Movement Movement 2023

Hi guys, I write to you whilst in the midst of an early morning downpour in Coolangatta. Sunshine State my …. foot. I am co-directing Thomas E.S. Kelly’s new solo work Kuramanunya. But as usual I have digressed as in this blog I will attempt to unpack this year’s gathering for New South Wales based independent dance makers. Held annually at Campbelltown Arts Centre, ‘Movement Movement’ aims to identify and generate discourse surrounding the contemporary dance sector’s most pressing issues, identifying gaps and needs.

The ‘Movement Movement’ event is in its fourth year and this time around Anthea Doropoulos, the founder and overarching facilitator of this initiative, opened the forum up to include artsworkers and arts organisation representatives. This was immediately reflected in the chosen panelists and the dialogues they initiated.

The first talk was inevitably about arts infrastructure. Newly appointed director of Critical Path choreographic research and development centre Agnès Michelet and current director of Sydney Festival Olivia Ansell were the first to speak. Independent Indigenous dancer and current Indigenous producer at Critical Path, Jasmin Sheppard, was to attend but was about to give birth so sent her apologies.

Agnès Michelet focused on space and used the term sanctuary to describe what the creative spaces should ideally be and provide for the dance making process. The discussion shifted to include an exchange surrounding an artist’s professional trajectory from dancer to choreographer, making works of scale fit for the big theatres that house them and the festivals who present them. Michelet then read a missive from absentee panelist Sheppard which alluded to the lengthened temporal conditions needed to produce an Indigenous work due to the imperative consultation process with identified community representatives.

As usual it was the Q&A which proceeded this first talk that provided most food for thought. Independent dance artist Trisha Wood commented that it was erroneous to assume that all dancers aspire to be choreographers whose works will one day make the festival circuit. The lack of producers able to represent the independents was also identified as a source of concern as independent artists have to grapple with grant applications, finding space, scheduling and the ancillary demands of marketing their own practice and product. At one point Michelet waxed lyrical about the kind of infrastructure, in a mythical one-stop-shop, which could accommodate the making of a work from inception to presentation. This of course is rare in NSW, although many organisations such as Critical Path do enter into partnerships in order to realise independent work. This has happened with me as FORM Dance Projects partnered with One Extra Dance Co in the making of my first work ‘Wirad’journi’ and Performance Space partnered with the services of Critical Path in the realisation of my next two works ‘Briwyant’ and ‘Long Grass’ which did make the festival circuit.

The agenda for the second talk was critical dance writing, as opposed to writing in dance performance, of which I have had many heated discussions with panelist Martin del Amo. Independent choreographer Del Amo was joined by Dr Erin Brannigan, senior lecturer at UNSW, and together they unpacked the role of critical analysis, of the dance review, and other ephemera, in relation to the artist and their work.

First up, there was a unanimous acknowledgement that dance representation in the media is sorely underrepresented. This has been exacerbated by the recent resignation of Sydney Morning Herald dance critic Jill Sykes together with the cessation of the critical arts publication RealTime Arts Magazine headed by Keith Gallasch and Virginia Baxter. However, it was also acknowledged that many publications providing reviews do still exist, including Dance Australia and Dancetrain Magazine, Artshub and The Conversation.

It was agreed that arts reviews raise the profile of artists as well as acting as critical archives. It was also acknowledged that not all reviews operate uniformly, the main difference being either a matter of quantification, most commonly identified by the assignment of a star rating, versus qualification, which seeks to open avenues for further discourse around the performance by deconstructing the experience and identifying provenance. This second type of review is crucial for identifying the ways dance operates with other disciplines and of its purpose outside of the realm of entertainment.

For example, as an emerging academic, I use my dance to examine the post-colonial Indigenous identity and the ways my community evolves in the cultural continuum. Whereas Chunky Moves’ current artistic director, Anthony Hamilton, examines the intersection of mathematical and technological advances, most predominantly gaming platforms with dance. Through the use of tutting styles and vocabularies as seen in his work ‘Forever and Ever’ Hamilton emulates the logistics of machinery.

Of course this blog played a significant role in this discussion as it’s one of the few remaining publications solely dedicated to dance. I see my role as that of an ambassador. My primary goal is to attract audiences by furthering dance literacy, whilst also seemingly making dance more accessible. I say “seemingly” because dance is already accessible, just look at ‘Tik-Tok’ which began with dance and of which dance remains the primary mode of communication. I dare you to disagree.

Lastly, Miranda Wheen ran a solo forum, which featured a white board presentation of off-the-top-of-her-head lists, compiled over the lunch/Afternoon tea break, of the current dance infrastructure. From major funded companies, to small independents, from funding bodies to organisations and institutions which provide professional training, research and development opportunities and facilities.

At one point Wheen asked us to split into groups so that we could discuss and identify three key needs, which would then be compiled and voted upon. Financing was off the table as it was declared a no-brainer. The result prioritised a strong desire for a more meaningful interaction between the big end of town, the major funded companies and the independents, including facilitated residencies, mentorships and fellowships. There was also talk of subsidies provided for the hiring of space, which would need a change from the state government sector who provides space for an exorbitant fee which is passed onto the casual consumer. The independent artists inevitably miss out to the commercial ventures who can afford the exorbitant oncosts.

The day took a strange turn when it was suggested that we each send the New South Wales government a three sentence pitch about the importance of dance in the have-your-say online survey, preferably before August 31st. Well that ship has sailed readers. Although, it was interesting that we spent a considerable amount of time considering a marketing ploy for better conditions.

So I’ll leave you with my pitch…

“Do you remember how dance got you through covid, when every uncoordinated man and his dog was featured doing the bus-stop on every social media platform? And you continually use us to sell cars, various whitegoods, headphones and headache pills, on video and live at dodgy functions. Well now it’s time for payback.”

Vicki Van Hout
FORM Dance Projects
Blogger in Residence

P.S. Last year Feras Shaheen was a highlight, he spoke of his grassroots Hip Hop community who find and share spaces with electrical outlets. He spoke of how the local Campbelltown Council saw the value to the greater community exceeding the confines of Toprocks and Crazy Legs and built a proper outdoor venue for them. He was an inspiration and urged us to think outside the box. This year I can’t help but think we were subjugating ourselves yet again to the status quo. By giving airtime to the gatekeepers first we inadvertently let them steer the ship and become less creative in our problem solving.

“Choreographer Antony Hamilton talks unison and repetition in Forever & Ever – Sydney Dance Company”