Let’s start by talking about the heart and vision behind One Dance Collective…
It all started from my Dancing for Jane show. When my mum passed away from breast cancer I created this contemporary show called ONE, which represents that we are always, never have been and never will be separated. The support I received from that show was so special. The reason we could put it on, pay the dancers and hire a theatre was because I reached out on social media with a Pozible campaign and so much support came in through all of the different dance communities I have interacted with around Australia, it was overwhelming the support of the community that got behind it. After we toured that show I wanted to keep that sense of community and support network going and so One Dance Collective was created. It aims to continue the importance of community and connection through dance.
Have you mostly felt that sense of connection and unity in your different dance communities or is it something you wanted to create because you felt there was a lack of it?
Yes, there’s a lot of support in the dance community in comparison with other creative industries I’ve had experience with. Dancers I have met are generally really supportive of each other. However, I have experienced a lot of struggle too; as a dancer it’s easy to feel like you are trying to constantly prove yourself and in a sense you are competing with your peers for the work. But overall the support networks that come from dance are really easy to create and important to focus on.
What does true artistry mean to you?
I think true artistry is authenticity. It’s also about having vulnerability in order to be open. It’s having a purpose and a message behind what you’re creating. At the moment I’m really inspired by possibility, in a sense of delving into what’s really possible with dance – not from a place of striving to be original but from a place of curiosity.
Why do you think that curiosity is important?
Curiosity is how we discover new things and challenge ourselves to evolve. I’m not as focused on physical possibility as much as creative possibility. I’m interested in how you can tell a story in multiple ways through movement and what dance can really do – what we can use dance for and how we can broaden what dance means.
Do you have any examples of how you have used dance in innovative ways and how that’s developed over time?
I guess the idea of what it means to be a dancer growing up is sticking to genres of dance within your training, which is fairly structured and rigid and the work you can go into is seemingly limited within those guidelines, so over time I have done those things and have found myself searching for more than that. I feel like there is a bigger purpose for dance and I have a hunger for the potential that dance has.
What do you believe that potential is?
Dance is such a powerful tool for connection. It’s a language that connects people beyond culture and identity. It transcends what language you can speak, beyond race and background.
You mentioned that true artistry involves vulnerability and connection. What do those words mean to you and why are they important?
Vulnerability is the willingness to look at yourself and reflect on what you are feeling and thinking, and then being open to sharing that. Connection is unity; It’s recognising we are all connected and we are all sharing this journey.
You work with dancers of all different ages, experience and backgrounds. How do you make vulnerability a possibility for the dancers and students you work with?
I think the easiest way is through eye contact. We do a lot of eye contact exercises where we lock eyes with each other. It can be super awkward and a hard experience at first but it can be a powerful tool for instant connection if you allow it. We also place a huge emphasis on developing a community within a class instead of students just approaching class as something they journey solo.
How do you think dance lends itself to communities of connection?
As a dancer you have to be willing to put yourself out there. You have to be vulnerable. Everything you do as a dancer - in a room full of other people - is crossing the line into a space where you have to offer what you have saying “ok this is me, this is what I bring and how I move and who I am.” You don’t often have a choice, which can be quite a confronting and exposing practice. We also need to find ways to be comfortable making mistakes. Dance improvisation teaches us how to do this. We work a lot on finding the freedom in making mistakes. We actually prefer it if dancers don’t strive to be perfect. It takes the pressure off a dancer and a whole lot of creative possibility emerges when we aren’t afraid of making mistakes.
What is the most important thing for you to begin the choreographic process?
Usually it’s to have a strong concept or intention before I begin. Before I do anything I often have to know why I am doing it, and what it is for. But in saying that sometimes I can just start creating without knowing why and in the process of creating I find the meaning for the work and I suddenly know what it is about and what it is for.
When you have completed the choreographic process of developing a work with a group of dancers – which requires a lot of digging deeper to create a message that is meaningful and real to people – how do you feel when it comes to the first moment sharing it with an audience, with no idea of how they are going to receive the work?
I get to a point where it’s not about the audience. I try and encourage any dancers that I work with to dance for themselves and to connect from within. It’s an opportunity to say what you want to say without worrying what happens. By doing that I feel like the audience has the chance to experience something that is real and unforced.
In the choreographic process [when devising a work] do you have specific tasks that will help a dancer inject their own experiences into the work?
I do a lot of improvisation to try and get dancers to reveal something that is real for them. In Dancing for Jane where we were telling the story about my experience losing my mum, a lot of the dancers hadn’t experienced that. I encouraged the dancers to dance from a place of experience that was relevant to them and that they could connect with. I allow a lot of space for reflection where they can ask themselves “Ok what is this” and “What am I really trying to say.”
The Dancing for Jane series was something that you shared soon after you lost your mum. How did you find that process at that point in time and how has this work developed over the years?
I was actually planning to do the show for mum before she passed away, and it wasn’t long before because her case escalated really fast so it happened way sooner than we anticipated. I got in contact with some people I had worked with before and wanted to work with on this and then a week later mum passed. I decided I still wanted to do the show, and from that moment we put on the show in the following month. We put it together in just over two weeks of rehearsals. It happened so fast as there was so much to get out and process. I like making a work quickly, I like the pressure and how much you can invest yourself into something when the process is condensed, as opposed to being spread out over time.
Does the shorter time frame help you not overthink things?
Yes definitely. I enjoy making the initial work in a short time but I am learning to develop it over time – like we have done re-working the Dancing for Jane show. To be honest the actual dance steps themselves don’t mean that much, it’s what’s behind the steps that is the main thing.
You release a dance film every year since your mum passed around the date of her birthday, with the most recent film being the third one released [film attached below]. Tell me a bit about this process?
For me this most recent film was created around the idea of searching for that mother figure. I lost that mother figure in my life but I’m not able to let go of the reality that I actually need that kind of person in my life; I need that kind of connection still. It was really special creating it with Sarah [Boulter] because she is such a mother figure in my life and a close mentor and friend so it was such a beautiful experience.
When you are teaching, what is the most important thing you want your students walking away having learnt or felt?
I have always loved taking classes myself, even after I finished my formal training up until now. It can be a scary place, so what I try and do in my classes is to try and give people permission to let go and feel comfortable in the room. I think that’s the most powerful but simple thing.
How do you feel like you do that?
Just encouraging them that it’s not about getting the steps perfect but it’s about letting go and having the opportunity to explore and play in class.
Do you think contemporary dance lends itself to increasing the dancers understanding of themselves?
Definitely. There is a big emphasis on being self aware and using what you are feeling and thinking to inform your movement.
When do you feel most alive?
Creating. I feel like I am at my best choreographing a work on people and seeing it come together. I feel most at ease when I’m doing this and time seems to go so fast. I realised this creating the Dancing for Jane work. I would go to the studio, make work for six hours straight and then suddenly realise so much time had gone by without me noticing!
How did your family process the work?
It was nice to bring everyone together to share in it. We didn’t have to say anything; it was all felt.
How do you think we can use dance to change the world?
Connection. I think about this a lot because at times dance can seem like a bit of a selfish career and I have questioned it in that sense. But thinking more about the world, I think every problem at its core stems from disconnection – a disconnect from yourself or from other people or the environment – it all comes down to that disconnection. Dance can be such a powerful tool for connection to yourself, others and the world around you, so if I can focus on this then that is doing a little bit of good for the world.
What three values do you aim to live by?
Presence, Authenticity and Light.
Living light or being a light?