Making New People

New People was a work we developed and presented in co-production with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in 2019. Conceptually we wanted to make a science fiction work about aliens who come to earth searching for a better life, but we also wanted to make the concept auto-biographical on the part of the performers, where they could have the opportunity to look at their own oeuvre with new eyes, essentially the aliens were a metaphor, but we liked that aliens are not generally considered high art and wanted to see how that interacted with the work of these very elite performers. 

I remember speaking with our dramaturg Marc Wagenbach early on in the process about seeing choreography as a critical practice, or as a social practice, and finding ways in which we wanted to work that were utopian, and a lot about going outside of the neo-liberal model of making work. On that subject, Michael and I discussed ways in which we could elevate the process above the product, and what that would change in the way we organised ourselves and our collaborators to make this work. At one point we decided to throw ourselves in the deep end and just go as utopian as we could, this demanded deep engagement with the reason to do this, and that meant being very transparent with everyone involved in the piece.

Ironically at this point, because it required pragmatically re-arranging ourselves with new priorities, we had just increased our workload greatly, I remember feeling quite tired. But we were not yet quite at the point in our research where we realised the importance of our own well-being.  

Anyway, in order to create these conditions, we decided that we needed to give everyone a certain amount of autonomy.  We realised in order for them to feel good they needed to be given respect, autonomy and good social conditions in this project, so first of all we started to use technology as a way to schedule. We programmed google sheets (yes, unfortunately, we still use google software) to create easy interactive agendas for each collaborator.  This was also good because they knew in advance when we were working and they had complete freedom to change their rehearsal times or places to suit their needs. Also, they were able to cancel their rehearsals at the last minute if necessary, as long as they let us know, and we asked them not to tell us the reason, we trusted them to know what was best for themselves.  

In terms of good social conditions, we know that a certain intensity is better for most artists than too casual. So although Michael and I like to joke around, we kept the rehearsals very challenging. Not in the way most choreographers do where it’s just a huge workload and a lot of pressure to perform well, instead we asked them to perform without any pressure, to be themselves and allow their own feelings and thoughts to enhance their creativity. Most dancers lose interest in a project because it doesn’t push them enough artistically, yet pushes them too much personally (limits of physicality, bad working conditions, transgressing personal boundaries etc). So our aim was to challenge them artistically while allowing them very much to find and then assert their own personal boundaries. I would need to write a whole page on how we did this alone, so I won’t go into it too much, but the performers all found this scary, fulfilling and also healing.  

We also worked with them on how they wanted us to give feedback, with the goal that we wouldn’t accidentally lower their well-being by giving them feedback in a way they didn’t find constructive, or that was triggering or damaging for them. We can’t advocate for this bespoke feedback enough, it changed the dynamics in the studio in a good way.  Michael and I were handling making this kind of project within the mechanism of an institution, which meant that our well-being was often at stake, as most of the time it created tension.

We kept a journal that everyone within the production could view, and we kept transparency in where we were at with the process, also with Marc, as we always spoke to him separately. 

It was a sort of social experiment in the end, and we like to joke that it failed in that self-effacing Australian way. Ironically, it didn’t fail, it was a really fortifying, collectivist project, which had the power to change the way we all thought about our own work, the creative process and the role of director and dancer.

All of our more recent work with OFEN is on the back of this initial research, and we would love to make more artistic work about this topic, but unfortunately, the funding bodies struggle to see this topic as artistic. Perhaps speaking truth and being authentic are not valued by our arts funding bodies?


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