Doing the Flamenco to the beats of the dhaak is no mean feat. But to Australian choreographer and dancer, Annalouise Paul, the movements come naturally thanks to her mixed heritage. On Saturday, she kept the audience at The Palladian Lounge spellbound. She has danced with Michael Jackson, assistant choreographed Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies, collaborated with operatic tenor Placido Domingo… In town to perform for a contemporary dance festival, Annalouise is also in search of her roots — her father was born in Kolkata and lived here till 1947. We caught up with her for a tete-a-tete…
Where does the boundless energy come from?
I think it comes from my mixed lineage. Flamenco can be performed by people aged nine to 90 unlike ballet that’s age-bound. The energy has a lot to do with these Flamenco movements. The move can be as subtle as just turning your head to the right but it’s done with intensity and passion. It’s not about looking beautiful and perfect. It’s about the spirit that matters. And the energy flows from this sense of freedom.
Your father was from Kolkata…
My father was born in Kolkata and was a Safari Jew. But he left in 1947 along with the British, roamed the world and settled in Australia. My mother is English with a Russian background. She didn’t like England and so she too went and settled in Australia! My parents were divorced when I was very young so I didn’t get to see my father a lot. This is my first trip to India and Kolkata. One of my productions is inspired from my cross- cultural history.
Is that how you relate so strongly to Indian forms of expressions? Absolutely! It’s this weird concoction… Spanish ancestry, Indian roots. I grew up eating a lot of curries but I knew that part of my culture is also about fish and chips! It was important to present my works in India. It’s something like a pilgrimage, uncovering my father’s roots.
How was it working with Michael Jackson? Were you intimidated? The strangest thing is, big stars are the most gracious people! I started dancing quite late — at 19. I finished my training in England and then lived in Los Angeles for seven years. I danced for one of his videos, In The Closet from Dangerous. Naomi Campbell was also there.
You’re blushing... (Laughs) We spent seven days shooting in the desert. It was during that time when Michael was involved in all that controversy! In spite of that, he was nice to everyone, though we were a little cagey when he was around. I’ve also worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies and with opera singer Placido Domingo in LA. They’re all very humble people and that’s what has taken them this far.
What IS contemporary dance? The principle and definition and the reason I believe contemporary dance has taken on this name is because it consistently pushes its own boundaries. The principles of Flamenco and any other traditional or classical dance, Kathak, for example, is that they’re deeply rooted in rhythm and a fixed grammar. They can be contemporized but can never become contemporary.
Tell us something about your upcoming projects? I have two productions lined up. One is a new work where I’m working with an Egyptian drummer. The other is about body percussion and has six dancers doing Indian, Flamenco, Aboriginal, Polynesian, contemporary and Western movements. It’s called Mother Tongue.
Don’t you feel like going back to Hollywood? I will, if it’s the right job. LA is very work-focused. When you have a job it’s fun. When you don’t, it can be quite tough. My LA experience has fed into what I am today. I’m happy living in Sydney for the time being. I’m still working for television, have my own dance company. Unless, of course, I fall in love with someone in LA!