Lucy Guerin is a name synonyms with contemporary dance in Melbourne.  In her latest work, Make Your Own World, the dancers toy with power structure and the political through physical embodiment. Here, both structured and improvised choreography, emerges: Having moved here from Adelaide and, as she explains, originally from a ballet background, her work is now of the contemporary and provoking.

I got into dance as quite a young child; I started ballet class(es) from about 7 years old, like a lot of other little girls – it was a magical thing, ballet, the beauty of it. But, my attraction to dance has changed quite a lot over the years.

On the subject of Melbourne and the international reputation of its dance and dance makers, Guerin explains that:

It is probably in some ways, the centre of dance here in Australia, we have a large number of independent dancers, and quite a lot of dance companies working alongside each other. I feel like there is quite a connected and intergrated community here. There is also a tangible conversation between the kind of work people are creating, and that is what makes it a strong centre. In terms of the world, because of that critical mass of dancers here, when people think of dance in Australia, they think of Melbourne.

Guerin’s newest dance work explores societies, communities and personal relationships in flux. It pits the idea of existing power structures that are resistant to change against the possibilities of the present and a vision for the future.

It’s inspired by way that groups and communities within society come together and function. As humans we strive for a better world through our political ideologies, in our beliefs and through to movements and trends, that ebb and flow through society. This work is kind of a physical mapping of the shifts between leaders and followers, of the forming of groups and of the forming of political bodies; it traces the shifting social fabrics both locally and on a global scale, but on the flip side, it is also about the splitting of such things. 

One of the ways I’ve embodied this is by working with set choreography, pieces that I have created, that the dancers will learn, and then perform each night. But there is also choreography that is spontaneous and unprepared. The dancers here express different modes and ways of movement through their own improvised dancing. 

“ As a choreographer I’ve set myself up as being the dominant maker of rules that need to be adhered to, but within that space, dancers can react as individuals” 

I think the meeting of both, the structured and the improvised is at once harmonious yet conflicting. I’m working with it in different ways and it will be different every night , there are points where the choreography will overwhelm the individual dancers, there are some moments that are quite erratic, either way its very movement dense- I’m still, yet to find the right way to describe it.

With this work being so political, we asked Guerin about what she believes to be the role of dance and physicality within the political sphere.

I personally don’t work with dance as a form of social activism. I do have questions about if it is the most effective form of activism, but I believe it’s important that those kinds of ideas are present in dance – it needs to be relevant and current. In terms of other art forms, there are  inherent politics in dance, because you are working with the physical body and different people, that kind of politics are just present in dance, there’s no question of that. It brings people’s attention to the kind of bodies which are on stage, in some ways because it is difficult for some people to read dance; I mean it is hard for some to look at a dance work and translate it, while for others it’s not so hard. 

Quite often,  I find that people read the performers first and foremost and  then, secondly, try to work out the work, which I find terribly frustrating about dance. 

And on what Guerin hopes the audience will experience or feel watching Make Your Own World.

I am very interested in this work myself, but I’m not sure what the audience is going to get from it; I have no prescribed hopes for that, but I do certainly hope people will be moved or altered by the work. but when they watch it, it really depends on who they are, what their background is,  thats what will determine what they feel. Despite it being so non-literal, I feel that people will still connect it to their own lives. I’m really curious as to what people will think of this work, because I just can’t predict it.

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