Australian performer, writer and director Nicola Gunn brings her award-winning Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster to Vancouver January 17-19 as part of our Global Dance Connections series. We caught up with Nicola for a Q&A about her work:
TDC: Can you tell us about your artistic career?
NG: When I was 32, I had been making solo work for 11 years already. By the time I had turned 33 I had applied for funding for this one particular project called Hello my name is about 4 times and received rejection letters on each occasion. However, the venue was booked and the season had already been advertised so I had no choice but to make the work with no, or very little, money. I was relying on the kindness of a very dedicated team of collaborators who were fitting me in around their day jobs. I think I was also coming out of a serious bout of depression which I put down to a protracted Saturn Return, which I later discovered was most likely just Coeliac’s Disease, but this discovery didn’t happen until a year later so I still had a good 12 months of being pretty depressed. During the very difficult time of making this show, I remember saying to a friend of mine - a person I met at Drama School in 1999, the very same Drama School that kicked me out for failing acting, also in 1999 - that I was ready to retire. She looked at me with a funny expression and said, ‘In order to retire, don’t you need something to retire from?’ This was back in 2012.
TDC: Do you think Australian works have a distinctive style or aesthetic? If so, how does it compare to Canadian work?
NG: I have thought a lot about this recently, as I think it is more complicated than a question of an overall Australian ‘style' or ‘aesthetic’. The question could better be directed to each work on a case by case basis and posed as, ‘Why this style, why this aesthetic?’ To answer this question you’d need to understand our present context, which has so indelibly been shaped by our past. We have a blurry and not particularly unified culture and there are so many opposing forces and desires at work. Maybe it is the same in Canada? When I was in Chile recently, I became aware of how Chileans hold conversation: the conversation sits in the space between people and everyone contributes ideas and opinions to this space. So in this way, you are not assigned your opinion, or defined by it. No one owns the conversation. I don’t know why I mention this. Perhaps because I think we could learn from it in Australia.
TDC: What inspired Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster?
NG: Peace, conflict, a duck. I wanted to find violence and pleasure.
TDC: You talk and move almost non-stop throughout the piece: how do you train and build up the stamina and technique to accomplish this?
NG: I am not a professionally trained dancer (or actor, if we’re going to be honest about it), so putting an arrhythmic choreography together with quite a dense text made my head explode. There were many times in rehearsal I wondered if this was a terrible idea, if it would fail miserably. But the whole concept of the work is predicated on unnecessary action, so it was imperative I keep going. I simply kept trying until I got it. And it was not really until after a few seasons did the talking and moving actually finally fall into place. To get the subtle mode of thinking / not-thinking is tricky and takes practice. I heard that Beyonce’s dad made her practice singing on a treadmill. I did not do this.
The Dance Centre and PuSh International Performing Arts Festival present
Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster
January 17-19, 2018 at 8pm
Scotiabank Dance Centre
Nicola is also leading a workshop at Intrepid Theatre in Victoria on January 25, learn more.
Photo: Sarah Walker