Dance makers, performers and educators Maddy and Frankie have been working together since 2006, when they met while studying at the Victorian College of the Arts. They each received a Cultural Trust grant in 2013 and 2015 respectively, and are now both based in Mparntwe/Alice Springs.
We spoke to them about their joint practice, their experience living and working regionally, and their current work developing a new home for dance in Central Australia, GUTS Dance.
Tell us a bit about your artistic practice, and how you came to work together.
We met on our first day of University at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2006. It was very clear, very quickly that we were going to be friends for a long time. That’s probably one thing about our partnership that has made it so strong and enabled us to continue to find ways to work together for over a decade – we’re friends, who really deeply care about and champion one another both in our existences as dance makers and as our ‘normal’ selves. We first started making work together in 2007 when we founded 2NDTOE collective alongside Adam Wheeler, Benjamin Hancock, James Andrews and Tyler Hawkins. We have always been hugely committed and connected to collaborative practice and the power held within collective endeavour. 2NDTOE worked together for 10 years, which really set us up for being able to negotiate what it means to create and perform work inside a team of people with their own wants and needs. We carry this learning into everything we do, and it’s given us a really amazing platform from which to move forward into the next stage of our careers. In terms of trying to define the kind of work we make or the way we do things, we would say we practice experimentation based in dance with a strong focus on collaboration, historically presented or experienced outside traditional spaces. We sit proudly in the independent sector of the dance industry – and even as we move forward developing a small organisation (GUTS Dance // Central Australia has come into being in 2018) we are committed to remaining connected to and supporting independent makers and practitioners.
How have your practices (collective and/or separate) evolved since receiving Cultural Trust grants? Has the focus of your work shifted?
Significantly, we both developed some strong conceptual and choreographic ideas when we were undertaking our respective residencies and international placements that found common ground here in the desert, and then grew into our first professional work made in Mparntwe/Alice Springs, The Perception Experiment. The process of redefining our imaginings and the beginnings of these ideas as we came back from two years of sporadic opportunities to dance and create together, really helped to simultaneously blow open and solidify our modes of working. Ultimately, the experiences, various opportunities to develop and reflect with new people and the exposure to myriad ways of practicing, performing and thinking about work set us up to come at The Perception Experiment with a different energy and focus than we had before. It was also a catalyst in embedding in us a really strong desire to see our careers be much more than just the making and performance of professional work. While this is one part of what we do, our commitment to dance education and access to dance for young people, the creation of platforms to hold space for our peers to explore and create, and being strong advocates for the evolution and elevation of the arts and culture in our society have become just as present and just as important as our own choreographic endeavours.
Did your own understanding of your practice grow through placing it in an international context? If so, how?
The biggest learning that has come from embedding ourselves in different locations with different artists, ways of working, opportunities and platforms for the development of dance, has been developing an understanding of our own context and potential. Seeing things like your form, your physical training and the things you are concerned with conceptually viewed through other people’s lenses and experience has given us a better understanding of where and why we want to continue to pursue a life that centres around contemporary dance practice. Not only this, but seeing the way different political and social structures, historical understanding and appreciation of culture and current trends affect the world of dance and art creation in general has been hugely educational and important in understanding our place within the broadest context of what we do. It has also helped us to solidify why, for whom, and where we want to be making dance and contributing to the continued evolution and exposure of our form within Australia.
Would you still define yourselves as emerging artists?
We feel as though we’re in a constant state of emerging – it’s a tricky thing to define. We’ve probably earned a few stripes over the years, so maybe it’s fair to say we’re moving out of what would most likely be defined as ‘emerging’, although it’s kind of hard to say what we are now?! It doesn’t feel as though mid-career would be quite it yet, so somewhere in the liminal space between these two (difficult to define) spaces!
You’re now both based in Alice Springs/Mparntwe. What has your experience been of working in regional Australia?
In short, we love it. We have found so much in the way things work and happen in a regional context that has steered our practice and the way we see dance and its role in society in some really new and exciting directions. In the desert, if you want to do something, and it’s new and involves encouraging people to think about their previous ideas of something in different ways, you have to be ready to do every bit of it yourself. There is very little infrastructure that supports full-time dance practice so we’ve had to work hard to build relationships and programs that will support the level of practice we want to be working at. Being independents set us up somewhat with the ability to wear many hats, but the learning has really been accelerated since landing here proper. The community of people and the physical landscape of Mparntwe/Alice Springs really is unlike anywhere else – both are equally as inspiring, thought-provoking, challenging (in a good way) and generous – and this has really reinforced how vital regional Australia is to our national cultural landscape, and how fortunate we are to be contributing from this place.
You’re currently working on a new home for dance in Central Australia, GUTS Dance, in partnership with Araluen Arts Centre. How did this opportunity come about?
We partnered with Araluen for the premiere of The Perception Experiment in 2017 – they put a lot of trust in us and opened up their galleries for live performance for the first time in the organisation’s 34 year history – and since then we’ve been working together to create a model that fosters continued growth and exposure of dance in Central Australia. We have been developing this with Araluen’s Director for the last two years and in 2019 GUTS will be positioned to take up residence in the newly renovated dance studio that is part of the arts centre. Dance practice at a post-high school level hasn’t historically been able to take up much space in our region, in part due to a bit of a lack of exposure but also because there hasn’t been a purpose-built space where it can take place. GUTS will be able to offer all sorts of platforms for training, creation, experimentation and exchange here in the desert, which will not only increase our capacity as makers, teachers and performers, but allow us to enter into exchange with artists from all over the country, diversifying our practice and conversations around dance now and into the future.
What are you currently working on? What is coming up next for you?
We’ve got a huge year in 2019 – probably the biggest year yet. We’re super excited to be embarking on our first ever tour with The Perception Experiment to Dance Massive in Melbourne in March and then to Festival Cultural de Mayo in Guadalajara, Mexico in May (there are also some potential other dates for the second half of the year within Australia). This is HUGE for us – and so amazing to be able to take our work out of the desert and share it with the world! We’re also really excited to be back together with the creative team – our collaborators come from all over the country and the isolation and cost of getting people together here can be really oppressive, so the fact this is happening is amazing.
We are actually running a fundraising campaign for this as part of the Creative Partnerships Australia’s MatchLAB initiative to cover the cost of travel for our touring party (which is pretty huge out of remote Australia!) so if anyone would like to donate, you can head over to the Australian Cultural Fund website and do so there. (All donations up to $10,000 are matched dollar for dollar, so there’s HEAPS of bang for your buck).
GUTS is also undertaking its first commission of new work and celebrated dancer and choreographer Sara Black will be coming to Mparntwe/Alice to undertake development for a new work. We’ll get to enjoy being dancers in this work and producing it as part of our program, alongside a bunch of really stellar performers, designers and musicians. We will also roll out the 2019 edition of Alice Can Dance, our dance education initiative that has been running here now for seven years. We work with over 200 young people from 10 public schools, including Ntaria School from Hermannsburg community and students who live out on remote stations and do their lessons via School of the Air, who we teach over the internet! There’s also a whole lot of potential other projects that will hopefully get off the ground, so we definitely have our work cut out for us!
What do you see for the future of dance in Central Australia?
Big and exciting things (it’ll just take a little GUTS!)
To donate to Maddy and Frankie's fundraising campaign, just visit the Australian Cultural Fund's website.
To find out more about Maddy and Frankie's work and GUTS Dance, you can visit their website.