Dates: 23rd and 24th November at 8pm
Location: East Sydney Community and Arts Centre (ESCAC), 34 Burton Street, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
Tix and Info: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/remote-control-tickets-46642461859
Surprise, surprise 2018!
Coming totally unexpected earlier this year were two invitations to present new solo work from two of Sydney’s most respected, more alternate, performing venues. It was a welcomed relief given the dreadful lack of federal and NSW state-based arts funding over the last 5-6 years.
The first invitation was from PACT (centre for emerging artists). PACT’s director, Katrina Douglas, asked me to join their AFTERGLOW: Generations program in May - a double bill with younger artist, Cloé Fournier and her wonderful new full-length (50 mins) work, Humanoid. My piece (60 mins) was Threshold: NRC.
This was the inaugural Generations program that aims to bring together younger independent choreographers/performance makers in the same evening program alongside a more mature-aged “established” artist, having had some influence on the younger artists’ practice.
The other organization / venue to invite me to make a new full-length work was Brand X at East Sydney Community & Arts Centre (ESCAC), in Darlinghurst. Director and producer, James Winter asked if I’d like to present a work as part of their ‘Flying Nun’ program on 23rd & 24th Nov 2018. I’m now well into rehearsal – writing, planning, developing ideas for this new work called, Remote Control.
What’s Remote Control about?
Well, this new work has quite a story behind it. A life’s body of work in fact!
But let me at least start with a sound bite:
“Remote Control is a ‘performed archive’ (dance and spoken word), that maps several decades of professional, familial, personal, interpersonal, socio-political, inter-environmental / interspecies respect, as choreographic research and communication.”
Unlike the content focus of my works of the last decade, that have reflected my impassioned research interests in bringing marine conservation / science understandings into an embodied practice, (see more on this here), the making of Remote Control deviates from this forward choreographic trajectory.
I’m aligning the process of making this new work to two external requests / projects. Remote Control is shaping to be a 60-70 minute ‘performed archive’ that, in a way, depth-charges one artist’s (mine) history as a Sydney-based independent contemporary performance and dance practitioner and the myriad and eclectic projects, platforms and individuals this pathway has engaged.
‘The Flying Nun’ presenting producer, James Winter, has a special request, in terms of content exploration. Coincidently enough, I was also invited earlier this year to participate in another project – Dancing Sydney: mapping movements/performing histories. All the info for this archival project is here:
So it seems the stars align this year and only fitting that I bring both James’s request together with this archiving project. James, a fellow mature-age artist/arts worker, has asked me to look back into ‘milestone projects’ of my 28 years choreographic and performance practice. In particular, he is keen for me to focus on my first ever full-length work, a solo commissioned by the 2002 International Gay Games Cultural Festival (IGGCF), called Flesh: Memo, that he was also involved in as IGGCF committee member.
That piece was an autobiographical work looking at extreme (that is, life-threatening), domestic violence and child abuse – a lot of it homophobic – and the ‘methods’ queer men employ to survive (or, unfortunately don’t survive), such prolonged formative torment.
Flesh: Memo was itself a consolidation work of several earlier short pieces over the 10 year period prior. James has asked me to revisit aspects of it (and other works), mapping influences of these, as well as engagements with other choreographers in Australia and Europe, through to my extensive research into marine environmentalism and participation in many disability outreach / access projects and performance works across Australia.
Leading questions as I make this new work:
How have some of my earlier solo and group works, that paved new ground in terms of wrestling such unsettling content as domestic violence, childhood sexual assault, homophobia and AIDS in dance work, informed my content interests and overall choreographic practice since?
How have my exposures to marine science, scuba diving and disability access advocacy shaped my current choreographic interests?
What personal influences continue to inform and shape my artistic interests?
Can I make a work that delineates this, contextualizing one artists’ perspective of the diversity within Sydney independent dance practice - current and historic?
Of particular interest to James is my recent Asperger syndrome / ADHD diagnoses in 2015, by two renowned Australian experts in these fields. Diagnoses that, at a personal level, have changed everything! Suddenly, so much else that I’d been wrestling with, not able to understand, let alone communicate, was being identified and acknowledged by expert assessment, sensitive to how pivotal such a recognition is for people diagnosed later in life.
Without wanting to sound dramatic, this diagnosis literally saved my life after an attempted suicide. However, whilst extremely helpful in some respects, it has also been incredibly difficult to ‘come out’ as living with autism/ADHD. There remains an intensely misguided stigma around these conditions and a minimizing, even disbelieving, chorus of people who have only ever seen an external ‘successful’ you and cannot reconcile that “things have been that hard to live with and work through”…until you sit them down and remind them of some key moments in your shared history…”Oh…oh yeah!”
As James and I also engage in extensive arts and disability access programs and projects - outreaching to people (artists) living with disability, he is keen to support a work, from a mature artist, that attempts to enlighten more understanding around such ‘hidden disabilities’ and from personal - albeit choreographic - perspective.
Some other questions as performative departure points:
What is it actually like to live with a differently wired brain that recognizes pattern and analytical detail in everything?
What does it really mean to live with a brain that thinks in pictures, often way too fast to process the details of, at least at the rate neuro-typical people think, process and communicate?
What are the positive aspects of having such neuro-diversity – in creative terms?
What is it like to often not have the ‘ability’ to partition further incoming information that affects the neural system to such a degree that the body and senses overload?
There are positives and negatives to living with a neuro-diverse brain like mine.
One of the negatives is that, due to possessing the ability to recognize patterns, instantly seeing how some things can fit into myriad other applications, to register these details without being able to shut them down until a more appropriate time to think about them, can be utterly exhausting and emotionally, even physically, overwhelming.
With all this, consider having to survive chronic abuse and witness terrifying acts of violence against others as a child trying to make sense of the world, with a mind that has had to lock in some memories, holding patterns, at fundamentally, neural-altered levels?
Excessive and prolonged exposure to trauma, where safety is constantly and entirely compromised, especially experienced by children, can take a lifetime to bring into a manageable existence where panic and anxiety levels are not so disabling, can be extremely taxing for anyone.
However, for children living with intellectual disability and/or autism spectrum condition (ASC) and / or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the path to recovery from prolonged violence can be a far more complex one to navigate. Especially given that, until more recently, so little was known about Asperger syndrome (or high functioning autism) and ADHD.
We neuro-diverse tend to compartmentalize everything, to varying degrees, individual to individual. Every experience comes with several detailed analytical thought process behind them and need to be cognitively tabled so we can then intellectualize into action.
I once told my Asperger’s therapist, “I would never ever get bored in solitary confinement! In fact I think I would find it quite pleasurable. Little other input so I can finally investigate just one, or even just a few, attractive thoughts at a time to the fullest extent of analysis. Pure pleasure!”
The double-complexity neuro-diverse survivors of trauma experience is that all children exposed to consistent and prolonged levels of abuse and neglect learn ways to compartmentalize their thoughts, including how they see themselves, process emotional overloading information, in order to cope with and survive such high-level distress. But for those of us born with a mind that does this innately and that sends every experience to the analysis ‘interrogation room’ of the brain, overcoming trauma ‘patterning’ gets confused with attempts at trying to rewire, or at least reconstruct our congenital neural makeup.
This is why it has taken 30 years of my adult life and 12 different therapists to recognize that, underneath all my complex-PTSD lies a brain that is actually, fundamentally, wired differently to most. And that I am actually really intelligent! Something I have always thought was not possible – that I was just as “stupid and fucking useless” as my parents never ceased telling me. I am, slowly, coming around to believing my intelligence and not falling into heart-palpitating panic about the fact that I am.
As there are many cross-overs between C-PTSD symptoms and ASD/ADHD, there is now more research being done on how to recognize the very slight differences and help fast-track a better understanding of trauma-surviving neuro-diverse people so we can get the assistance we require and stop people taking their own lives after having endured so much already.
Some of these will be outlined in this new work. The Asperger’s syndrome (high functioning autism), ADHD and C-PTSD combo-pack can at times be utterly debilitating. It is during these times, that can come completely out-of-the-blue or accumulate beneath the skin over the course of a day or two, when living with neuro-diversity becomes disabling. But the disabling factors are really more to do with a lack of understanding around Aspergian’s access needs than the TMI overloading itself.
Like the rest of the population, Aspergians are also incredibly diverse in terms of how we function / dysfunction in this busy, often information-overloading 21st C. world. In Remote Control (as a stage 1 performative development outing), I will attempt to make my own, more ‘spatially autistic’ body-brain & sensory-overloading-mind experiences more understandable, whilst showcasing a history of working within an incredibly passionate, disciplined and diverse Sydney contemporary dance and performance community since 1991.