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Interview with Lucy Guerin, the choreographer of 'Split' and 'Attractor'

Interview with Lucy Guerin, the choreographer of 'Split' and 'Attractor'

Lucy Guerin is the choreographer of 'Split' and 'Attractor'. Both performances featured on the December Dance Festival.

Lieselot: How do you feel about being at a festival in Bruges with other Australian artists?

Lucy: We just arrived the day before yesterday and we’re really excited to be here. We saw Furioso but didn’t get a chance to see any of the other shows. It’s wonderful to connect with all of our colleagues and friends from Australia here in Bruges. And it’s exciting to see a program which combines all these Australian works. It’s nice to think that people from Europe will get a chance to see a broad spectrum of Australian work.

Lieselot: How important is touring and the conversation between different countries to your work?

Lucy: I think it’s important for two reasons. Firstly, it’s important for the dancer to be able to repeat the work many times. If you only get one season, you get to do five or six shows. With Split I think they are up to show number fifty tonight. It just means that they can absorb the work into their bodies instead of thinking about what step comes next. For a long time we have been performing it a little bit nervously. We worried about whether we would make mistakes on that level. But now, thanks to all the times we performed it, it has come to the point where they can think about different things like qualitative approaches to the work and experiment a little bit with it because they feel more secure with it.

In terms of taking the work to different countries; this is really important to us as Australians, because we are quite distant from many parts of the world. This distance has its advantages. The isolation creates a certain identity, but for me and other Australian artists it’s also important to have some kind of dialogue with the world and interact with other artists. One great thing when you tour, is that you get to meet other artists and discuss the ideas they are working on. It’s also great just to experience the different kinds of responses and different audiences; some are very silent and quiet and others are more excited. Just to realize that various communities have very different histories and experiences of watching work. It’s not always like the Melbourne audience I’m used to, which I know very well and which knows me very well. So, they might see the next work and think: ‘O yeah, that’s a bit like the last one’ or ‘I can see the lineage from early on.’ It is very different to have an audience who has just seen that one piece for the first time and doesn’t necessarily know the history. It’s interesting to see how the piece holds up in that situation.

Aïsha: In the process of making the piece, what was your starting point? Did you start out with improvisation, instructions or music? And how was the process of making Split different from making Attractor?

Lucy: With Split there were two different ways of generating material. The more abstract work is choreographed by me. I have a very traditional way of choreographing in a way. And then the alternate sections where there is a more expressive, almost narrative kind of material, that really developed through improvisation and having a story grow almost like a narrative and asking the dancer to internalize that narrative and use it as a stimulant for making the movement. It’s almost like a pantomime, but I asked the dancers to continually disrupt it, and continually undermine anything that becomes too familiar and that gives it a strange quality.

You can see that they are characters and that they have a relationship and that they have a power struggle and conflict but it is a bit unsettling to watch because you are not quite sure what it is and that veers towards archetypal figures that are in this battle that never settles into anything. 

A lot of the work in Attractor developed through setting tasks for het dancers so that they would create their own movement. I made this work with another choreographer (Gideon Obarzanek). I worked a lot with generating tasks for the dancers and he worked with improvisation a lot. In one section I took little bits from the whole piece and smashed them all together and mixed them all up.
But a lot came from the music too. The music has an impulsive kind of driving energy about it. A lot of the movement in Attractor was driven by that music.

Lieselot: Was it the first time you were working with non-performers (20 volunteers take part in the performance)?

Lucy: No. I made a piece called Untrained with two dancers and two non-dancers. I love it when I see people who are not trained. Dancers are very precise, which is beautiful, but I do like the different relationship with space, timing and with the body that non-dancers have.

It’s hard to work with non-dancers because sometimes the audience just find it funny when non-dancers dance. But I don’t find it humorous I find it very interesting. It’s honest and it is just fantastic to see people engaging with their physicality and their bodies and brains together. 

Aïsha: Where does the music in Split come from?

Lucy: It is by an electronic UK composer called SCANNER.

When I was working on Split, I didn’t have a composer yet and I didn’t have any music for during the rehearsals. I would often just go through my music and put on different thing to get a feel for how the music is going to affect the dancing because I generally make the dancing first and then try the music with it.

Lieselot: Are the dancers two separate entities or are they two parts of the same person?

People have very different interpretations.

Aïsha: Throughout the piece it seemed like there was a power game going on between the two dances. Would you say that there is an evolving story in Split?

Lucy: For me there are a few stories in there. I have heard so many other stories from audiences who have come up to me and had very intense and quite dark stories.

The nakedness and the clothedness to me, as you say, almost seems like the same person and there is a harmony in the beginning which then begins to break down. Like an internal struggle with different sides of yourself. I also think sometimes it is about this kind of diminishing sense of the amount of time we have to do things.

You can also relate it to the planet and resources, population growth, the rising of the oceans, the very unpractical way our planet is diminishing environmentally and what that is going to do to us as we are forced into a closer and closer relationship with each other. It is quite a terrifying thought actually. I don’t think we are going to do well. Not many of us can think of a positive outcome to all of that.

Aïsha: I feel like there is a trend that art, dance and theater should have a political statement. Do you feel like you have to hop on to that trend? 

Lucy: I guess I have been making work for a long time and I felt that pressure at times. I had questions about art making and contemporary dance. Does it really have any impact in our society? What does it contribute? Does it affect people’s lives? And I guess I have thought about whether my work should address this more directly.

But my work has always been quite abstract and about movement and also I feel that in a way dance is always political because it works with the human body. You are always looking at a human being when you look at dance so you are always asking questions about who that person is and how they are coping with the physical demands that have been put on them.

I don’t think contemporary dance is very good at acting out scenario’s in the way that language is. I think there is something more felt in dance that is equally as powerful and important.

Lieselot: In Attractor you worked with a very big crew and in Split there are only two dancers. Which one did you like most and how does is affect your approach in the making of the pieces.

Lucy: I really loved making both of these pieces and that is not always the case actually. There are some pieces that are torture and every day you go in battling, struggling. But because I made Attractor with a colleague so I didn’t feel so much of the weight.

And I was so inspired by the musicians. Just because of their attitude and their approach to the work. There was no drama. They just get to work and play this phenomenal music.

Some pieces just come together more easily than others. Sometimes you have to force them to work and you can, and you do. But some pieces just emerge somehow, and I think that Attractor was a little bit like that. The dancers were amazing.

Having made Attractor and some other large works, I just wanted to go back to the studio and concentrate on the craft of making a choreography and work with space and time. And that was super enjoyable as well.

The process for making Split was very different. I know the two dancers in Split well and we are friends. They are both choreographers themselves. One of the dancers (the one in the dress) Melanie Lane is doing the piece Wonderwomen here on Thursday with the female bodybuilders.  So, it's a great conversation and I feel like I can experiment, I can breathe, I can be myself. I don’t have to manage a room.

It’s how I used to work with my friends when I started to choreograph. It had a very nostalgic feel. The work itself has a lot in common with my earlier works, but I’m more in control than I was when I was younger.


Interview conducted by Aïsha Gailliaert and Lieselot Everaert.

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