I am curious to understand how Annalouise Paul feels when she has to talk about an artwork or research that doesn’t necessarily exist yet to an audience or a panel. Precisely, the moment when one writes about a creative project to develop in the future. Annalouise confesses that “This is a double-edged sword, and these days I won’t submit an application unless I have a clear idea of what I want to achieve”
An interview was in the pipeline to follow up my discussion about making choreography in Asia and Australia. The value of cultural dances in today’s landscape and the painful process of applying for funding before we know how the performance will turn out. KPI’s and working with government funding bodies.
Annalouise and I met a couple of years ago for the first time in Singapore on the occasion of World Dance Alliance, and more recently producer Tania Goh got us together for the research and development of Singlish. I am interested in discussing Singlish research and where Annalouise is at the moment. She tells me that ” What was interesting to me at the concept stage two years ago was how three languages: contemporary dance, acting, traditional dance could speak to one another. How spoken languages and literature drive our sense of identity.”
From my point of view, Singlish (working title) looks into the beautiful intricacies of spoken language as a manifestation of identity, and the cultural significance words bring to dance. Pre-creation is the most difficult part to articulate myself these days. Perhaps as a result of reviewing so many performances.
The pre-creation stage is what I call the conceptual or research stage, where the ideas are brewing and anything goes because it’s not like you’re into the process when the work is telling you what it wants to be – at this stage you can just keep pushing your ideas and imagination. But articulating this for funding, as mentioned is bittersweet because the ideas haven’t formed fully – it’s a counter creative process. It’s not about art. It’s about KPI’s and it’s about being risk averse.
What is the future of Singlish?
What was interesting to me at the concept stage two years ago was how three languages (contemporary dance, acting, traditional dance) could speak to one another – how spoken languages and literature drive our sense of identity and then this morphed into a new concept for one dancer and one musician. After February’s development where a singular body might carry the narrative thread, perhaps with other voices on stage too but one main storyteller-dancer. Tania and I are re-imagining Singlish now, we’re in that conceptual or pre-creation stage in fact. We’re looking at the kind of work that can connect across South East Asia and travel internationally, carrying some relevance beyond Asia too. The title will change too. Singlish as a working title was problematic for Singaporeans, it became apparent that it was too loaded and they could not see past it, in the way that I did.
Let’s discuss flamenco. Please share with me your passion for flamenco. It is very present in your body, in your explanations and moments of wonder on art-making.
Flamenco has taken on different meanings for me throughout the years, but ultimately, it is about embodiment. It can be such as imposition on the body, a force that pushes and pulls you like classical ballet does, or Indian dance perhaps but it has not reached that place of classicism, so there is still room to find one’s personal style, but then, and only then is it flamenco anyway. Because flamenco is not about mimicry. If flamenco locks itself into a stylistic place would be anti-flamenco but I am sure there are many that disagree with me on this too.
When I think about dance, developing my line of thought on choreography (my own included), I tend to always look for references to people. On pedestrians, as much as on other art forms where movement isn’t central to the art work itself. What is it that inspires you today to create choreography?
I love form. I love the movement, shapes, lines, dynamics but I dislike dance that speaks about the form itself, which that may sound like a contradiction but I have always been interested to talk about humanity. I am inspired by how form can really express that humanity. That’s where Singlish was headed – there was one contemporary dancer, one traditional dancer and an actor. I wanted to show that we all have a universal understanding of each other through languages (dance and spoken) that we don’t necessarily understand simply because we share humanity. The audience has to think for themselves and have opinions. Dismantling the dance forms in front of the audience is like saying there is a breakdown in communication here. If the languages remain fixed, not mutable, not even moving towards any hybridity then you have people on stage literally not communicating and for an audience it’s just saying ‘we’re a cross cultural society and we live in silos’ but once the forms are transitional or a dancer/actor (character) transforms through that process it opens a gateway for an audience to follow that character’s journey and transform their views with them. We take them on a journey just like you would in a straight narrative – the hero starts in one place, but by the end, their behaviour is visible and non-visibly changed.
I would like to dive into the subject of Cultural dances.
Cultural dance **big sigh** in Australia is still a peripheral oddity from western terms. Certainly, I find contemporary dancers and choreographers quite ignorant and at times arrogantly ignorant about cultural dance. The difference for me is that I am trained in contemporary dance too, I trained at the Laban Centre in London and I’ve worked in both fields for 30 years, I danced for Bill T. Jones and other choreographers during my emerging years as a dancer, so I have a perspective from both sides.
My head-on battle with this division is the divisive nature of the funding and arts world in Australia. Let’s just say that having left Australia at 21 then returned at 34, not much changed. Since then, its been 18 years, (I’m 52) and still we are fighting to have cultural dance gain some status as art rather than ‘ethnic’, ‘folk’, ‘quaint’ or ‘community’ (which means non-professional) practice.
Cultural dances in Singapore are celebrated by audiences that don’t attend contemporary dance performances necessarily. Most recently I started attending a variety of classical Indian dance performances and it delights me to see sell out audiences on a Thursday and Friday nights. What is the case in Australia? Do choreographers have an interest in culture, specifically cultural dances?
Like you, I watch cultural dance with an open lens but I also know there are subset audiences that love the liminal works too, that speak to contemporary matters and draw from cultural content. My practice is hybrid. And whilst that is really out there and up front in all my promotion and profiling, that place of liminality is still much less understood.
The irony of contemporary dance makers is they feel they are cutting edge and innovative, but really everything has been done before in past decades by the pioneers and most certainly done before in cultural dance too. The chance encounters of Cunningham, the experimentation and rejection of establishment of The Judson Theatre artists, Yvonne Rainer etc, cultural dance forms have constantly experimented, rejected establishment and innovated inside themselves. Cultural dance has been there and done that. It has come back around on itself again and again, and in 100 years contemporary dance will have come back to itself also to do the full circle. So I wonder if it will become more and more formalised, classifiable and therefore more traditional.
My passion now over the last 15 years is to find processes that can readily bring cultural dances together into a new place of meeting. It’s like chemistry, finding the right mixes that can create something stable. I feel cultural and contemporary dance meet well – for my aesthetic at least. But this is where the contention also lies, contemporary dance will say ‘this is contemporary dance inspired by…’ or it is a deviant of contemporary dance but for me, this is colonisation in ‘embracing’ hybrid dance. I believe it’s not contemporary dance but is something new altogether. A new genre maybe. Both sides of the fence do not understand the other, and even less do they understand this liminal space.
I feel I need to enter into a deeper discussion here about my processes. Dance DNA, which I invited you to come along and witness and contribute to whilst I was in Singapore. Dance DNA and Hidden Rhythms are processes in a state of research, projects that I have been testing, through workshops, artistic exchanges and labs, that perhaps one day I will document formally, but my aim is to find processes to construct new choreographic vocabularies. The idea is for any dancer can use these as a tool that will generate an idiosyncratic aesthetic for them – and perhaps develop new approaches for themselves as well.
The fusion of intercultural dance over decades, centuries probably, has always been time-consuming. When you have one or more things it’s just going to take longer. So how do we get there with limited time and money to do less and less to create works these days? We need tried and tested processes that we can rely on to produce something. Once you have a beginning process then you can innovate and keep advancing it and your practice. Developing the processes takes time and money too, and those grant submissions that demand an outcome when you can’t give one just yet.
The key focus of Dance DNA is to maintain visceral nature of the traditional dances in the new movement that is created.