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Sometimes a seam, sometimes a disconnect

Julie-Anne Long: Critical Path, SEAM2013

Julie Anne Long is a Sydney-based dancer, choreographer who lectures in dance at Macquarie Universty.

Smitha Cariappa, Lying on the floor, floured performance Smitha Cariappa, Lying on the floor, floured performance
photo Yeehwan Yeoh
The word ‘seam’ makes me think of a repetitive action, stitching threads by hand crisscrossing a line, or by machine sewing up and down, in and out, most often along a linear trail. At this time of the year it makes me think of another action, of bowling a cricket ball along a prescribed path with the end direction being unpredictable. The objective of a seam suggests bringing together, lapping over and abutting different materials, sometimes creating a crack or fissure.

In November 2013 choreographic research and development centre Critical Path, in partnership with the Centre for Contemporary Design Practices and the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, University of Technology, Sydney, produced SEAM13. Since 2009 this partnership has facilitated four symposia, each SEAM containing an open invitation to artist practitioners, academics and the public, with an inherent orientation toward interdisciplinary exchange.

The body has been central to the multiple themes of the SEAM series, spawning conversations and convergences within and outside dance and movement alongside numerous other practices including architecture and interactive technologies. Convenors of previous SEAM symposia, Margie Medlin (Director of Critical Path) and Benedict Anderson (Director of CCDP, UTS), were joined for SEAM13 by live art practitioner Paul Gazzola, Critical Path’s inaugural Associate Artist (2012-13). They proposed the topical themes of Authorship, Curation and Audience.

SEAM13 opened at Critical Path’s harbourside home in The Drill Hall at Rushcutters Bay with three engaging keynotes. Artist David Capra, known for his public dance and banner waving works, set the tone for the weekend with a curious, often hilarious chat, accompanied and at times upstaged by his dog Teena. Former professional dancer Deborah Ascher Barnstone, currently a Professor of Architecture, delivered a thoughtful meditation on forgery in the capital A Art world. The incitement of the evening for me came from intermedia artist David Pledger. His provocation on the role and responsibility artists have in the curation of society bordered with the Convenor’s Statement which located arts production ideals of the 70s and 80s as shifting towards increasing “institutionalised authorship” [the usurpation of artists by producers and managers described by Pledger in his Currency House Platform Paper No 37, “Re-Valuing the Artist in The New World Order,” 2013. Eds]

Continuing through the weekend with a dense and diverse program of performative lectures, academic papers, conversations and performances, SEAM13 generated an atmosphere in which people from different disciplines and with varied interests created many junctions. For me, this triggered reflection on how dance and choreographic practices have changed radically over the past decade, especially in relation to other art practices and how they engage with dance, where dance turns into and folds together with other art forms and how such moves are initiated.

This turning and folding was apparent during the in-between of the symposium: talking when climbing the stairs from one session to another with a ‘trans-disciplinary artist researcher,’ queuing for the site-specific installation that was the delicious catering, or debating the role of audiences with colleagues who ‘fabricate interventions’ and ‘work across boundaries.’ After engaging in a conversation with an architect, an academic and a ‘keen researcher of the emergent and the unforeseen,’ a furrow appeared for me.

At many times during the three-day SEAM13 symposium, The Carpenters’ strange 70s song “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft…” came into my head. I was in a room bubbling with multi-disciplinary, cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, trans-disciplinary, inter-media practitioners. Working within, between, across and at the intersections and junctions were participants who identified as performing artists, architects, philosophers, producers, curators, academics, researchers, teachers, performative creative practitioners, experimental artists… and among them a few who identified as “dancer and choreographer.”

Dance has always been considered inherently interdisciplinary, so the notion of choreographic ideas and concepts translating to other disciplines is not new. Choreographic ideas threaded through SEAM13 presentations, mostly implicitly, but when explicitly referenced seemed slightly out of place. The two-week-long workshops that bookended the symposium provided local dance artists with explicit practical experience. Workshop facilitators Mette Edvardsen and Kate McIntosh both make performance work within a European context. Each artist comes from a traditional dance training background, although their current interests are often independent of the body, albeit still drawing on and expanding dance and choreographic principles. In conversation with some of the dance artist participants it seems that both workshops provided an opportunity to experiment with engaging individual movement and dance practices within a broader disciplinary conversation.

The focus for SEAM13, as expressed in the convenors’ statement, was “to give a platform for independent artists to formulate their autonomy and direction.” Interestingly, the majority of participants had some sort of affiliation with academic institutions while independent artists, specifically from the dance sector that Critical Path supports, were under-represented. Why this was so is not entirely clear as SEAM provides a forum for communication around expanded notions of dance and choreography, and the potential for complex interactions and processes to occur about the radically changed discipline of dance is great.

This underrepresentation of dance-in-dance is also apparent in the wider context. The Carriageworks, Dance House and Keir Foundation biennial Keir Choreographic Award dedicated to the commissioning of new choreographic work and promoting innovation in contemporary dance has recently been announced. It is timely and welcomed by most in the Australian dance sector, despite the debate around the ‘competition’ context. An interesting aspect of this new award in relation to “promoting innovation in contemporary dance” lies in the call for entrants: “professional artists with an established practice in other art forms are invited to propose a new choreographic idea.” Once again there is a crack where it appears that the gap between choreographic ideas and choreographic craft has widened.

Full of extraordinary diversity, albeit somehow strangely similar, SEAM13 provoked thoughts about the discomfort that comes when the border between forms is dissolved and the dilemmas that have to be faced by the discrete discipline of dance in this new world order of interdisciplinarity. Situated somewhere between brave and indulgent, SEAM was an audacious project exposing an opening which revealed a disconnect between dance and other disciplines outside the performing arts.

SEAM2013 Symposium and Workshop Series, Critical Path, Sydney, Nov 15-17, 2013

Julie Anne Long is a Sydney-based dancer, choreographer who lectures in dance at Macquarie Universty.

RealTime issue #119 Feb-March 2014 pg. 24

© Julie-Anne Long; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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