Survival instinct: Jo Lloyd

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Photo by Peter Rosetsky.
Photo by Peter Rosetsky.

Striking out on your own as an independent artist takes flexibility and a willingness to withstand financial risks, as Susan Bendall finds out.

Jo Lloyd is proof that a long and sustainable career as an independent dancer is possible. Such has been her life for the past 20 years and she has no plans to stop. “Sustainability requires changes that are not always agreeable,” she says, hinting at an ability to adapt to circumstance.  The work she made after having her last child, Confusion for Three, she describes as “a rupture in my practice”. While it is not about her children, she says it could not have been made before they were born, and is related to her body being different and new a sense of different ways of moving. “If you can rupture, you can change,” she says. And change is essential to sustainability and staying interested.

For Jo, paid work didn’t come immediately after she finished her studies. Since she started out, there has been a generational change in the expectations of how careers are structured. Back then there was no sense of being an “emerging” dancer. She began by collaborating with others on certain works, which led to projects. The collaborations led to quality performance material and discovering “what I had in my own body”. She began making more of her own work, although she had not intended to become a choreographer: “I saw myself as a dancer first”. Dancing and making dance gave her the documented evidence she needed to successfully apply for commissions.

Jo considers herself to be fortunate in her independent dance career but emphasises that “you are never really independent”. For her, all the strands of her life and career meld in some way – all speak to one another. Even teaching is a time to practise and work for herself. She sees the exchange between student and teacher as a space to notice what interests her and how others perceive movement. She also concedes that “being independent can wear people down”.

Photo by Peter Rosetsky.
Photo by Peter Rosetsky.

Jo has many award nominations under her belt, has taught and coordinated classes at Melbourne’s Chunky Move for many years and has worked with a range of companies. She held an Australia Council Fellowship for a year in 2018, which she says “gave me happiness and meant that I could plan”. She was Resident Director at Lucy Guerin Inc. in 2016.

Although the independent path is a constant financial risk, Jo says that “the company model is not for me”. She has come to relish the liberation of the independent dance sector.

What qualities does she think are needed to survive in this world? Her answer is focused on the work: “Curiosity and ambition are both needed and you have to still be interested; it’s about investigation,” she replies. Of grant applications she says: “some aspects are enjoyable – I like articulating what I am proposing, but there is a lack of time for it. I have to shuffle around responsibilities. I used to stay up very late to get it done. Family life makes that more difficult. Financial survival is like a whirlpool. Dance is at the middle and everything else has to support it”.

For Jo, the recent lockdown raised questions about what work she wanted to see in performance, questions that are informing her vision going forward. Perhaps this will be another moment of “rupture” and renewal for her practice.

Despite the real differences in the daily routines and dance practices of these three talented women, there are some clear commonalities. All emphasise how privileged they are and yet it is clear that drive, application, flexibility and collegiality, in addition to their talent, have led them to success. It also became very clear that collaboration and relationships are core to succeeding. You may not be part of a company, but you are absolutely reliant on others to work on your projects, to work on other people’s projects and to gain a critical perspective on your own work.

This interview was published in the April/May/June 2021 issue of Dance Australia in an article examining the challenges of being an independent artist. Other artists interviewed were Lilian Steiner and Olivia Carniato. Did you miss it? Subscribe here and never miss an issue!

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