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Now Conversation

Jo Lloyd and Sandra Parker

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Jo Lloyd (2021). Photo by Peter Rosetzky.

In the spirit of focusing on process, rather than an artist reflecting on, or explaining an existing work, this conversation between choreographers Sandra Parker and Jo Lloyd focuses on Lloyd’s “Now Pieces” event and on the state of play of Jo Lloyd’s musings on making work in the “now”.

Sandra Parker: I thought we’d start with how you have approached making for the series Now Pieces and specifically the notion of “now”. I was interested in how you might have thought about the idea of “now”, given that it implies a sense of the present or an immediacy, how do you consider that in making this presentation?

Jo Lloyd: Well, I think with Now Pieces, I had gone to a couple of the events at Dancehouse and was in one of them, and I gathered, you know, an experience, both by being a performer and being an audience member. After one of them, an evening with a couple of solos and trios, each 10 minutes over a course of an hour, there was a group improvisation. I thought about how these performers had been dancing together and improvising together, and that led me to think about the history of Cecil Street and remembering what it was like to be in Melbourne and to be practicing improvisation and to feel all the different streams of improvisation practices going on through the decades since I graduated as a young dancer. I started to think about what it is, when people improvise performance, but also what they’re doing prior to that, what I guess is not necessarily even preparing for performance, but what they’re doing together when practicing, and then what they’re sharing with people watching them.

When it then came to me to curate something I thought, in the same way, what I was really interested in was the people that I dance with, but I don’t necessarily use the word improvisation much when I’m making work, because I feel like it’s lodged in a certain time. My understanding of many people that are improvisers and some of the ones that I admire or learnt from, there is a really deep history with the practice, so I feel like sometimes I’m reluctant to use that word, but it also opens up a bit more of a discussion.

But yes, the “now” concept, I think, is also a lot about time. I’ve been thinking about this work I was trying to do called remainder remainder remainder. I called it remainder remainder remainder as it was this idea of what remains in the dances that have been worked on, but also what is remaining that the works didn’t get to do, so, almost like what was on the other side of what eventuated. What didn’t happen? What didn’t we get to? There always seems to be this sort of unfinished aspect with every sort of process to get to performance.

This idea of “now” also acknowledges relationships and collaborative ways of working with the dancers I work with, and how that shifts a lot because they make their own work – they have their own practices involving improvisation. I’m interested in bringing a group together that are familiar, but also to acknowledge where we are at now, without me directing this hour. So, it’s not a Jo Lloyd work, but it’s me bringing the people together that I know have a practice with me, and to see what would come from that, I think it’s kind of going to unfold in a quite fascinating way, maybe.

SP: Can you talk a bit more about what do you mean by what might be remaining?

JL: So, I remember, I was improvising, and I thought of a section where we all say these statements to the corner, and it was about this sort of conversation, and it was this thing of the idea of “who’s in the corner?”, so I flipped it and thought “what does the corner represent”? Sort of the empty aspect of that scene, or the stage, and then I was thinking well that’s a “remaining thing” to investigate. So, these remaining aspects that I didn’t dig away at or mine. There’s also the remainder of what the dancers would go back to, what resonated for them in some of those working rehearsals, where it’s like “oh yeah that’s still interesting to me”. And often, in conversation with someone who has been part of the project, what they remember, or recall is quite different, whereas, I think, I don’t remember that. I think that’s interesting what has stuck with them and remained with them about the project, whereas maybe I’d forgotten aspects about practices, because it didn’t really drive me, but it’s something that survived for them.

SP: So, it is more about a sort of experience of movement and movement choices or movement ideas per se, both your own imagination around the choreography, or the kind of performance, and then it’s also what’s remained in the body of the dancer as a kind of movement experience.

JL: Yes. Like what’s enticing or what entertains them, so it could be a more theatrical memory, or it could be more physical. An “ask”, or an “attempt”. It could be that Shian Law might go towards something from a work years ago, or he might be doing something now that has interest, it might also trigger something that I remember. The residue of things that entertained them, that I offered. I sometimes offer these propositions and I don’t know what people are going to want to chew on. Something that I’m investigating and really wanting to know more about might not work for them, but when it does seem to work for them, that’s when I know that I need to keep going that way, it narrows down which way to investigate things.

SP: Just backtracking a little bit, before you mentioned that you don’t really use the word improvisation, that you don’t think that your work is improvised per se, so if it’s not that, how is it different to that and how will that play out in this piece?

JL: I mean, I think it is working in a way that’s like something you’d say is improvisation, but I think it both is and isn’t. It is not like I’m distancing myself from the word, because if anything I’m probably not using it as much or I haven’t used it as much because I don’t know that I make what I think of as improvisation in relation to the history of improvised performances. I don’t know if I qualify for that. In my works we use a certain collection of propositions, I call them, or parameters. They’re not like rules, more fluid than that. It’s like we know enough to do the dance, to know the use of the space and time and in relation to each other, and often it’s that negotiation of choices that happen and then how those choices trigger responses: act and react. The nonverbal, not using verbal cues. I think it’s because I tend to like the outcomes more than when I direct something that’s firmer and more fixed, in terms of what needs to play out from the start to the finish of something.

SP: So normally those parameters would be rehearsed, and you would work as a group together on refining those parameters through a kind of filtering to shape it into something, what are you proposing to do for Now Pieces that might be different?

JL: Well, I’m sort of abstaining from proposing, but I know that that’s not necessarily possible, so I think I’m trying to reduce how much I ask of the dancers, and by doing that I’m hoping that I’m not necessarily making another “Jo work”. I’m trying to give them the chance to be them, because I’m both acknowledging I’ve worked with them and they’ve worked with me, but they make their own work, and they practice their own practices. I want to reveal who they are, and what they do, without sort of tainting them with what my interests are. I think I want to give parameters. I’d like it to be continuous in terms of the hour, and I’d like them to try to sustain their physicality. So, whether that has variations of speed, and all sorts of investigations that they might bring to it, but I wanted to have a sense of sustaining the working of it, so people can watch us work together, but then I think, I’m probably also interested in suggesting we don’t use verbal language, but I don’t know if I am totally strict on that, but that’s my feeling. I don’t really want us to come together and try it out before we do it in front of people. For Now Pieces I don’t feel like I want to work that way as preparation for it, I think it is just “go”. So, I’m trying to pull back.

SP: So, this notion that it’s a “piece” and everything that comes with the “piece”, or the “work”, is being resisted by going against that sort of preparedness or the sense that it already exists as a work or has happened, is rehearsed and is ready to be presented, but I guess that’s the sort of the challenge of the “now” idea in relationship making work…

JL: Yes, I think also this thing came up with a musician recently and they used the word “arrangement”, and I really like the idea of an “arrangement”, and for music it’s more composed. In some ways I’ve arranged the time and the length of time, the space we’re using, and I don’t want to arrange too much more. These arrangements will influence how it happens, despite the people that are coming to that room.

I think it’s also just that I enjoy each of the dancer’s performance. I enjoy watching them and I am fascinated with them, and interested in what they employ when they dance, because I don’t always quite feel like I can understand what their interests are. I’m watching them and thinking what are they thinking? I’m not completely sure what I’m watching.

SP: In the example of music, you don’t have to write the score in the same way, you might be arranging pre-existing composition across different instruments, for example. You already have the baseline and so on, so you have these pre-existing things to arrange. Would you say that in a sense, you trust that the dancers understand something about your movement language, and you don’t have to interfere with or play with that too much because you’re all coming together to speak, “Jo’s speech”, bringing pre-existing experiences of performance, or relationships, or movement experiences.

JL: Maybe, and I think I’ve always enjoyed the misunderstandings that I feel when I’m navigating their choices in live performance, so it sort of makes me work in a way that’s quite tricky. I like that about it, that maybe I didn’t articulate this clearly but that’s how they heard me, but then I really like what occurs from that by-product.

SP: The dancers takes something different, there’s ambiguity around language and how a parameter might be realized that you can’t really control.

JL: Exactly. And then I think what occurs is often this thing that I think “I couldn’t have choreographed that if I tried”. Because you know, I’ve made odd choices, as if I set up this very perfect thing that could be repeated. So, I try to abstain from that responsibility. An improvisation mode that I work with, that’s one of my parameters is “act as if” you know the dance. “Act as if” this is the choreography you’ve learned off video, and it took you hours and hours to get those two minutes. “Act as if” is a kind of a mode that is hard to get out of, and you know when you think it is too familiar, but I also like what it does, in terms of precision in the physicality, running concurrently with doing and being aware of what I’m doing and choice making while I’m not making choices, so this sort of simultaneous choice, making or directing as I’m observing myself. The physical effect that comes from that is this sort of not searching, but “acting on”.

SP: The “as if” you know the dance implies that it’s already in existence, it’s already there. Do you ever worry about habit in those kinds of choices? How do you challenge that kind of immediacy? How do you kind of break that open or challenge that in the “now”. Is it about the sort of parameters that you choose? Things that force new things to happen.

JL: I think the “act as if” does set up or it seems to be one of the main things that sets up choice. But it sets up a certain rhythm, and it’s a similar thing with a practice I lead where I’m speaking different propositions or prompts and use my voice. Even the way I speak can be habitual. Rebecca Jensen has picked up on this in the past, even the kind of notion of using the peripheral view of dancing together as a parameter sets up some sort of pollution almost between us, you know, not negative pollution. I’ve been thinking of it like dance has a smell or an odor. So, this thing of having the smells sort of intermingling. This is interesting Sandy about habit, because I think it plays out for me in certain rhythms. I’ve been wanting to rupture or have some sort of interventions into it. Although, I don’t want to completely abandon some of the things that are happening that are habitual. It’s a tricky one, to sort of keep gnawing away at some things but also acknowledge what is occurring. I’m totally aware of my tendencies and it doesn’t always mean that everyone around me does the dance like I do the dance, but that my propositions could lead them to do the dance with the same density or speed.

It’s interesting you bring it up because my body is not staying with some of those habits, because it’s not conducive to my joints and things aren’t liking it.

SP: I guess the physical body isn’t the same each day, so that’s already a changing parameter, there’s variations in energy from day to day and those things that you bring into the room are there and that are going to change things…

JL: …making the hour for the Now Pieces sustainable. I’ve been interested in what makes something sustainable and I think even back in one session a while ago now, Rebecca Jensen suggested that, for something to be sustainable it needs change. So, there has been this sort of lightweight efficiency, or you know I think I got really drawn into observing the fall in everything you know, because to fall brings about this locomotion, but then I was like, but what’s happening with the fall, or like what are some of the repercussions of it, I don’t know…

I just had been thinking of how this is a one off and it’s slim, you know, in terms of its preparation, its support and its timing, how much is invested in it, but it’s got volume because of what comes together in that hour. I would want to go and see these people working in the space, and I feel like that’s what I understand Now Pieces could be like. When I went to see Now Pieces, I was getting a gauge on what it is, but in a lot of ways, its watching people do the work that they investigate and that is the work I like. When I make a work, we go out and I say we’re going to do the work that we’ve been working on, and they’re going to watch us work, and I think some of my favorite moments in performance that I’ve brought together have been where they just see the evidence of the working, they just see it play out.

SP: Thank you so much for chatting with me Jo, I really look forward to your Now Piece.

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