Emily Robinson and Brooke Powers.
“I still don’t have an answer as to why I love to create and I have a feeling I will never really know. It feels intuitive; like in a way, making work is practising intuition. Often when I make work I feel as though the work already exists; it’s about me scratching back the surface to reveal it.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative journey.
I started this journey as a dreamer; naive, optimistic, determined, impressionable, and in love. What I was in love with was this connection I was forming with my body. It felt like a “coming home” sensation. Being in my body helped me cultivate an awareness that I still value. I was always supported in my art - until I decided to take it seriously and wanted to make it my work, then I never stopped hearing how hard it would be. But in all honesty, I think this made me more determined. They didn’t mean “doing what you love was going to be hard”, they meant “trying to make money [would be hard]”. This is an example of the social structures and systems we live in and try to make art in.
After I graduated from studying dance full-time (at VCA), I felt completely lost and spat out of an institution into a society that doesn’t really appreciate performance because there is no tangible product to consume - it is live and ephemeral. I’ve made some work, taken some workshops, residencies, seen shows, applied for grants, done class, then travelled and did all of these things again halfway across the world. It’s been an amazing, boring, confusing, enlightening and rejecting journey.
I am really interested in the position of the body in the world, and the only body I can speak for is mine- white, cisgendered, queer woman. I have been the subject of homophobia and misogyny.
I used to think that if I wasn’t creative I would die, but I associated that with being paid, recognition and success. Now I realise that I can still be creative, dance and make work, and no one can stop me doing that. But it doesn’t have to be for institutions I don’t care for, or for someone to say “job well done”. I don’t want to apply for the next grant just because everyone else is and it doesn’t mean I won’t be an artist all of a sudden. And until I feel I have something so urgent to say that I feel it must be said, I am more interested in supporting communities that do need a voice.
I still don’t have an answer as to why I love to create and I have a feeling I will never really know. It feels intuitive; like in a way making work is practising intuition. Often when I make work I feel as though the work already exists; it’s about me scratching back the surface to reveal it.
Emily Robinson and Brooke Powers.
One of the things that strikes me about your work is a kind of democratic approach to dance, in the sense that you challenge hierarchical structures in the process of choreographing a project. What drives that approach for you?
What drives this approach is to challenge the stuck structures that are in place, not just in dance but in society. I think the thing that turns me off most about dance is that often you can feel like a physical tool to fulfill the director’s/choreographer’s desires, with not much insight into what they are doing and why. This can feel empty and dull for me. I like to consider that I use my brain as much as my body; making shapes is fun but I would like a more in-depth dialogue within and around the work.
When I’m making my own work, especially in the last work I made, ‘An Alternative Route’, I was interested in how everyone can produce the work together. I had an idea that over the period of creating the work, anything that is going on in these individuals’ lives is not left at the rehearsal doors. Meaning that the performer didn’t have to be an empty vessel.
In some ways I think my idea really failed, mostly because I realised that the concept of the work was my idea and asking people to contribute as much as I was and be as invested was not going to work, as it was solely my idea. I do think there is a happy medium to work with these structures, which is happening in the independent dance scene.
Emily Robinson, Vishnu Hazell, Sienna Thorton, Kathleen Campone, Brooke Powers, and Annabelle Balharry.
I’m fascinated by your exploration of people having a distinct “sound” in your recent work ‘An Alternative Route’. Can you tell me about the ways in which dance provides a language for accessing and expressing our uniqueness?
The body and dance is such a platform for providing uniqueness: no one body is the same, and if you try and get people to dance the same, you will be wasting your energy on this rather that celebrating their uniqueness. It’s a pretty obvious option for me.
This “find a sound” idea came from questions such as; how is it to be heard? How does that sound beyond language that is loaded and that we understand? How can we be heard? We looked at bird calls as other ways of communicating, which is based on sound.
Like language, the body can be loaded with identities and symbols and can be limited by our constructed perceptions. The sound was a way of looking at what the body produces that connects to someone beyond thought. It’s more of an empathetic response. Some responses I got from the audience were that they felt the desire and need to make those sounds, even though they had never heard them before. After that thought came emotions around not having a space to make sounds from a place of such depth and expression.
Who and what are your muses and why?
What I see in Frida’s works is that she really needed to make art to express what was inside of her. She wasn’t producing these works for anyone else except herself. Her work wasn’t for design or aesthetics, it was for necessity. Through her ability to be honest and authentic with her work, it became a mirror for everyone that viewed it. Her work is not protected, it is vulnerable and raw, and she gives off that there is nothing to hide.
I believe that if an artist has enough self-enquiry and awareness they should be producing the work from within them, in reference to the world, but not speaking for the world. I feel that a lot of artists look externally for their inspiration rather than the stories and identities of themselves in the context of what’s around them.
The idea of a self-portrait is very interesting to me, especially as we are constantly loaded with so much external information and the platform of social media-making as a reference to everyone else, instead of holding the mirror up to our own faces.
I’m currently taking short videos of myself daily, questioning self-work and self-enquiry, and how they externalise or materialise.
Emily Robinson and Brooke Powers.
What advice would you give to other souls who want to explore their own unique expression?
Do it!!! Why not?!!! Don’t listen to people who tell you otherwise, in fact, unfriend them on facebook!!! Keep questioning everything that you learn. I would suggest to keep questing for and differentiating between what is your truth and what is the truth that is conditioned and learnt. From here you will have the space to connect to your uniqueness.
Performing for Boni Cairncross work at the Margret Lawrence gallery Melbourne.
Emily Robinson is a Melbourne-based dance artist/maker; her current practice is discovering what it means to have a practice, with an ongoing interest around the existence and importance of producing performance. How can performance move beyond creating an aesthetically pleasing product? Therefore questioning the importance and impermanence of the body.
Emily graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2012 and is a recipient of Artstart 2015. Emily has presented works through the Ausdance Graduate program; Carriage Works- OLO, Beat around the bush, First Run (Lucy Guerin INC), Homemade Festival- Fuckit5678/ collaboration Brooke Powers (MELB), Tempting Failure (School House Studios, MELB), An Alternative Route for the Emotional Body at Pieces For Small Spaces (Lucy Guerin Inc), and is presenting a new work as part of the Fringe Festival Darebin Arts Speakeasy, titled An Alternative Route.
Emily has been involved in residencies, workshops and performances nationally and internationally: MULITMODAL (Lee Serle), Pose Band (Rebecca Jensen) Keir Choreographic Awards Sarah Akien, by Sarah Akien, IfTheyAreSleepyLetThemSleep (Boni Cairncross). During 2014 and 2015 Emily travelled internationally to attend ImPuls Tanz, PAF/ Summer University/ Indigo Dance Festival, Ponderosa/ Choreographic and Performance module, the Movement Research Centre, NYC.
Follow her on Instagram or check out her works on Vimeo.
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