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 Luke George performs his own piece in 24 Hours, Dancehouse Luke George performs his own piece in 24 Hours, Dancehouse
photo Tim Jomartz
IF YOU HAVE BEEN TO A THEATRE OR DANCE SHOW IN MELBOURNE IN THE LAST SIX MONTHS, YOU MAY HAVE COME ACROSS LUKE GEORGE. THIS TASMANIAN-BORN CHOREOGRAPHER HAS BEEN INVOLVED IN A RUN OF PRODUCTIONS THAT HAVE SURPRISED EVEN THE AMBITIOUS ARTIST HIMSELF WITH THEIR SUCCESS AND PROFILE.

Working freelance myself, I empathise with George, when he explains the embarrassment of opportunities that he is currently enjoying. “Last year I did not have a lot to do,” he says, “So I applied for everything.” Now he is working on five projects back to back and is cheerfully flat chat. “It’s very manageable because it’s all creative...and I am in all the work.”

Luke George drives his choreographic work from within, with the same commitment that he applies to his career. His early experience of leadership, as joint Artistic Director of Launceston’s youth dance company, Stompin’, 2002-8, delivered accolades aplenty. The energy that enabled him to create large scale work with young people is evident in his pursuit of a broad range of engagements in his new home town of Melbourne.

Contributions as a dancer to the work of Chunky Move, Shelley Lasica, Jo Lloyd, Frances d’Ath and others have been matched by choreographic projects. “Performing and choreography have always been intertwined for me,” George says, and cites his role in the work of Phillip Adams for Balletlab as an example of where he is challenged most. “I get something from Phillip because he asks me to be in a state of questioning. He is always pushing what he wants to do. It’s exciting and scary too.”

24 hours

As well as recently contributing to the development of Aviary, the Balletlab production due to premiere in 2011, George was a participant in Adams’ contribution to the 24 Hours project at Dancehouse (RT97). For this fleeting but hugely popular initiative, Jo Lloyd commissioned four choreographers to conceive, devise and present a production within 24 hours. Adams worked with new media artist Matthew Gingold to create a movie for his commission, extracting something wild and unfettered from the spontaneity of his intimacy with performers George and Balletlab regulars Brooke Stamp and Jo White. In George’s own commissioned piece for the 24 Hours program, he worked with sound artist Nick Roux, along with Stamp and visual artist Mila Faranov. In tune with the zeitgeist, George is very inspired by the removal of theatrical artifice. He relished the tight temporal frame of Lloyd’s commission to dig deep into the present moment.

deborah hay project

Dancehouse furnished Luke George with another excursion into rich territory with the Deborah Hay project, In the Dark (p22). A collaboration between Perth’s Strut, Sydney’s Critical Path and the Melbourne venue brought 10 dance artists into residency with the American experimental choreographer Hay and her Australian muse, dancer and choreographer Ros Warby. Hay gave the artists the template of a solo and required them to enter into rigorous and disciplined exploration of the material over three months prior to its performance in a triple bill.

George’s light and ludic performance for In the Dark was the highlight of my experience of this production. He invested Hay’s material with authority and charm, rendering the dense and potentially introverted material open and intriguing. He held his focus with considerable aplomb given the proximity of the audience and the inevitable sniggers that greeted his entrance with trademark mutton chops absurdly set off by a hot pink body suit and clumpy shoes. George spoke with enthusiasm of the discipline required to fulfill Hay’s contract. “The repetition of rehearsing the work daily for three months forces you to recognise patterns within your behaviour and to find ways to transcend these; to find fresh possibilities within the material and yourself,” he said. “I’m really into the idea of practice. Not just to be good, but to continuously witness your own practice and learn from it. It services a lot of things that are all connected.”

nownownow

There are strong connections between Hay’s tantalising exposure of the performer on an empty stage and the full evening production that George is about to complete. NowNowNow has been commissioned by Lucy Guerin Inc and will receive its premiere at Dancehouse in late July. “I have pulled back on all the production elements in this piece,” George says. “It’s all about the relationship between the performers and then theirs with the audience.” Kristy Ayres and Timothy Harvey will dance with George, with basic costumes and no video or props. Martyn Coutts will dramaturg. “We have got to the point where we are in such clear communication with each other,” George says of the two developments that have preceded the final production phase to come. “I used to think we could not be in the moment, but I am starting to think this is possible.”

My experience of the sharing in which the second development of NowNowNow culminated, was of an intense, willed focus from the performers upon a series of seemingly interchangeable exercises from which something almost violent seemed fit to explode. The push and pull of their alternating desire to communicate and to withdraw was uncomfortable and intriguing. As befits a development, the discipline of their play with this dynamic was a little unsteady and the trajectory of the piece involved some awkward fits and starts. George encouraged his invited audience of peers to stay behind after the showing for a discussion that he relished for its negative as much as its supportive commentary.

first run

“I am very interested in talking about dance,” George says. He links his concern for talking honestly about his own work to a sense of responsibility for the artform and a growing maturity in Australia in relation to criticism, academic discourse and research as practice. With Brooke Stamp, Luke George co-curates First Run, a platform for emerging choreographers supported by Lucy Guerin Inc. First Run encourages protracted discussion of works in progress shown and has been embraced by the independent dance makers of Melbourne, with high attendance and a good quality of debate. “With First Run we are developing a place where we can talk without nervousness and tiptoeing around.”

miguel gutierrez

George has long ceased to tiptoe around. His next project, a Culturelab research residency, involves louder than life New York choreographer, Miguel Gutierrez. The two met during Balletlab’s 2007 production, Brindabella, for which Gutierrez contributed a striking section of choreography. When Balletlab were resident in the US, George contrived to stay on and hang with Gutierrez and his dynamic New York collaborators. Gutierrez describes George as his “spirit brother in art” and shares his interest in the relationship between performer and audience. He too is not afraid to confront and George is looking forward to exposing a peer audience to the result of their development.

resilience

Inspired by his visits to cities like New York and Berlin where artists forge a living from precarious means, George has developed some strategies for resilience through the lean periods. He choreographs regularly for the Melbourne gay club JOHN and works in theatre for productions large and small (he was movement director for Optimism at the Malthouse and Urchin by emerging company Encyclopedia of Animals in Full Tilt this year). George also supports emerging artists such as James Welsby and Amy Macpherson and their dance collective Phantom Limb for whom he made a piece this year. Despite the now, now, now whirlwind of creative life he’s enjoying, Luke George has few illusions about the hard work ahead. He says he hasn’t got around to writing any grant applications so the flow of opportunities will necessarily slow. We agree not to think about that and enjoy the present moment.


Luke George’s NowNowNow will be reviewed in RealTime 99, October-November. To read about Lucy Guerin Inc’s First Run go to http://www.lucyguerin.com/research/First_Run

RealTime issue #98 Aug-Sept 2010 pg. 26

© Sophie Travers; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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