When the young Sue Healey was asked to write down three career options for work experience by her school teacher, she wrote 1) Modern dancer, 2) jockey and 3) grave digger. Her impertinence was rewarded with a stint in the army as a secretarial intern. “I vowed this would not be my future,” she writes. Indeed, it was not – instead she crafted for herself a career as an independent dancer, choreographer, artistic director and film maker.
The above anecdote is related in her recently published quarterly essay Capturing the Vanishing, A choreographer and film recently released by Currency House. In it, Healey looks back over her years developing and exploring her craft, from her childhood in New Zealand, early days at the VCA, formative years as a founding member of Melbourne’s Danceworks company, through her years as an independent artist and, in particular, as a leader and innovator in the emerging artform of dance on film. She gives a valuable oversight of the changes to the funding landscape and state of the art over that time, and makes some pertinent observations for the future. She concludes with three “provocations” calling for better recognition of the fundamental role of dance in being human.
Read an extract below and buy the full paper at Currency House www.currencyhouse.org.au
RECLAIMING THE EPHEMERAL
IT IS challenging to make dance in Australia in 2019. The ephemeral nature of the form presents paradoxes and survival issues for Australian choreographers, who make their work in an increasingly precarious and complex ecology. As I work with many young artists, I find it hard to imagine how the next generation will map their way through the hazardous maze of realising a new choreography. How to fund it, present it and live a life through it?
At a recent ‘crisis’ meeting of independent dance artists in Sydney, it became obvious that the emerging generation do not expect to make a living from their art. I find this hard to swallow. Artists contribute profoundly to the world we live in and deserve to make a living from their work. The work of an artist is real. It is not a hobby or a mere past-time. Dance work produces experiences, emotional and physical inventions that have value in ameliorating our increasingly disembodied reality. To choreograph is to work at being curious and to do so collaboratively. These qualities have driven all human achievement. The work of dance is its strength—its rigour, discipline and vitality.
Provocation 1: Independent dance artists deserve to be funded in a more realistic and sustainable manner. They are often the ‘movers and shakers’ and the radical innovators that our creative ecology needs in concert with the larger companies. I am not suggesting that new money needs to materialise (I am after all a realist), but rather we concur on a more equitable distribution of funds.
To be a choreographer demands resilience and courage to constantly reinvent one’s self. The survival strategies that worked for choreographers in earlier decades are no longer appropriate or effective—new ways of making and presenting dance must be found. The next generation of dance artists possess an innate digital savviness, so they are well-equipped to make art in this realm. There is a need for good artistic content in our increasingly digitised lives and gradually new platforms arrive to show work and build audiences. Current technology makes it possible for us all to experiment with the moving image, even without a large budget, and dance artists are well-placed to offer unique insights in this area.
Provocation 2: Dance must extend its boundaries and look to collaboration with other art forms without losing sight of its own intrinsic qualities.
I have found solutions to continue working in dance through an interdisciplinary approach with film and a questioning of the ways in which dance is constructed and presented, in both live and digital formats. It has also been through independence, creating alternative structures from the mainstream; stepping outside of my own culture and skill base; being prepared to do it for little return; and by placing it in unusual spaces where an accidental audience might stumble across it and perhaps want more.
Provocation 3: Dance artists must take responsibility for creating a demand for their services.
The constant disappearance of dance makes it difficult to commodify. But dance as a discipline is generous and has a contagious collective energy—to dance is at the core of being human. We all need to move, or else we die. Through its transience, dance makes us feel the ephemerality of life. The potency of dance is in its impermanence, its mutability and ability to work with other forms and ideas. I try to capture this essence and render it in film—to see what happens beyond the vanishing point.
Currency House is a national non-profit publishing association devoted to promoting debate in the performing arts.
Pictured top: Sue Healey and dancer Saori Hara shooting 'On View': Japan, 2018 Photo: Naoshi Hatori.