Why are you here?


The first real day of the Investigating Cross Cultural Borders dance laboratory was for everyone to introduce themselves to each other. I say “real” because yesterday was mostly dedicated to getting to Bundanon and settling in, and a nice communal dinner. Today, the collaboration/investigation into the collaboration begins with each participant introducing themselves and the work that they do. To break the ice, facilitator Margie Medlin of Critical Path opened up the question to the choreographers, Why are you here?

Simon Stewart begins by discussing how isolation (in this case, working in Bundanon) as a dance landscape makes him feel limited in terms of what he does, especially from a cultural perspective, and yet, he realizes from talking to the other participating choreographers in the lab that they all sort of experience the same. Therefore, he says, his answer to Why are you here? is basically to ask these questions.

Cat Ruka agrees with Simon, saying that she finds it interesting that you can have an artistic connection with people from other cultures.

Latai Taumoepeau feels however that isolation is necessary to ask these questions and collaborate in this manner. Coming from a “collectivist culture,” Latai relates that she feels so much pressure in her contemporary solo practice, and feels that with this kind of laboratory, where there is effort to be made in collaboration with others, this collaboration space is “still a village, we are still making something, yet working individually without pressure to go and work on something by yourself.”

Contrastingly, Vicki Van Hout very candidly admits that “I’m here because I’m a lousy collaborator.” She discusses her issues about controlling the end product of a work and having problems with trusting somebody else with her ideas, that there is too strong an ownership of an idea that she feels she is “parting with.”

Margie, Doris and Leigh all contribute to how Vicki can deal with these issues better. Margie encourages Vicki to look at the idea in terms of “what it is in a shared space,” and how collaborators trust that the other is broadening or expanding what they are contributing to.

Doris Dziersk, our resident scenographer, shares that as a designer, you must accept that you work within somebody else’s framework. Adding to the issue of trust, she posits, what’s the point in working with someone if you don’t believe in what they’re doing?

Leigh Warren opines that the dialogue must be open and honest. “Through dialogue, there’s a new geometry,” he shares. A different cultural perspective (from your own) can appear when you least expect it in that dialogue and he says, “It can be an exciting prospect.” He discusses how a collaborator can suddenly allow you to see or discover something new about yourself that you didn’t know.

Jerome Kugan compares collaborating with “falling in love.” At the very least, he says, you should keep the conversation going, and he shares a recent project he had where he felt betrayed that his collaborator was talking about other people.

Simon also shares his own experience with collaborating, wherein the collaboration didn’t work in performance, but didn’t say anything right away because he didn’t want to be seen as a spoilsport. However he did feel very uncomfortable with it and finally discussed this with his collaborator and they reached a compromise.

Leigh emphasizes the importance of compromise, and to allow both parties to come to terms with this compromise. “Just give each other time,” he assures. “The ‘letting go’ process is very hard.”

Latai offers her own opinion on the collaborative relationship, that she prefers a holistic approach, and not just an artistic one. She reiterates what Leigh said about time, that it is important and there shouldn’t be any pressure to make quick decisions in a collaboration. In this setting in Bundanon, the chitchat discussions during the breaks and dinner were as much important as the official ones in the Dance studio. It is during this time, with “little bits of information that you gather from each other,” help build the relationship between the participants, in effect build the relationship with people you might collaborate with.

“The idea is its own entity,” Latai declares. “You parent it, but after some time, you should allow it to be what it is.” And from here, she begins to introduce herself by sharing her latest project, in effect beginning the activity wherein each participant introduce themselves.

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