Sydney Dance Company’s much anticipated annual season of emerging choreographic talent, New Breed, will hit the Carriageworks space this December. The line-up this year is an exciting one, with four of the most interesting, diverse and talented choreographers from the Australian independent dance scene, given the opportunity to place a new piece on the dancers of SDC. It’s a huge but exciting step onto the national stage for those invited to create for the New Breed season, and one that gives a wider audience the opportunity to experience cutting edge work in an environment that encourages diversity of creative voices.
Dance Informa had the chance to interview the four choreographers from the upcoming season: Tra Mi Dinh, Beau Dean Riley Smith, Eliza Cooper and Riley Fitzgerald.
Tell us a bit about your body of work so far, what you are creating for New Breed, and what you are hoping to achieve and communicate through your work?
Tra Mi Dinh
“In my work, I consistently come back to a consideration of time and our relationship to it, as a construct to understand ourselves and each other, so it is a strong undercurrent for my choreographic interests.
My work for New Breed will manifest as a study on twilight – illuminating and indulging in the transient yet expansive moments between day and night. It exists as a choreography propelled by the movement of light. Witnessing the rise and fall of colour during the ephemeral moments of day/night is, to me, a daily invitation to experience transformation in real time – watching and sensing the movement of time across the sky. In essence, this work is an ode to change.”
Beau Dean Riley Smith
“For New Breed, I am exploring the foundation of what Australia was built on and how this country was established. It is an exploration of that period of time, the first contact, the frontier wars, and the Australian wars. With the arrival of the empire, the crown, we see the demolition of the first nations people through a narration of Jeff Wayne’s 1978 musical score of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, telling the story from the white perspective but looking at it through a black lens.”
“In 2019, I presented my first full-length work, Old Life/ Dead Life, at the Old 505 Theatre, and in 2022, Bat Lake at Riverside Theatres (FORM Dance Projects). Both these projects were driven by concepts related to natural phenomena, animal behaviour and group dynamics. Recently, I have been working on my first major solo work, Snake Battle, which explores ancient tensions between primates and snakes, and their implications on human evolution.
My work for New Breed is quite charged; I am surprised about the way it evolved. For New Breed, I thought I’d make a genre piece – a tribute to the iconic Spaghetti Westerns, a work exploring notions of canon, legacy and convention. The epic stunts and stage combat, the sense of place and time, the revenge tales and romance – a play on paradigm and form, particularly Canon.
The work is a criticism of the reality I see around me, a world where dark histories are trivialised, bodies sexualised and artists utilised to perform roles in stories. Where great contradictions surface in all directions, in a superficial world that shies away from complexity. The question of why comes afterwards for me, but I usually trust that my deep subconscious brought me the vision for some reason. My choreographic ideas stem from bigger concerns I have about the world.”
“The inception of my work, Everyb0dy’s g0t a b0mb, began last year when I watched the Netflix docuseries, Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99. Whilst watching the documentary, I was amazed by a couple of things. Firstly, the sheer energy and power that is generated when a group of 200,000+ people converge in one location and then unite within a pulsating beat or song as if they are collectively an individual entity. Secondly, my curiosity was drawn to the primal instincts and behaviours that emerge within a group of people when the status quo breaks down. Limitations and rules become less relevant, and the collective mentality assumes control. We explore this idea within the work through Emile Durkheim’s sociological phenomena known as ‘Collective Effervescence’. Everyb0dy’s g0t a B0mb will be my first ensemble creation.
Additionally, working as a contemporary dancer requires you to create and produce material and choreography within a choreographic process which helps to build and refine your personal choreographic practise simultaneously. To be creating work with a group of dancers of this calibre allows for a very rich and in depth choreographic development allowing you to push limitations and test boundaries freely.”
How do you feel about being chosen for New Breed, and what does this mean for you?
“I’m really grateful to be one of the choreographers for this year’s New Breed season. This moment is significant to the evolution of my choreographic practice, as it is my first commission of this scale, providing me an opportunity to work with a larger ensemble. I usually double as both a choreographer and performer in my work, so this presents a chance for me to take a step back and focus on the choreography and direction of the work in a different way. Collaboration with the artists I work with is really important to me, so I’m keen to get to work in the studio and discover how my personal movement language will intersect with the dancers’ own physicality and artistry.”
“Since joining Sydney Dance Company as a company dancer in 2019, I have always had aspirations to be one of the four choreographers to create for New Breed. Every year, it is a much anticipated season which highlights some of Australia’s most exciting up-and-coming choreographic talent. Being the 10th year of New Breed, which is generously sponsored by the Balnaves Foundation, it is an honour to be one of the selected choreographers. This emphasises the lineage of great artists that we are succeeding. Remembering this is a constant source of inspiration and fuel for me.”
“New Breed is an event of massive significance in the Australian dance landscape; it is a special program that cultivates relationships between emerging choreographers and Sydney Dance Company, and a rare opportunity for freelance artists to engage with full-time dancers. Sydney Dance Company is a leading national company with an esteemed international reputation, so it is an honour to be offered this prestigious opportunity and have my work recognised in this way. New Breed allows independent choreographers to develop their work with the support of a major performing arts company and present it at Carriageworks, an iconic cultural institution that cultivates culture and local legacy.”
Can you talk a bit about your choreographic processes, and within the process for New Breed, are you trying anything new with the Sydney Dance Company dancers?
“My process is always evolving and shifting depending on the work I’m creating. However, collaboration with the creative team is a key element. This looks like a lot of discussions about the atmosphere of the work and figuring out how each artist can help build the world that the work will exist in. Physically, it involves score-based improvisations, refining/crafting material generated from these improvisations, intermeshing this with more cerebral or philosophical structural concepts that relate to the work, and then playing with how this can be arranged/directed/finessed into a visual feast and (hopefully) a visceral experience for the observer that encapsulates the idea of the work.”
“I have the opportunity to tell this story of first contact from the white perspective, looking at it through a black lens. This will be the first time creating with non-Indigenous artists, and I’m looking forward to exploring these themes, from their perspective.
As a collaboration, I like the team to have the creative licence to explore what it is that I’m trying to achieve and provoke from the work. I love telling stories, and for me, it’s these conversations inside and outside the studio, getting on the floor and unpacking what we are trying to achieve, and testing boundaries to what is achievable. This is where the magic lies.”
“All my projects start with fleeting visions that appear abruptly in my imagination. Usually, they come when I am deeply lost in thought or starting to fall asleep; however, sometimes, I am in the middle of an activity, and a movement flashes before my eyes.
I do mountains of academic research when I am working because I like to know my subject intimately. I want to capture the true essence of it, and I dwell on concepts for long periods before they come to fruition. In the studio, I arrive with characters and scenes, as if I am directing a film or a play. In the early days of the process, my collaborators and I go through these scenes. We create them on a small scale to see if they evoke anything — a feeling, thought or memory. Some ideas fall completely flat, but others bring excitement and magic immediately.
We use all different strategies; sometimes we improvise and sometimes we agonisingly craft every movement. I think it’s important to have a sense of play throughout the process; many great moments evolve from jokes and humour. For my New Breed work, we studied a lot of idiosyncratic movements from athletes, cowboys in Spaghetti Westerns, Go-go dancers and Tik Tok dances.”
“What is important for this work is the energy and relationship between the dancers, the environment and the music. We set out by developing the movement vocabulary for the work. We did this by connecting physically through a range of partnering exercises and improvisations. During the improvisations, I would engage with the dancers verbally directing their states offering cues and ideas and would push them as a coach would their team on the footy field. I find this kind of engagement keeps the energy high and breaks the wall between choreographer and dancer liberating inhibitions and allowing for deeper creative exploration.
Once we discovered and formed our collective movement language, I then began crafting the work into sections and structured choreography. I brought together direct moments from long duration improvisations as well as choreography that myself and the dancers had generated based on tasking activities that were inspired by the ‘Korn’ set at Woodstock 1999. Specifically, the song ‘Blind’ where the lead singer Jonathan Davies thrashes around the stage orchestrating the massive crowd to unleash its transcendent and immense energy.
Everyb0dy’s g0t a B0mb aspires to captivate audiences translating the fervour of collective rituals into a breathtaking panorama of movement and emotion. Influenced by the ecstatic atmosphere of Woodstock ’99, the piece captures the shared euphoria that arises when individuals converge into a singular, pulsating entity.”
How will the piece you are choreographing for New Breed fit into your previous body of work?
“Every work that I have been a part of has been black. It is important to me to tell stories from this lens. I have always been drawn to the stories of this country, pre or after first contact. I have the opportunity here to dive in and share, magnifying parts of Australia’s dark history of that time.”
“Recently, I have observed a major stylistic and thematic shift in my work, and I am suddenly more interested in humanness than ever before. Last year, I worked with Sydney Dance Company’s wonderful Youth Ensemble, and together we created and presented a nostalgic work, Play, in the Neilson Studio. Play was a study of childhood, youth and imagination, and I loved it so much that it triggered a major shift in my interests, towards human movement.”
How long are you given to create the work, and what challenges or opportunities for growth does this bring?
“Not long – a quick fire 10 days! I see this as a challenge that will heighten the value of making decisions on gut-feeling. I’ve done a lot of thinking and dreaming in my head and body, providing a good foundation for me to unleash in the studio and work with the energising force of quick (though considered) decision making. I’m intrigued to see how this may spur new ways of working for me, expanding my ideas on making.”
“We are given two weeks/40 hours of studio time with the dancers to create a work that’s up to 20 minutes long. Having such a short time frame to create a work requires a lot of preparation, trust in your intuition and making precise decisions that will benefit the work.”
What have been the highlights of the process so far?
“The opportunity to grow as a leader throughout the process has been a highlight for me. To understand more about the psychology of individuals, and what inspires and pushes them to want to create and give the best of themselves is a constant source motivation for me. Collaborating with so many incredible artists from composers, lighting designers, costume designers, set designers and dancers is such a joy, and to see the culmination of the collective vision and work of all of these individuals will be extraordinary on opening night on 6 December at Carriageworks.”
“I’m yet to get in the studio, which means I’ve been working on other elements such as the sound design and costume. Tilman Robinson is my sound designer, and we’ve been working on some of the score already, which is sounding beautiful. I can’t wait to keep developing this once we’re in the studio. I don’t usually have the opportunity to work with a costume designer so early in the creative process, so it’s been a real highlight to work so closely with Aleisa Jelbart on the designs.”
“I have had many thrilling moments along the way and am often leaving the studio feeling elated. I love the moment when a piece of choreography falls into place. As choreographers, we often sit with an idea for a long time, knowing there is magic in it, but knowing we haven’t quite resolved it yet. Then, suddenly, it is there in front of you, and it is wondrous.”
Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed 2023 will be presented 6 – 16 December, at Carriageworks. For tickets and more information, visit www.sydneydancecompany.com/performance/new-breed-2023.
By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.