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An initiative of OzAsia Festival, the inaugural Australia-Asia Dance Lab brought together 11 professional choreographers from across Australia, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong to share their skills and explore opportunities to develop, collaborate and initiate new international projects.

Facilitated by the Dance Hub's Leigh Warren, Dance Lab is designed as a program for established choreographers who already have a national or international profile and as such, the selected participants set their own agenda for the Dance Lab more so than following a prescribed program and are intended to participate in each year of the three year program.  Dance Lab is a safe environment in which the established choreographers shared knowledge and safely exchange ideas and potentially develop new projects with each other which can be supported by OzAsia Festival.

Choreographer / Dancer, Country
Alison Currie, Australia (SA), Lina Limosani, Australia (SA). Richard Cilli, Australia (WA), Natalie Allen (Australia (WA), Yu Lu Lin, Taiwan, Guan Xiang, Taiwan, I Fen Tung, Taiwan, Victor Fung, HK. Chloe Wong, HK, Christina Chan, Singapore, Ricky Chan, Singapore.

 

observations from an afternoon at Dance Lab

When I hear the word DanceLab I envisage a place where experimentation takes place. It takes me back to my university days where I spent many hours in the physics lab carefully planning, taking precision measurements and discussing whether the results support the hypothesis. There is no such prescribed methodology that is followed in Dance Lab, Australia’s acclaimed choreographer and Dance Lab facilitator Leigh Warren assures me. He finds that set plans stifles creativity and innovative thinking.

I sit down at the back of the studio to observe the sharing session. I am the only one on a chair, everyone else is sprawled on the floor, some stretching or foam rolling. The eleven choreographers are gathered around a laptop where Victor Fung is leading the first part of the sharing session. He begins by telling of how he became to be a contemporary dance choreographer. It was around the time when he was deciding what to do at university. He saw everyone around him applying for those conventional studies such as medicine, accounting, engineering and so on. Victor decided that he could pursue university studies at some other point in time and instead enrolled in performing arts school. Victor loves making things and he uses dance to fulfil this love.

With the other choreographers hanging on his every word, Victor shows three of his pieces that are especially important to him on the laptop. The final piece, From the Top, links most closely with what he is currently trying to achieve as a choreographer. Victor does not want to create pieces to simply fulfil his creative tendencies. Instead he wants to be clearer of who he is speaking to and what he is saying. He believes that everyone has the right to access the arts but to do this he must better understand the audience. In the immediate future, Victor would like to create pieces that people who are blind or deaf can enjoy. He is reaching out to these communities to understand what makes it difficult for people with disabilities to access the arts to achieve this.

And then discussion erupts. Leigh begins by suggesting that for people to connect with a piece you must understand their culture and whether it is performed indoors or outdoors. Victor wants to expose audiences during the preparation stages perhaps through social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram so the experience is longer than just the hour and a half of dance. Lina Limosani tells of how she posted all the research and articles that she read to prepare for one of her pieces on Facebook. This allowed the audience to come in with a better understanding of the show. It also allowed the conversation to continue once the performance was over. Ricky Sim tells about he tries to understand different groups within the audiences; the seniors, ticket buyers, children, the general public. He asks, if you cannot give away free tickets, how do you expose contemporary dance to new people? Victor sums up the discussion so eloquently with the observation that even when we are speaking the same language we change our tone, we choose our words and we match the other person because our goal is to communicate. He thinks that contemporary dance could be better at talking in a way that is understandable. 

With more questions raised than answered, discussion turns to other artists that work with people with disabilities or have disabilities themselves. Someone knows of a person who interacts with people who have cerebral palsy and autism through dance alone and without speech. Another person knows of a deaf dancer who could help Victor understand dance from their perspective. The sharing session is living up to its name, Victor is clearly getting lots from the contacts that the others are sharing with him.

It’s now 3pm and I Fen Tung has to leave for the airport. With that everyone jumps to their feet and one by one give her a hug. Even though they only met at the start of the week, it seems that friendships have already formed. As I Fen  walks out, the others gather again for more discussion.

Leigh suggests that it is a great time for reflection but the conversation quickly turns to ideas for next year’s Dance Lab. Leigh proposes that for a couple of days they could go to the Palmer sculpture park for inspiration. Everyone agrees. They could also invite dancers along to try out any ideas. Lina thinks it would be good to hold it in a different country so the choreographers are exposed to other cultures. Perhaps this could be an extension to the week in Adelaide. There is lots of discussion around residencies in Hong Kong and Singapore. Everyone agrees that any residency opportunities that they know of in their home country will be posted in the Facebook group chat.

Chloe wants to see people use the Facebook group chat to post what their interests are and how they evolve. She believes this will help generate new ideas and promote collaboration between the choreographers. Leigh adds that in the group chat they could share their ideas and support each other to make it happen.

In walks a film crew to shoot some background shots before some interviews take place. Everyone laughs and jokes about how the footage will not contain the expected leaping around. Indeed, most people are sitting looking at their phones with small group discussions dotted around. They are completely oblivious to who the camera operator is filming at any one time. It becomes apparent that Lina’s conversation involved seeing the art exhibition in the building next door and with enough interest mustered up the choreographers head out for a short break before the filming of interviews begin. As I leave the studio too I can’t help but think that this art inspired, unorganised field trip is exactly what Leigh Warren wants Dance Lab to be.
 

Amanda Norelli
Adelaide Festival Centre's Green Room Advocacy program

 

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DANCE LAB

September 26 - 30 2017