This transcript is from an interview that was first published on 12th of October 2018. This transcript has been edited slightly to help with clarity, the audio of this episode and more information can be found here.
This interview covers so much territory exploring three strands of Bridget’s practice. We also focus on different pathways in dance and different ways to make a career in dance.
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The interview started by asking, where did dance start…
Bridget Fiske: Dance started for me, if I was to think kind of not on an emotional level, but my kind of my first point of contact with dance - I don't remember huge amount in my family in my youth. So remember stories of my grandparents being avid dancers and they were both from Manchester and so was in the 40s and 50s - did they leave 52? They left England and migrated to Australia. So I knew stories of them dancing. But actually, we were living on a farm in Stanhope. So Kyabram was the closest, slightly larger town, and I went to a class with a teacher, Bruce Fenton, I think was his name and apparently the doctor had advised my mum that dance would be good because I was slightly - what would have been termed, pigeon toed on the left hand side. So at about the age of six, some dance would support, creating some kind of change, strength and stability to maybe correct that in my body. So that was the first time and the reason why I entered into a facilitated dance space, a lead dance class, but I didn't stay, I actually chose to leave that space. And then I tried again, something when I was about eight for a little bit. But it didn't. It didn't stick either. I left for whatever reason. And then the, the real desire came when I was about 11 or 12. And it was the, the emotional desire really brought itself forward. And so then I found a way to dance in the community that I was living in. And in rural Victoria, we found a dance teacher in Echuca and for the next kind of seven years or there about, dancing through what they offered was what I was doing. So yeah, so came it came up and it went away and came back.
Andrew: Did it fix your foot, your pigeon toe?
Bridget Fiske: I still have less rotation of my left, on the left side of my body if those things but now I'm no longer inverted - I’m no longer pigeon toed on the left, but still the balance in the body isn’t the same - I have to have greater range of movement on the right side here on my right hip than my left. And sometimes I feel it wanting to go in still.
Andrew: So when did you decide I mean, it's one thing to dance as a teenager to actually this could be a career, this could be job, this is what I want to study further, what was that drive?
Bridget Fiske: I would connect it back to something that was very much an emotional driver. Once I started the feeling to want to do more with this and be more in my life, it became quite strong. And I think initially, I was thinking that teaching dance was a trajectory that I would potentially follow. But then the emotions got stronger and the desire got stronger. The desire to be doing and dancing myself. I know when you're teaching, your dancing, but if we talked about like a performance career, that became much stronger, and then around the age of 15, there was some works that I started to see that really moved me. So between about the ages of 15 and 17, my elder sister, she gave me a VHS tape of Pina Bausch’s work and I saw that and I went oh, gosh. Okay. So that's possible - to express like that is possible. Okay, right, I see something in there. That felt true for me or curious. And then also around the same time I saw Meryl Tankard, Furioso live. And that was a similar kind of thing. So I was starting to see works. But then also my eldest sister, Catherine Simmons, who's a Melbourne based director; she at the time was a performer in a company called Era in Melbourne. And so maybe from a little younger, but around the same time, I was starting to go and see their work. And so then seeing the work of artists like, Tony Yap and so I was also in that company. So there was just this kind of this gradual exposure to works that then something in me said yes to them. Was inspired by them. It was that timing of this, this emotional desire in myself becoming stronger, to be dancing more, and then seeing work can connecting with artists who I really obviously loved what they did, what I saw, what I experienced. Yeah, kind of that simple, really.
Andrew: And so then going into study into a career, what is the particular turning points or particular parts that you talk in that chain?
Bridget Fiske: So I then, at the end of high school, I then went up to Brisbane and studied dance at QUT. I was really aware that I'd actually started training technically - quite light, and that there was a lot of work that I needed to do in order to be able to have potentially the type of career and do the type of work that I was really inspired by.
So I just tried to do the work. And so for a lot of the early years, it was about time to work to improve my skill base and my understanding, but also I was also really interested in choreographic practice as well. I always had been sitting there and coupling along with this desire to perform and I was very fortunate that I felt like actually, that was something that was being nurtured in different ways. Even from when I was a teenager, opportunities that were - I was supported to take on as a young person. Choreographing schools Rock Eisteddfod, but it's actually quite big. Yes. So, like, you know, to have that kind of responsibility and to see how to work with that many people and work with that many peers and unfold a piece. And I did that in collaboration with two of my peers at the same age. So, three of us working together doing that and then, when I was studying, also developing that choreographic practice as well. And then I was also still developing a teaching practice to. So in many ways, what was studying for me was this kind of - all those practices sat together. And if I look back, they all still are together. And in any one kind of moment, I'm moving between all three of them.
But in terms of kind of trajectories, I think one really clear moment was when I received an Australian Council, foot in the door. Well, there was this there was this period of funding from the Australian Council, foot in the door, and it was an Emerging Artist Funding scheme. And so I went over to Buzz and I spend time in development with Buzz with Paige Gordon. And that was that was someone that I wanted to work with as a choreographer, and then after that time, joined the company. So that was I think a moment where you go, there's something that I would really like, that's a way that could support that unfolding. So kind of took that part of choice of approaching Paige about supporting that application, and then going and doing that.
Andrew: People talk about those opportunities, time and those little windows or those little steps in a ladder. It just helps reinforce or getting more experience, open a new door, change the path slightly, and I think that comes up quite a lot. When people talk about their experiences.
What would you have wished you knew then that you know now? If you're a younger dancer, other particular things, or even studying other things that you wish you had been told of?
Bridget Fiske: I want to just articulate that these are priorities for me in dance in terms of what I value about dance, what I value in dance is beyond the technical and not related - sorry, I'm going to get to that for a moment. For me, dance is about what it's doing with people, for people and what it's expressing. But as someone who loves to be and work with my body and discover what its possibilities or my possibilities for expression, who just loves moving in a whole host of different ways. I wish when I was younger, I had that detailed, topical understanding of the body and how the body moves efficiently. And how that efficiency and sometimes the smallest and simplest of pieces of knowledge, knowledge about the body, about its architecture, about its stacking points, about how things can move efficiently. I wish I had that earlier. Because once I started to discover that, and I don't think - it's not because the information wasn't there. It wasn't that I wasn't working with fantastic artists and teachers who weren't not offering that information. I just wasn't able to understand on all the levels that I understand it now. I wish I'd been able to understand it sooner. Because once I feel that moment when I did start to understand and actually how that unlocked a lot of things, and unlocked some greater power, but also some greater ease at the same time. And that was really great. Because I was working so hard. I like to work like that - I can have these - once I understood the information I became free to be easier, but more kind of powerful. And I use powerful in a whole host of different ways.
Andrew: That point then that you get where you feel comfortable with what you have and your offer maybe?
Bridget Fiske: It’s a good question, it's really important. And as someone who works a lot with young people, it's something that I'm hearing in your question - something that also I know. I'm supporting young people through or, you know, we’re in terms of that kind of value of self and what you have is everything that you need, and it is more than enough. And, you know, let's be with that. Let's discover the possibilities of that. So it's a really it's a really important question for me to answer for myself.
I have a feeling I was probably around about 27-28 when I think a few things, I think some of the things I had been working with, the information I'd been working with, settled on some kind of more embodied level. So there was just this kind of draw, this kind of settling. Once I kind of felt set with that, it's not that you're not still seeking and questioning and discovering - but I think I felt more grounded in what I knew about myself on that level. But then on other levels, from an expressive or a creative space. I don't think I have a - of course I worked, but I wasn't - I didn't have those sort of doubts. So questions about being enough or, you know - that I think that I always felt quite empowered on that level - if we are talking about my own empowerment. It was more ok, that always was okay. But yeah, think about 27 -28 when some when those years of working felt like that finally kind of dropped.
Andrew: I was talking to a young dancer recently. And I remember in a moment of real honesty, they said to me, ‘I feel like I'm always comparing myself to other people. And I'm in class, I'm looking in the mirror, I know I can do it, and I'm doing it as well as anybody else. But I can't help but you know, feel that I don't have it yet.’ And I just it's hard for me to have that conversation. Because I don't come from that, you know, practice space, just that idea of feeling like you land in it, and you feel comfortable with what you’ve got.
Bridget Fiske: Yeah, and I think it's this thing, and because the world is full of fantastic artists. And I think potentially, there is a point where part of that kind of grounding comes from knowing that the world is full of fantastic artists, and that you actually can you have agency in designing your own career as well. And that your career isn't about waiting for someone else to affirm what you do by offering you a job working with them. That you can actually, you can design your own career because, you know, there are great artists, and there's great work and it all needs to exist and it should all exist. And I think also getting to a point of also being really clear with that notion for myself was also I think a part of it. Yeah, that didn't take away that there was work I would really love to do, and that I would look at, I really love to be a part of that that would be a really great experience.
But you get also to the point where you go, okay, so what is it about that experience that I'm drawn to that I see something in that I'm inspired by, what is it doing? Well, is there another way I can have that experience and can I design that experience for myself and in designing for myself discover things that maybe I wouldn't have discovered that way?
But I've also - and this is also a time thing as well, I've noticed that you're working and you have noticed: I have things that I'm identifying would be experiences I'd really love to have, or ways of working I'd really love to engage with or things that are kind of priorities in work. And what happens is that one doesn't come forward. But something which is in a line with what is the underbelly of what that other thing is, does, and it brings a whole set of things that I could have never imagined would have unfolded in my lifetime as well.
Andrew: What are some of those things?
Bridget Fiske: I think what would work with Belarus Free Theatre, it’s one of those things; it was - it wasn't something that I went looking for, or applied for, it was through meeting people that a relationship formed and the opportunity to work on one of the projects unfolded. That invitation to go in and work with them on a project. And then and that's almost six years later now, and working with them has been a massive part of my journey over the past six years. And that wasn't something that I saw, because I was looking at other things - but the underbelly is there and I've had some incredible adventures, and being very privileged to work with them as artists, and to be involved in bringing forward the stories that their work brings forward and to travel those stories around the world, to engage with and witness what engaging with that content means for audiences as well. So that would, that would definitely be one -
Andrew: For context, do you wanna talk a little bit about their work, the politic of the work, and I guess the conversations that it does (24.26)
Bridget Fiske: So Belarus Free Theatre, an underground theatre company in Belarus. Lukashenko, the president of Belarus's, often described as Europe's last dictator, so they work under oppressive conditions. And the work that I've been making within has been bringing forward a few different subject matters. So the first piece of work I made with them was looking at issues of capital punishment, which still exists in Belarus, and with an extensive amount of human rights abuses. Also, with within that, humanity's capacity for violence against each other. So the work does bring forward things in in a documentary context in a verbatim context, but also then in other expanded visual aesthetic ways as well.
And then also a work on Red Forest, which was looking at the impact of a man made environmental disaster on vulnerable communities because a new nuclear power plant was being built in Belarus, but yet they received such a huge amount of the fallout from Chernobyl, and to stand up and have a voice against that isn't possible. That freedom of expression is crushed in Belarus. Then the most recent work that I've made with them, Burning Doors, is looking at the experiences of three artists within the Russian penal system. So the works, they've always been very current work with something, which is very present of that moment. The work does bring significant attention to those issues and is about bringing that forward and having those things heard and to move people in to action, into being aware and then being able to do something about that as well.
Andrew: As you say, the company kind of operates very underground and externally from Belarus as well. Yes, yeah. Have you been to Belarus?
Bridget Fiske: I have visited Belarus. Yes, it was important for me to see the context of the work. This is that the company does, the artistic directors, along with the associate director Nikolai Khalezin, a number of years ago. So they are in the UK and the company does have that infrastructure here and does exist here. But with the permanent ensemble existing underground and functioning underground in Belarus.
Andrew: So you said when you went to university, there were three strands that kind of continue in your work. So another one was teaching, do you want to talk a little bit about that space that you work in?
Bridget Fiske: It's always been a part of what I have done from working in different types of context with young people, in education context, as a guest artist, or as someone coming in - in primary and a secondary context to working in higher education in tertiary level training on a whole host of a spectrum, as well through to then a lot of grassroots community engaged engagement work.
And then a lot of work with the Center for Advanced Training in Dance at The Lowry Theatre, which is a pre-vocational training program for young people. So it's young people from the Northwest of England who access that, and it's a really fantastic scheme where they - it's means tested, which means that a young person can be accessing really great training and be inquisitive and Center for Advanced Training in Dance at The Lowry Theatre, which is a pre-vocational training program for young people. So it's young people from the Northwest of England who access that, and it's a really fantastic scheme where they - it's means tested, which means that a young person can be accessing really great training and be inquisitive and want to discover and learn about what it might mean for them to develop as an artist. So, yeah, in between all those spaces, really. Which is really nice. But something that I do start to, and I am starting to ask myself very distinctly about is: what is the through line through all of that? So going from working with a group of professional performers somewhere in the world, training them and, even in my work as a choreographer, and as a rehearsal director with professional artists, and then getting off the plane and walking into a studio with four year olds, you know? So then getting on a bus and working with a group of young people who have some big challenges in their lives. So what is that through line? And I'm actually - I don't have an answer to it yet. But one thing that I am really trying to do is maybe define what that through life is. And maybe I can even name it?
And the three lines is not just me; there is another, it's a third line of a practice or a methodology of some sort. So I am kind of doing some work on how I can spend some time to maybe identify that and maybe give it a name, and maybe it doesn't cover everything I do. But maybe there is this underbelly of some sort of methodology. So that's kind of exciting at the moment to study. [31.40]
Andrew: Is it important to articulate your practice in that way, to have that language or that through line, or what's the desire? -
Bridget Fiske: The desire for that, to be able to articulate a little bit more clearly out into the world about what I do. Because to say, I go from this to this, to this, to this to this to this - doesn't help people necessarily understand what the practice is, and what is actually unfolding in the space. And what is the meaning of that work, and what impact does it have. So it's really coming from a desire to be able to communicate back out to the world, so that I can be a bit more understood on some on some levels, of course, the people I work with understand me - the people I get to do the work understand me, but to be able to, to give that a bit of a name. And I'm also quite interested to find for myself and understand what 20 years of practice means, too. Rather than take - kind of, of course, I keep going, going, going - but for myself to go, ‘Ah, what has this 20 years of practice meant? And what are the things that have stayed and why have they stayed? Why have you by conscious, subconscious - whatever the factors -why have those things stayed and what are they doing? So that, then I can even be better in the space with people as well. I can know what I'm drawing on even more clearly, and maybe have some more strategies in there as well. But maybe kind of go, oh, there's this thing that I do, I really like that actually how can I do that more? And how could I do that thing better?
Andrew: There's something really powerful about being able to articulate your practice in a way that is almost like that little beta pitch, where you can go, I do this, so it’s neatly summarized for somebody to go, ‘Oh, okay, that makes sense.’ They can put you neatly into a box -
Bridget Fiske: I don't know if what I'm coming up with fits in a box, but at the moment, the best thing that I have found to articulate this - and it was only through hearing myself say something enough when I'm somewhere, and people say, ‘so, what is your work like?’ And I think what I do is I respond, and respond to people, place, context, need, aspiration, and I bring forward everything that I can, what I've experienced, and work out also what I don't know and work out if that's needed; how to bring that forward. I'm just trying to do the best I can. But then I'm now I'm actually wondering if there is something more in this notion of responsiveness. And if I can spend a bit more time with that, then actually, what is its relationship to agency and empowerment? And if those three things - and maybe even be able to say, my practice is about being responsive. And it is about identifying, you know, where and how agency and empowerment exists within something that is happening. That's the underbelly; I don't know how I'm going to do it. I don't know what the prep of what we're actually going to do in the space exactly? We're going to talk about movement, yeah? But they're going to be the underpinning things that we're seeking. And maybe that's enough.
Andrew: Maybe another 20 years of practice to pull it all together?
Bridget Fiske: So that's something that's come out through all the years of teaching and facilitation work. Actually, and trying to use the word facilitation a lot more than teaching in terms of articulating what I do, even though at times in my life, and very clearly facilitating a contemporary technique class, and I am bringing forward the pathways and the sequences of movement. I'm actually trying to take out the word teaching, from what I do.
Andrew: Do you think that's a more dynamic or diplomatic -not diplomatic, but a more, ‘let them’ - does that invite level the playing field for dancers?
Bridget Fiske: I think it's because I feel like in a space, even if I am bringing forward sequences of movement, pathways and I am sharing the knowledge that I have; from my experience, in practice, as to what might support someone to find their way to be. And with that, I'm not that person who's receiving that.
I can't know 100% how or what that means for them. And 100% how they’ll work with that. So I feel like I can offer things that create experiences and share information. But it's that individual that then needs to feel like they have the agency to be with that, and discover that for themselves. It doesn't mean I'm not sharing a lot of information, or talking to you. Then we can think about these, we can think about that, we could think about this - and maybe this image might be useful for you. Or maybe why don't we try it this way? Or if you just bring your attention to this, see what that does. But then ultimately, they're choosing what works for them, and how they want to be with it.
Andrew: Yeah, so it kind of gives them more space for them to construct their own dancing identities without being too prescriptive about what's right and what's wrong.
Bridget Fiske: Yeah, and then there's so much space then for me to be surprised too, for me to go, my goodness! Look at how that person took those things that were offer and what they did with it. I love that, I love being surprised, completely surprised. And for me, then it also feels like a greater - I, last night, some of the young people I was working with, they had their final performance for the year, and actually I said as we were talking after a warm up there, and all the other facilitators and tutors were there and staff were there - I actually found myself saying to them, that when I come and work with them, this is about the dance but it's also beyond the dance. That they remind me constantly how important dance is in our humanity. And I feel like by creating, by offering a space where people can, and that was a really nice way that you described it, kind of self define their dancing identity, then I get to be a human being in the space, also in wonderment. And in exchange, and in lots of other things as well: just express about the humanity of dance and what I really feel that does for humanity. When we're with it and when I see them, and what it's doing for them as young people to be dancing as human beings. To be dancing and what that is doing, so that's beyond the dance. The dance is supporting them discovering those things about themselves, but it's about what it's doing for them as human beings.