But no, there were hours to fill before we all eagerly assembled. I was here to meet the New South Welsh movement contingent (AKA self-styled Sydney Dance Mafia). Ausdance NSW had organised for 10 representatives to take part in the proceeding forum. We were city folk and regional, independent and company representative, emerging and mid-career dance practitioners. Two of us would be on panels speaking; Thomas E S Kelly on his international collaborative experience in Canada and myself about the role of the critic and critical discourse in dance.

Is it wrong to compare Andrew Morrish with a leprechaun? A benevolent creature with the magic touch. Our MC for the event bustled through the growing crowd, finally ushering us in, armed with a broken bell, into the room where we would convene each day. A black box with an impromptu stage, seating in the round and a conspicuous white square of tarkett, reminding us of what we were and luring us each in turn when the seating got hard and enthusiastic ears were threatened by impatient bodies. The bell to move us on when our time was up. He reminded us that the forum was designed for us to come together, to talk, share, not make policy.

He laid down the rules and gave us an inkling of the way forward before the first speaker Lemi Ponifasio, Artistic Director and founder of MAU dance company was introduced.

I had seen Lemi speak before, at the Carriageworks in Sydney. He was uncooperative. He is famous for his short answers and unswerving elusive agenda. Fiona Winning had her work cut out for her,  I thought.

Both Lemi and Fiona were fabulous. Lemi, a Samoan tribal chief, was forthcoming, he was almost prophetic, his pontification was full of sage information, quotable quotes (which wouldn’t be quoted by this audience member, because his star refused to be recorded). We were treated to a full account of his performative history, motivations, instigations and unlikely collaborations.

MAU is a Samoan word, which means a declaration to the truth of a matter, or a revolution as an effort to transform. His work is full of political urgency, he maintains that his dancers are not dancers but human beings. He is unapologetic and explains that part of the experience may be to leave. That in fact during one of his performances the majority of the audience walked out, but stayed behind to talk about the work afterward. He is a controversial spokesman. He is colour blind, sharing with us the importance of lighting in his work, which is always dramatic. I recalled Stones In Her Mouth, the lighting at once seared my retinas, only to become so dark the bodies of the women, dressed modestly from neck to ankles in black, floated, appearing as apparitions.

We were propelled into day two, buoyed by Lemi’s opening oratory. This day promised options. With two sessions consisting of three panels covering a broad range of topics* and yet a second key note address, this time VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter.

Jerril has a meat and potatoes approach to dance, as her position probably dictates. Bodies as data, embodied practice counted and compared to sporting participation and or waning/declining inclinations. She introduced the notion of lifetime investment and asked: What happens to all those little girls who graced scout halls and donned sequins for the opportunity to compete in eisteddfods across the country? (Maybe not in those terms.)

The ongoing raging debate: Why isn’t dance as popular as sport? What are we missing? This moved onto: Why as a nation are we so fat? Can dance fill this sedentary void? It will if she can help it.

My panel duties fulfilled, I could relax and bathe in the collective captive cumulative embodied knowledge.

The third day was to focus on inclusivity in dance and, like the preceding day, was directly influenced by activities concluding the previous afternoon.

I had been privy to growing discontent amongst my indigenous peers about the lack of indigenous perspective. I was in a precarious position as panellist in a session where each topic had an indigenous representative. I was also the indigenous artist represented in Dance Massive. While I agree that Dance Massive is billed as national festival, the Victorian presence is strongest. My position meant that indigenous work and knowledge exists, that we are valued. I questioned the effect my inclusion as an active participant in a protest would have on the inroads and strategies I had made to address this issue.

So I stayed away. This does not mean I don’t support my peers, or agree with the sentiment.

I am still thinking, meditating on the Forum as it unfolded for me, as I am sure those who attended the whole event, a day, or a session would agree.

*A blog detailing my participation as a panellist will follow. It’s not as dry as it sounds – I swear.

– by Vicki Van Hout