A SENIOR ARTIST
Recently I was described as ‘a senior performer’ and I have to admit that it gave me a little bit of a jolt. I momentarily panicked at the barrage of stereotypes contained in the label before I relaxed and took it for the compliment it was supposed to be. Following is a meditation on a creative process and what being a senior performer/artist might mean to me.
Can I step back to step forward?
After a 4 year pause in my involvement with Mirramu Dance Company, this year, I returned to Canberra to participate in Fortuity. This project was a retrospective of the work of Elizabeth Cameron Dalman from 1965 to the present. 2015 is a significant year for Elizabeth (a most inspirational senior artist) as it marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Australian Dance Theatre, by Elizabeth, in 1965. It is also the anniversary of 50 years of Elizabeth’s continuous artistic practice and that is something special, in which I was very excited to be involved. I have always felt passionately about the importance of embodying our dance history and taking a wide view of dance as something more than the present moment. I crave ‘senior artists’ and the terribly important contribution they make to the dancing present and the dancing future, as holders of knowledge and experience, but also as practicing contemporary artists. So my first jolt was in actually imagining myself as part of this group. Wow just a bit of pressure.
Is the testing of physical ability something only the young can do without eliciting a cultural cringe? Does an aging body immediately express mediocrity?
I found the strength of the youth focused technical excellence stereotype, I still held, quite surprising, as I was sure I had let that one go. As I entered the studio I will admit to being a little apprehensive but also, more grounded. The inevitable, stereotypical insecurities of a ‘more senior’ performer were present. This body is not so young anymore, not so lythe, not so flexible, not so strong….. but this mind has shifted. I started with questions: What can my body do now? What do I have now that I can give to these works, beyond my technique? What does it mean to me to be doing these works again in this time and place with this body and mind? While I had not been performing and maintaining my modern dance technique over the last 4 years, I was developing a movement practice, exploring vastly different areas of dance making and doing, allowing myself to let go of all preconceived ideas of what I do and who I am as an artist. It has been liberating! There has also been 4 years of mental/spiritual growth as I negotiate the rocky and exhilarating terrain of parenting and maintaining an arts practice. So as I stepped back into the studio I realised I had already made a decision to embrace with curiosity and a good helping of humble pie the present moment. Relish the muscles as they move in a familiar way, interrogate what this movement feels like now with this life experience and enjoy the freedom of age as I begin a movement journey beyond the stereotypical. Hip Hooray!
What do we loose with a focus that is always forward and never looks back?
Elizabeth herself talks about the spiralling developmental pattern of dance as an art form. A process of circling away from what is known only to return to it at some point in the future with a new perspective. It has been this spiralling process of letting go and then turning back with a forward momentum, that allowed me to find new joy in performing that which I have previously performed, and to take with full consciousness and physicality the new works that Elizabeth offered. It was the acceptance of this body and mind NOW that facilitated a process of re-training and re-embodying the physical forms, which all dancers will know, once deeply learned, will never actually leave the body. What a magical force of nature is muscle memory! And I think it is this clarity in mind and body that I took to the stage as I met the audience once again in a familiar place, but from a different point of view.
I also wonder why we are not encouraged as artists to embrace our own dance histories. To value the early & often diverse work we undertake in our career as important in the journey to where we are now? To re-visit it and study it and understand it more deeply as we move forward.
Fortuity was a wonderful experience and one that I will cherish as a growth point in my own performance & choreographic career. I am incredibly proud and grateful for the movement heritage and contemporary practice that I have shared with Elizabeth Cameron Dalman over the last 16 years and I am ready to embrace ALL of me with a new solo work titled, The Whole Cake, which will begin development in August this year. I am also VERY excited to be returning to Canberra to work with Mirramu Dance Company on the ‘L’ Project, which will be performed in Queanbeyan, NSW on the 15th July and in Adelaide on the 18th July, in a double bill with Australian Dance Theatre.