NO MAN’S LAND – AN EXPERIMENT IN MOVEMENT

NOVEMBER 3, 2010

No Man’s Land – An experiment in movement

A Moving Experiment

June 11, 2010

By 

Annalouise Paul is a pioneering dancer and choreographer who has danced for Michael Jackson, Antonio Vargas Co., Simply Red, Los Angeles Opera, Sydney Festival and Australian Dance Awards at the Sydney Opera House. She was assistant choreographer on True Lies working with Arnold Schwarzengger and director James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar, Terminator). Annalouise has been the recipient of Arts NSW, Australia Council, Greater London Arts and Critical Path to research and develop her own choreographies. Annalouise has collaborated extensively with Bobby Singh for several years on these works. Bobby is one of Australia’s well-known tabla players, a student of Pandit Nikhil Ghosh and Aneesh Pradhan. Bobby Singh has received numerous awards and performed with musicians all over the world and in many festivals.

I watched two shows in 2008 Isabel, a collaboration between Annalouise Paul and Bobby Singh who explore the story of Queen Isabel through flamenco dance and tabla rhythms and Game On, a flirtatious game between dance in movement and tabla rhythms between Miranda Wheen, an agile contemporary dancer and Bobby Singh amongst other musicians at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre. Impressed with their work  I have been trying to arrange an interview with Annalouise Paul for some time now and was finally able to connect with her recently. Annalouise Paul presents her views on inter-cultural work and experiments and her shows Game On and Isabel :

Sydhwaney: A lot of fusion work remains in a ‘no mans land’ if you know what I mean ?

Annalouise Paul: Yes, well ironically I feel the genre itself is in no man’s land, particularly in NSW there are few, if any platforms for intercultural works to be developed or showcased so they can begin to grow. There are pockets of Indians, Belly dance, flamenco, Cubans, Africans, Asians etc all working separately but not really any place we can ever see them work together.

I would love to curate a season at a theatre or some other venue that could house all these cultural forms and showcase NSW artists. All other states, VIC,WA,SA,etc have a multicultural arts body that not only advocates for their local artists but presents showcases with opportunities to  raise awareness and actually build new audiences with communities.  We don’t. We need to keep proving ourselves to venues and presenters before we can even create the work, it’s a Catch 22.  But I have been talking with a few venues lately about this idea so maybe we’ll see something spring up later this year or next.

Sydhwaney: What are you doing now?

Annalouise Paul: I have been developing new ideas for shows to gain funding and working to get my last two works out on tour, Isabel and Game on and forming my company and website, Theatre of Rhythm and Dance. I have also been invited to guest lecture and choreograph at Macquarie University later this year. I will choreograph on the students and hope to introduce some cross-cultural ideas and themes with live music , so we might see more intercultural works out there in a few years.

Sydhwaney: Game on is an interesting mix of styles. The artists, Bobby Singh on Tabla, dancers Miranda Wheen go on a challenging journey of movement and rhythm. I am interested in talking about this show. “Game on” .. what is it about ? when is it on ? what is the aspect of dance that is being portrayed in it.. or is it free form and meant to be seamless

AP Game on has recently been confirmed for a schools tour in 2011, which is very exciting. Game on is a duet between one contemporary dancer (Miranda Wheen) and an Indian musician, ( Bobby Singh) in a meeting of the minds. It’s all about exchange. They exchange ideas, cultural knowledge, improvise and dance to Indian and flamenco rhythms, all the while paying games on who’s leading and following, that kind of thing. This eventuates in a story that somehow could be their personal stories, but it is, left unclear so the audience is left to question what part is fact or fiction and the ‘game’ then becomes three way between them and the players and not unlike a reality TV game where the audience become part of the game in some way, part of the critical decision making.

Game on developed from Critical Path research in 2005 and 2007 looking at how contemporary dance is altered by using traditional rhythms. Many people felt a new genre was forming. The exchange was amazing and many ‘games’ were played between the dancers and musicians that a work simply had to come from it. Game on is a unique work, using innovative ideas and artists that are not only so talented and easy to work with, they are willing to keep exploring and finding new territory, it is a joy for the audience to watch them.

I guess that’s a big key I have learnt to solid ‘fusion’ collaboration – you need to have people around you who are like-minded. When it comes to cultural dance music and theatre I believe we need artists that want to preserve and maintain and the ones that want to explore and innovate. Both are relevant. But either way, you have to want to dig deep, maintain the authenticity of the culture and respect for protocols.

Sydhwaney: I want to you to talk about the idea of Isabel. When I watched it last year,  I was immediately touched by the depth and intensity of your performance as Isabel. May be a part of me that is used to watching  a story being told as in traditional Indian dance forms like Kathak and Bharathanatyam felt satisfied. Where did you get your inspiration from, how did the show develop, your idea of its choreography, mixing it with tabla sounds …Aspects of it.. the storyline of course…

AP Thanks Sumi, that’s wonderful that you still have such a vivid memory of it! Isabel was extremely well received in the 2008 season. It was performed in a double bill with Game on in the umbrella title Conversations in Rhythm + Dance. It has been short listed for touring but  to date because we lack a  NSW rep many out of state presenters were interested but reluctant to take on a show that cant be vouched for, no matter what the press say…another testament that we need a dedicated multicultural organisation in NSW!!

Isabel was in a way my calling card so that funders, arts community and peers could witness me as a performer doing my own work.  It told the story of Queen Isabel of Spain in 1492. I am obsessed with the idea of ultimate power , and I guess it is an allegory for someone like George Bush, Hitler etc  What kind of mind must it take to  justify murder and persecution of others in the name of God, religion or some higher order?  I started researching flamenco and discovered Queen Isabel. Then I uncovered my own ancestry, which I had never really done before on my father’s side. It all came together in a short space of time and it all just made sense. My father was Sephardic Jew and connects directly to this time in history when Isabel expelled the Jews s from Spain, formally the Spanish Inquisition.  Over centuries they migrated through the Arab countries and then onto India where my dad was born, in Kolkata.
As the story goes, which is fiction not fact of course, Isabel prepares for her coronation and in doing so her mind starts to play tricks on her. Her conscious over takes, feelings of guilt, remorse set in, her inner voice challenges her to look at her actions; murder; looting; destruciton that aided her rise to power and victory.  The facts are in 1492 she conquered the Arabs, expelled the Jews and funded Columbus to find the ‘new world’, which of course was the Americas. She saw to it that Spain became a world leader and Catholic, even though all these cultures and others had been living in harmony for centuries.

I would love to develop this into a full-length work that might comprise of other characters and bring one some other cultural forms. This version was simply flamenco and Indian, we chose rhythms that matched the feeling of characters mood and could have an onstage exchange to show her growing madness. By the end Isabel is quite ‘mad’ she is impossible to control and her need to succeed overtakes all reason, she shuts out her humanness in order to see her  (God’s) will be done.

Creating a role like this was a great challenge but also right up my alley.  I am a flamenco and contemporary dancer but also a trained actor.  I trained in Los Angeles in film and TV and later on theatre. All my works revolve around the dialogue that happens on stage between dance and music in a theatrical story or premise. It really is theatre. Back to intercultural (fusion) and no mans land … I’d like to share this with you, a quote from a gorgeous book “Classical Indian Dance Tradition in Transition”.    The final page reads:

“Nothing should be taken as good or acceptable merely because it is old. Nothing should be treated as bad because it is new. Great men accept the one or the other after careful examination or deliberation. It is only a fool that has his mind led by the belief of others” –Malavikagnimtra of Kalidasa, Act 1 Verse 2

Sydhwaney: Well, certainly Kalidasa sums it off very beautifully. Thank you !!