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Awareness through movement and body: Zoee Marsh

Zoee Marsh.
Zoee Marsh.

Victorian Dance Festival (VDF) (to be held April 3-5, 2020, Batman Royale, Melbourne) is once again set to be a huge hit. With major sponsors Dance Informa and Energetiks, the event is known to be an all-inclusive, all-styles, non-competitive dance occasion, and who better to be on the faculty team than choreographer and movement coach Zoee Marsh.

Award recipient and nominee Marsh holds an accolade of credits across a vast variety of avenues — from live shows to music videos, creative projects and more — and her open mind, humble approach and drive, gifted to her whilst in the UK, are key to her success and creative process when working with recording artists, actors, dancers and directors. Ready to bring “a fresh perspective on how to approach movement”, festival attendees are in for a whole lot of fun!

Zoee Marsh.
Zoee Marsh.

Join us as we talk to Marsh about her journey, her work, style, professional exposure and what she will bring to the festival.

Your work is internationally recognised across multiple areas, including music videos, live shows, independent creative projects, musicals, brand launches and charity events. Tell us about your training and career path? 

“I trained in performing arts in Melbourne, full-time for over three years. I was quite late to start my training in my teenage years and went into my course wanting to be a musical theatre performer, and I graduated with a love for contemporary and urban movement. After my training, I realised that my love for the arts fell on the creation and development side of the process. I soon started creating for my own development and began to assist choreographers such as Erica Sobol, Paul Malek and Adrian Ricks. 

As the years went on and my love for creating evolved, I headed over to London for two-and-a-half years. This is when my choreographic side started to flourish. Inspired by a new city, the expansive body of art that London had and still has to offer really was the catalyst for this pathway. 

I learnt about movement coaching and started to work with different types of artists to develop their stage shows, music videos and other projects. I remember the feeling after my first movement session. It was unlike anything I had felt before, and that’s when I knew it would be a big part of my future. 

Scimm Dance Company rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Zoee Marsh.
Scimm Dance Company rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Zoee Marsh.

Upon my return to Australia, I prioritised bringing back the drive London gifted me to grow and share. In 2016, I hit the ground running and expanded my craft with diverse opportunities and Australian dancers.”

As a choreographer, what was your first exposure to choreography? 

“My first exposure to choreography, honestly, when I think back to it, was Singin’ in the Rain. I love how the movement in Singin’ in the Rain is seamlessly held together with technique and artistry but is incredibly relatable and joyful to the general public. It also allowed me to look at furniture, rain, streets, shoes differently, which in hindsight has been the threading connection into my creativity today.”

How would you describe your style? 

“I love moving. I love watching movement of all sorts – dance and non-dance-related. I have been heavily inspired from my tap dancing roots, the contemporary dance flow, alongside developing and understanding my body and its own motion. So style, I can’t label it in the terms of a name. My style is awareness through movement and body. I believe if you have true body awareness, you can train to move however required.”

How did you get involved in such diverse projects, and how did these collaborations expand? 

“A lot of hard work, training and researching. I am someone who naturally asks a lot of questions. I never ‘want’ to achieve something. I aim to understand ‘how’ to achieve it, enjoy and explore the process and then go and get it. 

I have never been afraid of reaching out to people to meet up and talk through ideas, getting dancers into the studio to workshop choreography and that process is so embedded in my nature, that now it’s part of my professional framework.”

How would you describe your process as a choreographer — from initial concept through to final production?

“Every project has a tailored process. I have a strong blueprint that I follow but then adapt it to the project, concept and shoot.”

As a choreographer and movement coach, you have worked with recording artists such as Vera Blue, George Maple, Motez, George Alice, Essie Holt, Will Young, Boi, Allipha, Hopium, The Naked Eye, Ryan Downey, Laure Jae, Jason Heerah, Hiboux and the Dianas. What is the briefing process? And how do you approach each brief?

“Again, every job is unique. However, the standard procedure I tend to follow is connecting with the management and/or director to understand the brand/concept of the artist. 

Last Layer Shoot. Photo courtesy of Zoee Marsh.
Last Layer Shoot. Photo courtesy of Zoee Marsh.

If casting is involved, I provide them with well-rounded talent whom I trust. I approach all briefs with an open mind. Every idea deserves the space to grow, so ensuring I have no preconceived ideas of how it may go or turn out is a big focus. Being open to collaboration is also a key factor in this role. Staying humble and honest with great communication skills are incredibly important.”

What obstacles have you encountered, and how did you overcome them? 

“In light of staying honest and true, last year I was teaching too much and lacking the balance of giving, restoring and creating. It’s a privilege to be placed in a position where you have a direct effect on the next generation training and careers. So, I moved back home to the coast, re-grouped and came into 2019 with the mantra of ‘only teach when you feel drawn to and make space for creativity’. I am obsessed with teaching and sharing again, and I am honestly getting so excited about the thought of VDF 2019. I think it’s so important to stop, reflect and check your ‘why’. Ensuring it aligns with purpose is critical, especially when holding the responsibility of being a teacher.”

As a movement coach, what is one thing you commonly come across?  

“I would have to say that most artists, directors, singers, actors whom I movement coach have a love and appreciation for movement, but often too scared to try. So my first action is to ensure they feel safe, excited and supported to really let go and explore the movement completely. That’s where results lie. Dancing brings happiness, shifts energy and connects with others. Movement is community!”

What is the best part of being a movement director/coach? 

“I can definitely say one of the best parts is watching the ‘light bulb’ moments happen. In particular, when I’m in a movement session with an artist or actor, figuring out the way they naturally move, how they respond to the material and training their muscle memory is a completely different ball game to working with trained dancers. There is always a ‘light bulb’ moment when the movement sinks into the body. It’s so beautiful to watch!”

You have an impressive credit list of work which includes Spring Awakening, Tarzan, Australia’s Got Talent, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, So You Think You Can Dance, Sunday in the Park with George, Scimm Dance Company and The Dream Dance Company. Can you tell us a bit about Junior Eurovision Song Contest and Sunday in the Park With George?

“I have been working with Junior Eurovision Song Contest for the past three years, and each year is a different experience as each representative is different. This year, we worked with the amazing Jordan Anthony. My role was to direct movement and make sure his movement reflected the track and the set. Tiny things like distributing the weight smoothly, knowing when to amplify movement and connect with the camera made the biggest difference. Jordan and I had so much fun with both his music video and staging his live performance. 

Vera Blue behind the scenes. Photo courtesy of Zoee Marsh.
Vera Blue behind the scenes. Photo courtesy of Zoee Marsh.

With Sunday in the Park with George, I was so thrilled to be invited onto the creative team. It’s a very beautiful Sondheim musical that doesn’t have much choreography at all. My objective was to create movement through the staging pictures and have it read so seamlessly so that the audience might question if there was any choreography at all. This process was in clear halves: the first, understanding the show and bringing the directors visions to life; and the second, spending all my time learning the natural habits and movements of the cast to use a springboard to create movement within their characters. One of the main tools we used was visual references to get the texture of movement required. I am so proud of what we created, it holds a special place in my heart.”

Congratulations on your numerous awards, including Most Outstanding Choreography at Melbourne’s ‘Grounded’ and more. What is your mindset and approach to developing yourself to this level? 

“My mindset is to stay true to myself, my craft and my environment. I am so thankful for my mentors, such as the incredible Yvette Lee. It’s so important to ask questions, further your craft and keep your finger on the pulse. I dedicate time weekly to ensure I am staying up to date with new shows, music videos, art installations and concepts around me.”

Tell us about Keep Kids Safe in Dance? 

“Keep Kids Safe in Dance is an organisation created by Jackie Sherren Scott that helps studios, teachers and students understand the Child Safe Standards in Australia. They offer incredible support and a safe hotline for dancers to call if they need to discuss, understand or report any unsafe behaviour. It’s such a privilege to be an ambassador for such an important and needed initiative.”

As a co-director of BIND Productions, what is your role in building the arts community?

“I am the co-director of BIND Productions based out of my hometown, Geelong. I run the company with Fiona Luca, and we started this company to bring new industry experiences to our home town. I believe you must give back what you were given.”

Finally, as a VDF faculty member, what will you bring to the festival in 2020? 

“I am excited to bring a fresh perspective on how to approach movement underpinned by creative collaboration. I am planning to bring a lot of fun and create a space for the students to develop fresh material!”

For more information about Victorian Dance Festival 2020, visit www.victoriandancefestival.com.

By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.

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