1. How did you get involved in Beyond the Square?
I met Alison first through her attendance at one of my Fraser St Studio Tool Kit workshops in 2010 then last year at the Accessible Arts symposium at Carriageworks. Then she invited me in to lead a workshop for arts workers who work within the disability arts sector and to lead a series of workshops for ruckus ensemble.
2. What did you like doing with the ruckus ensemble?
I liked working with you Gerard! ha ha! Well, in truth and all transparency, I LOVE working you all! I get a lot of inspiration, challenge, heart-warming fun times and constant encouragement to adapt my teaching & directing/choreographing process when working with you wonderful people. With people who live with disability, who have lived too long in the shadows of our society, I am consistently and creatively inspired by your ability to adapt to a diverse array of adversities and overcome hurdles many other people would be too consciously defeatist about. Even though some of you need a little push and encouragement from time to time, you are mostly very motivated & ready to explore new ways of performing and being creative with your bodies.
3. How do you develop your techniques as a choreographer?
Ooh that’s a big question requiring a longer answer I cannot offer the time on right now….such is the demands of an independent choreographer’s schedule (including being on a 2 year Fellowship with many things to oversee there – practically and administratively). I’d love to have a blog chat with you at another time though about just this question. But, basically, my techniques come from a fairly vast inspiration palette. Twenty years of practice gives you, well, twenty years of information to chose from for any given work. To keep developing your techniques as a choreographer one must practice regularly and keep ones mind very open to the inspirations life can offer up. To challenge oneself by participating in collaborations, workshops and applying for funding to develop work. My Fellowship offers a whole other platform for which I’ve been able to reinvent myself quite radically…as a choreographer and the form based structure in which I reference to make work.
4. What did you get out of being involved?
Lots of ideas in how to assist Alison from a movement perspective when she starts directing the work you are all going to make. Also some very interesting ideas for my some workshops I will hold for integrated practice later in the year at Carriageworks. I think another thing I could say I got out of recently working with the ruckus ensemble is a sure-fire interest to continue working within the disability arts sector. I want to learn more and be involved with future projects with ruckus! I want to continue teaching you all how to become more familiar and in-tuned with your creative bodies. Help you all to discover the possibilities for expanding your performance ability and knowledge via your bodies. Through movement and even slightly more tricky dance forms. I just know you can all go a lot further…and I look forward to being a part of your physical-creative break-throughs!
5. How did it all start in the past for you and what was it about? (you being a choreographer)
I used to be a laborer. I worked on roof tops as roof water-proofer and plumber in my uncles company when I left school in year 11. From a very rough past I was a pretty rough-nut kid but with a big artistic heart and even bigger adventurous mind so I think it was inevitable that I would soon run away to join the circus! The dance circus! Dancing allowed me to let out all my physical frustrations and articulate and unlock them through creative rather than destructive physical means. I started quite late in dance training norms, when I was 20, at the now defunct Bodenwieser Dance Centre in Sydney between 1988-1990 inclusive. I already started choreographing in my 2nd year. Then I worked with a dance-in-education company called Darc Swan & roughed it (grueling but very educating career start) all across regional NSW, VIC & QLD. In 10 months we performed nearly 900 shows!! From there I made a few group works for Performance Space but they were pretentious dancey numbers so the director Sarah Miller said, “come back next season with a solo.” I did. The piece was called Subtle Jetlag and was a bit of a hit so I made more solo works over the next few years before landing jobs as dancer and / or performer in contemporary dance and theatre companies across Sydney. Then I started touring my solo works nationally and internationally until I got the Robert Helpmann Scholarship in 2002 to work with some top notch companies in the UK and Europe and to also develop my solo choreographic practice to move it into a group choreographic one. I then made a large scale group work called Back From Front which had state-of-art technology and wrestled some very strong themes around the inter-generational effects of war on families. We interviewed Vietnam and WW2 veterans and their families, members of the defense force including psychologists & our own family members. It was an amazing few years of research & production. Now I’m on an Australia Council Fellowship for two years to further compile a new choreographic scoring system (as in the ways one can score music compositions one can also score movement). I’ve been slowly developing this since 2006 but the fellowship helps to get the system ready enough to be a reference tool for the composition of future works I make.
6. Did you have any help at all? Was anyone helping you at that time?
I have had lots of help along the way. I wouldn’t have come this far if it weren’t for some very generous people, peers and teachers, along the way. Amazing people have mentored me & encouraged me to keep going, which is partly why I think I am such a good mentor now and why I love doing it I guess. To give back the inspiration to develop my craft and myself along the way.
7. How long have you had Harvey your dog for?
I rescued Harvey, who was then called Wally, from the Yagoona RSPCA. He was a young 8 month old cutie. I looked online at all the dogs available first & there was something in his eyes in the photo – he seemed to be smiling and content. When I went to see him all the other poor dogs were barking “choose me, choose me!” (poor little things). Then I came to Harvey’s cage & he was just calmly sitting there. I called him over to the cage mesh & he came up, pushed the side of his head against the mesh & let out a big long sigh. That’s when I thought, “you’re coming with me!” He was about one third less the size he is now. So still pretty big as standard-sized dogs go. He weighs in at 39kgs!
8. Why did you call him Harvey?
I named him after Harvey Milk. One of my real-life heroes I guess. He was the first openly gay politicians in the 1970s in California. There is an excellent film about him him called Milk. I very much recommend. Directed by Gus van Sant.
9. What’s the longest that you’ve been underwater for as a scuba diver?
Just last month I did my longest dive ever at 64 mins. This was possible because I was with other experienced divers who also don’t gulp their air too quickly and because the entire dive was relatively shallow at a maximum of 13 metres at the deepest. Shallow dives are good in this regard because you can stay down longer, providing the water temperature is not below about 17 degrees and you are properly dressed in a thicker exposure suit. But I love deep dives for the entrance. Being able to descend to 30 metres in a lung-controlled descent is amazing! It is like liquid sky-diving! And then once at the bottom to find neutral buoyancy & cruise for a little while is like the best meditation one can do. It is total environmental bliss! Weightless body without a hint of impact and all controlled by mastering your scuba breath.
10. What’s the weirdest creature you’ve seen underwater?
Another scuba diver! My god we looked weird! A few months ago whilst scuba diving I came across one of these amazing creatures called the Sea Robin or Gurnards. Just divine creature. They walk along the bottom with spiny legs and when they’re not, they seem to be flying with these big beautiful wings! Look at this footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAEqXGbYqQU
Check out Dean and others on People of Beyond the Square video