• Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti
    Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti

Dance Massive artist profile: Nicola Gunn

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Mover and Shaker

Melbourne-based performance maker Nicola Gunn talks to Nina Levy about her work for Dance Massive, Melbourne's contemporary dance festival.

You’re running along a canal in Belgium when you come across a man with two children, throwing stones at a defenceless duck. Without stopping to think, you confront the man.

This is the starting point for Nicola Gunn’s Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster. From here Gunn bounces between relating the story and considering its broader philosophical and moral implications, interspersed with entertaining non-sequiturs… all through her idiosyncratic blend of monologue and movement. And did I mention? It’s funny.

That opening tale is based on Gunn’s personal experience. “I saw this man throwing stones at a duck and I intervened. I got really angry and I told him so,” she tells me. It’s the kind of anecdote that most of us would share with family and friends, but Gunn chose to go a step further. “[At the time] I was interested in the idea of peace and conflict… finding ways to ameliorate
conflict situations... So I was interested in that already and then this incident happened to me. “It preoccupied me for a couple of months. I told everyone I came into contact with about this story, asking, ‘What would you do in this situation?’ I became preoccupied by the fact that I really enjoyed the altercation, that I found a great deal of pleasure in it. I found that kind of curious and… worrying,” she laughs. ”So I wanted to explore it from that side as well, to understand why I react the way I do, and understand my behaviour. And to show how easy it is to cross a line.”

Gunn is an exuberant mover and in Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster she relates her story as much through flinging, slinking, undulating, bouncing movement as she does through her witty words. In fact the movement, which is choreographed by Melbourne’s Jo Lloyd, was born before the script. “[Jo and I] always knew the story but words were the last thing to happen,” explains Gunn. “So every time I would tell the story to Jo or we would talk about it, we would talk and move at the same time and she would capture something that I would do instinctively with my body. Then she would alter things, augment things in such a way that they become choreographic.

“But it was important that the movement score and text were two distinct narratives, quite separate,” she continues. “Sometimes they connect, which makes for quite satisfying moments. The comedy and the pathos comes when they connect… and also when they don’t connect, when it’s completely absurd.”

Interestingly, Gunn’s background is in theatre rather than dance. “I did some dance training as a kid. I was never very good but it was something I always loved. I’m kind of physical without having any technique,” she laughs. “It’s kind of nice knowing that you can kind of just dance when you’re 37.”

And so Gunn finds her work increasingly movement based. She has been working collaboratively with Lloyd since 2013. “We just made a show, Mermermer, which premiered at Chunky Move in Melbourne,” she says. “It’s also a choreographic work, with text. We also presented it at Performance Space in Sydney. More and more I’m interested in choreography
as a kind of dramaturgy.”

Most of all, though, Gunn is interested in making something new. “As someone who makes contemporary performance, you’re always trying to innovate the form,” she reflects. “Everything’s been done, everything’s been seen. So what two,
three, four elements can you combine, that haven’t been combined yet? You’re just constantly experimenting. It’s like making new recipes.”

Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster is one of 20 works that will be presented between 14 & 26 March in Melbourne as part of Dance Massive. See the full program here.

This article appears in the February/March edition of Dance Australia, on sale now! Look out for the latest issue at your favourite magazine retailer or subscribe here, or purchase an online copy via the Dance Australia app.

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