This transcript is from an interview that was first published on 14th of August 2017, in the lead up to her opening season of Nightdance at Arts House Melbourne. This transcript has been edited slightly to help with clarity, the audio of this episode and more information can be found here. Transcripts are a new initiative of Delving into Dance and over the following months we will be experimenting with the form of the transcripts, we welcome any feedback regarding the form and layout. These transcripts are paid for through the support of audiences. You can contribute here.
Andrew Westle: I spoke to Melanie after rehearsal for her upcoming work, not dance. The first question I asked was where did she catch the dance bug?
Melanie Lane: Oh, the dance bug, well, I guess it's like a pretty common story, with the old starting ballet at a young age. And then just going through wanting to be a ballet dancer, didn't have the body for it, went to university, found contemporary dance, loved it. But also choreography, I went to WAPPA, and choreography was one of those electives that I really enjoyed. And then and then, yeah, just stuck with it, I guess. But after WAPPA, like it still is, I guess this wasn't any work when I graduated. So I pretty much directly headed off to Europe, and will say, from 2000 until 2014, and spent basically that whole period working in Germany mainly. Yeah.
Andrew: So is your German good?
Melanie Lane: It is, yeah, I speak German, but being very embarrassing thou because I didn’t. [2:15]
Andrew: You can get by thou…probably not in a dance company.
Melanie Lane: It took me ages to learn German, because I never thought I would stay there. I thought I'd only be there for, you know, a couple of years or something. So I kind of never really invested myself in language. But I think after about five years, I was like, okay, maybe it's time to start. And, it came pretty quickly. Actually, I think it was that kind of subconscious information going through and then just picked it up pretty fast.
Andrew: That moment when you found out that your body wasn't suitable for ballet. Was that shattering? [2:48]
Melanie Lane: Well, I don't think it was just one moment. I think it was something that I knew pretty much, you know, I knew it, I think probably since a very young age, but I kind of, you know, just told myself that it was still possible. So it wasn't it wasn't shattering. I think it was just something that I needed to confront at some point and just see the reality, the realistic, kind of, future how my body fits in certain dance well, yeah, I don't think it was shattering. It was just a series of realizations.
Andrew: The work you did last year with Chunky Move, was kind of looking at… well, from my perspective, was looking at that classically trained body and messing that up a little bit.
Melanie Lane: Yeah, yeah. Well, it was, well, I was really interested. That work was part of a series that I was interested in working with people that have a very strong physical discipline, like training discipline. And because, you know, the history of ballet, obviously a ballet dancer was something that I was really attracted to working with. So, yeah, it was a combination of looking at my own history with it and then kind of looking at Juliet Burnett’s history with her whole journey through that ballet world. So, yeah, it was an interesting way. In some ways, it was for me to create a solid life Juliet for two people. So there was always like, some, some, someone to bounce off of, in a way. So that was part of a series that was working… I did a work also at the end of last year that was for two female bodybuilders which I was really interesting, because they also have this like an amazing physical discipline and intense training for their bodies, and was looking at how they, what their journey is through that as well. So yeah, I also did another work with some boxing and now with Nightdance, looking at people that train, I guess, or have a physical experience in another way as well, so they will somehow connected. There's like, a little bit of a red thread. [5:05]
Andrew: Yeah because that discipline is, particularly in any of the really physically demanding fields, that discipline is required. To bring the body into line and to doing what you need to do when you need to do it is incredible.
Melanie Lane: Yeah and it's only it's not only physical, it's also this mental discipline as well, which is like, yeah, it takes you to so many places. Like with the bodybuilders when we had the development, I did the whole diet, and I did the whole training with them, so I could also understand what that felt like mentally to experience. And it was really amazing; actually, I never had that kind of sensitivity to food before. So yeah, it was it was super interesting, and also how it affects your body dramatically.
Andrew: The interesting thing about ballet, though, is that some bodies just come do that.
Melanie Lane: That's right. It is genetic. [6:00]
Andrew: Whereas bodybuilding is something that you know, you most people could build up to some level of participation, where ballets comes down to your genetics.
Melanie Lane: Yeah, that's true.
Andrew: Which can be make or break.
Melanie Lane: Yeah that’s right
Andrew: I was talking to a teenage girl the other day she is about 14, and has always wanted to be that ballet dancer and had just come to that realization is not gonna happen. And I think she had a bit of a dance mum as well. It was really shattering for her. I was like there is a whole world out there in terms of performance and dance.
Melanie Lane: Absolutely and it takes time to discover, especially at that age. To be able to discover all the other possibility.
Andrew: For her it was music videos or ballet. And contemporary dance was kind of something on the…
Melanie Lane: Unknown horizon. Yeah, yeah, [7:05]
Andrew: I was talking to somebody today, actually. And we're talking about dance and they said, “Why is dance important? And why should it be funded?” They were trying to push my buttons. But what would you say to somebody…..
Melanie Lane: I mean, you could ask that question about many forms of art, but I think, you know, dance has that very exclusive, I guess, possibility to express something physically, and something that I guess other forms aren't able to express. And I think for me, it has a lot to do with not only execution of, you know, amazing choreography or steps but also watching a body go through some kind of negotiation, or experience, or sensation that has an audience you can share. Which I think, that's, that's a rare thing to find in, in performance or not necessary performance actually, in, in, in life in general? So, yeah, I think it's a really beautiful and important language to keep on developing and exposing and sharing. [8:21]
Andrew: It's an interesting one, when funding and money is scarce, actually, then how to have a conversation with somebody to justify a practice that often happens behind closed doors, or in the dark and all the rehearsal time, and all those things that people don't see
Melanie Lane: But at the same time, I think it's like, I think we actually do see it a lot, but we just don't identify it. For example, it's a big reason why I'm interested in making this work Night Dance, because it's something that actually most of us have experienced, and happens every night, probably or almost every night, but we just don't identify it as, okay, that's, that's form of dance but it's happening around us all the time. And we see it all the time. But so, so that's why I was interested to bring that into the performance space and kind of acknowledge that it's something that we all share and it's something that you know, that that can be celebrated or considered or looked at, or question or interrogated. So, in some ways, it is very visible art form, I think. It's just about kind of about identifying it. [9:36]
Andrew: What is your process from idea to… so with Nightdance for example, from idea through to development through to performance.
Melanie Lane: Yeah, well, with every project is different, I guess, depends on the subject. But I always try to initially understand the experience of the subject. So for example, with Re-make with the work I made with a ballet dancer, there was a lot of exchange in terms of her teaching me material, like literally giving me ballet repertoire and lessons and also kind of just a lot of conversation about her experience, not only in the studio but also through live life how she negotiate it. The same with the body builders, like I explained earlier, about kind of, you know, really understanding their diet and their training and the same with Nightdance. In the first part of the development was doing a whole series of workshops with people that work in the industry. So really trying to kind of immerse myself in those worlds. I guess it's a starting point, so the departure point and then from there, we start to look at that material more in detail and transform it into a language using different tools, I guess that I work with, choreographic tools that I work with to be able to negotiate those languages.
Then I guess it kind of goes off in different directions, whether it's about what the design is in the space, I love to materiality, so I often try to look for some kind of texture or object or something that will amplify those images that were working with. And then from there, it kind of starts to take shape in terms of, like dramaturgical narrative, I guess, in a way, and every project is different, so it kind of develops in that way. A lot of improvisation. Lot of input from the performers that I'm working with. [11:33]
Andrew: Is this a piece that you are performing in?
Melanie Lane: Yes, yes, this one I'm performing. There's never enough money for me to be on the outside. [laughs]
Andrew: How does that shift when you are choreographing and performing and when you were in a work where you are performing as well, like that piece you did with Lucy Guerin at the start of the year, Split.
Melanie Lane: You mean when I'm not choreographing?
Melanie Lane: I love being a performer and not being the choreographer. [laughs] It's such a different, it is such a different role, of course, but you can really kind of almost indulge in the luxury of being able to just, kind of, not have to be the director that interpret or play with whatever the choreographer or the directors ideas and questions are. But when you're doing both roles, it's of course, like this constant stream of like, too much information and trying to sort it out in your head, watching lots of videos which are just yeah, I wish I didn't have to do. But I do sometimes rely on that form of documentation to be able to somehow see it from the outside but yes it can be really difficult thing on the inside, I think. But at the same time, what's great about being on the inside and the outside is that you can experience it and understand it from the inside as well to be able to direct from the outside. So there are pros and cons to both. [13:03]
Andrew: You've recently been announced was one of the New Breed choreographers. How important of those opportunities?
Melanie Lane: Ah, I think that, yeah, they're amazing opportunities. I mean, they're very rare, of course, as well. But also, I mean, in this case, what I'm really excited about is working with the larger group, of performer. I work with 13 of the dances, which I very rarely get to do, because as an independent choreographer, you never have enough money to do that. So it's a huge luxury, of course, and also to work with such technical dancers as well is really interesting, because, you know, they have such a different history in their bodies, to what to what I know a lot of the people that I worked, which also, you know, are also technical but in different ways, but that these are very specific technical bodies. So I'm really excited to work with that, and, of course, their histories as well. So yeah, I think they're, they are an important they are in the only challenge, I guess, is with those kind of commissions, it's often quite a short time of creation, to create the work. So there's always that pressure of having the opportunity, but trying to work with efficiency as another kind of element of the process, which I guess in independent work, you usually have a bit more time to kind of really research and develop, and you know, often usually goes over a period of a couple of years where you apply for funding for the second development, and that goes into presentation. So it's like, really different clinical why to research work I guess. I'm scared, I'm terrified, but excited at the same time. [15:00]
Andrew: What are you going to do?
Melanie Lane: What am I going to do? Well, it's not until December. So I have a few ideas and I did have a week last week in Sydney, actually, with the Pre-Professional Year students to try out a few ideas. But I guess the main things that came to me initially, was working with the larger group, I guess, ideas around collectivity and how that exists in certain group actions in societies, so I was looking at different things, I was really interested in, military training. But also kind of, I guess, in contrast to that, also group actions, like the corps de ballet, in more traditional kind of dance context. There is also really interesting things that are happening Asia, they have this sport called precision walking, which is this amazing group action of precision, basically, is exactly what it is, which is really interesting. And, and also, I guess, collective group actions that happen at night as well. There's the club, the club environment, which is quite primitive, ritualistic group action. So I'm looking at all those kind of group activities and how to kind of inject them or cross them over, I guess, all these different languages and see how we can create a new one in a way. Let's, let's see what happens.
Andrew: How cool thou! I'm interested in your process for making work for different audiences. Do you find Australian audiences, different to European audiences, or do you create the same work and just put it out there for them to?
Melanie Lane: I would say, so. I feel like the audiences I mean, you know, in your, it's, it's very European, the culture, Australian culture and European culture, it's not that different. You know, it's not like making a work in Asia or something like that, but not that that's a much different either these days anyway. No I don’t think I do consider that differently really. I like to think that the work should kind of connect to a broad, the broadest audience possible, I guess. And I like to kind of look at subjects that people can connect with, quite broadly, that everyone has some kind of relationship or experience or idea or fantasy about the subject. [17:39]
Andrew: Do they receive it differently thou or not really?
Melanie Lane: I don't know. I mean, I haven't done that many works in both places. I remember one of the first works, I ever showed in Australia just got throttled like the reviewers hated it, was a disaster, they just thought it was like the worst. [laughs] And I guess, yeah, some ways, but that was a long… that was, you know, maybe seven, eight years ago, it seemed to be embraced by the community, but not by the media, let's say. So, yeah, that's probably one experience where I felt a really strong difference in response, definitely. Yeah, it was a solo work where it was kind of a solo work and sound installation at the same time, and the content was probably quite slow. Quite challenging for an audience to watch, maybe. So some of the audiences or some of the reviewers and that not good for them. [laughs]
Andrew: Do you take review to heart?
Melanie Lane: Not any more. Yeah, I have to say, probably back then. Yeah, it was a bit of a shock for me, but I think it really thicken my skin a lot I actually really enjoy to, to read reviews now, even when they really harsh or critical, because you learn from it as well, because you can't expect everybody to see your work in the way that you do. And it's just that's how it is. So it doesn't inform I think somebody. [19:04]
Andrew: Someone told me recently that there is no point reading a reviewer from Australia: “They just don’t get dance”.
Melanie Lane: Well I wouldn't say that. It's this, you know, just in the end, it comes down to taste, personal taste, it's subjective and that's just, that's just what reviewing is. And maybe it should kind of look at trying to shift a little bit and change maybe the way to review. But yeah, that's a whole other subject. Yeah.
Andrew: Yeah. It’s a bit of a dying form in some respects. I mean, it's not funded form anymore.
Melanie Lane: That's right. Yes. I think probably a lot of the problem as well.
Andrew: So when they are engaging with a work, it's 200 word piece to get it out.
Melanie Lane: Yeah. That stems from for sure.
Andrew: I'm interested in the sense of working as an independent artist. Obviously, you’re quite successful at that. [20:01]
Melanie Lane: Yeah. Well, I try to be
Andrew: Well, I was looking at your schedule and I think I have a lot of projects on, and looking at yours it’s pretty big. Like, there’s a lot of dates on that.
Melanie Lane: Yeah. . No, it’s Good. Well, yeah. What's the question? [laughs]
Andrew: Do you get tired?
Melanie Lane: I do, I do get tired. Yeah
Andrew: What advice would you have to young dancers, or like, performance makers starting out, [20:31]
Melanie Lane: Um well, you know, as an independent artist, I guess, one of them, one of the main, one of the biggest work is, is applying, applying, applying, applying all the time all the time, you know, or you're not going to get it. And I remember doing a lot, well, and I still do, I still write a lot of applications and a lot of all sorts of things. And, you know, I majority of them are no, because there's so many amazing artists, so, you know, you can't expect - anyway, so I think getting good at that or getting used to it or enjoying that is important. Because once, once you see it as a burden, or you find it difficult, then that makes it really hard to be independent, because it's such a big part of the job is to be at - is to kind of keep working it finding opportunities, finding ways to keep your practice sustainable. And, you know, because if you don't keep on practicing, then you kind of lose, you lose your way you know. So I guess that's the biggest challenge in a way.
Andrew: Do you enjoy it now?
Melanie Lane: I do, Yeah, no, I love it. I mean, I wouldn't do anything else. I think. And I think I've done I've done a lot of things that I haven't enjoyed to get to a place where I start to feel more happy in what I'm doing. Because as a freelancer, you always do so many projects to survive as well. Which probably, you know, I've done quite a few projects, I guess, more so in Europe that I haven't loved, but also others that I've just really loved. So, you know, I think it's also being prepared to learn from different experiences, and find out what you really want to do. And you start to get to know what things you should say no to and what things is to say yes, to and sometimes you don’t have a choices ‘cause you got no money saved that’s linked to everything. So, you know, it's complicated and fun and exhausting and everything. Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: Yeah, You said you apply to a lot of things, how much, How much time do you devote to just applications and all the - ?
Melanie Lane: Yeah, it's a lot of work. It's so much work. Anytime that I have free, I, I try to I try to apply myself to, to writing something. Yeah, because I just because otherwise, you just, you know, you're not gonna have the time or you're exhausted after rehearsal and you have to go home, you have to start writing something. So anytime I have a free block, I go “okay, if there's anything that I can apply for, I'll sit down. I'll try to do it.” That doesn't always happen. But, that's kind of my, my goal. Usually, it's not always successful. [23:12]
Andrew: Yeah, because it takes so long and people I don't think realise that. You know, how many applications you apply for to get actually one…
Melanie Lane: That's right.
Andrew: And all those hours you spend on the other ones, that is unpaid. [23:23]
Melanie Lane: Yeah, yeah, it's a lot of it's a lot of labour. And also, it's difficult always to kind of conceptualise new ideas, you know, you can’t always have, like, a new amazing idea. So it's about kind of really wanting to do something passionately enough to write about it. Just getting that fire is sometimes a lot of work just in the, in the head, you know, and researching and reading that, finding more about the subject that you're interested to be able to write it in the first place is already, you know, work. So it's not just sitting down and typing straight away, looking. And reading and all of that.
Andrew: Yeah, I get it.
Melanie Lane: You’ve done a PhD, of course.
Andrew: Um, Yeah, horrendous. Let's talk more about Nightdance.
Melanie Lane: Yeah.
Andrew: And what this works about. So it's about those night time spaces and the body, I guess in those spaces. Can you talk more about it? [24:36]
Melanie Lane: Yeah, So I guess I became interested in having spent a lot of my time in those spaces, and realising that it's such a physical space. And it's something that's shared with so many different kinds of bodies, and there's so many different performative action that take place in those spaces. So it started from that interest. And I guess there's something also, not only about those spaces, but also the shift of going from daytime, simply to nighttime, there's like this whole kind of strange and really hard to articulate exactly what it is, but there's like a shift that happens, I think, physically, that is really interesting. And it has a lot to do with, just basically the light is gone. And it kind of invites is so many kind of different possibilities of entering the unknown. And I read a lot about kind of those clubs spaces as well, that they are these public spaces where people can, enter temporary identities. So there's all this possibility to, to kind of be someone else, or a part, another part of yourself, but it's temporal, you know, it only lasts for the night, and then the next day, you’re back in, in your daily ritual. So there’s something really interesting about that, that I wanted to explore and also how to bring it into the frame of the theatre, I guess, because, you know, how do you create that environment with a seated audience watching or observing a performance. So I was really interested to see how or if it's possible to encapsulate that space or those spaces in the frame of a performance, I guess. Yeah. And I really wanted to connect with different kinds of people that work in that industry. So exotic dancers, something that was really interesting for me, because there's something in that whole club environment that's very sexual and sensual. And there's something that's very primitive about this kind of, it's almost like a hunting kind of environment often. So I was interested in working with exotic dancers, with their kind of performative tools of sensuality, and that kind of economy between the audience and the performer. That's, that's one kind of subject I was interested in, but not the only one. Also, just kind of the nightclub environment where people go to dance and kind of let loose and I find it really interesting that like, people in those - or us, that experience those environments are not only actors, but also they’re kind of actors and audiences at the same time, you know, you kind of if you if you go to a club and start dancing, you’re also watching everybody else at the same time. So it's kind of really amazing duality of like, acting and being an audience simultaneously, which I think it's really quite amazing, quite a beautiful thing. Yeah, that was something that I wanted to interrogate, or investigate a little deeper and look at how that could be a language of dance in a performance. [27:51]
Andrew: Because there's also that, you know the voyeur, that whole sensuality
Melanie Lane: Yeah.
Andrew: And being watched and not watched and anonymous but not anonymous and all that kind of stuff that happens in those spaces
Melanie Lane: Yeah, exactly, and how to do that in a theater space because you know often if you see contemporary dance performance there's not necessarily a direct gaze like in like the performers don't necessarily always engage directly with their gaze to the audience you know, it's like they're doing a dance for you but not necessarily for you one on one which I think is kind of interesting as a mode of performance so we're looking at those kind of modalities inside the dance
Andrew: It's an interesting thing too because I think societies need those places to go and what's happening in Sydney with the lockout laws yeah and how that shifting whole communities because they don't have….
Melanie Lane: …a place to release
Andrew: Yeah, These places to release, and I was talking to a friend in Sydney and they were talking about I'm not going to church as much and that idea of that release that weekly going somewhere to be with peers and to let go…
Melanie Lane: To let go yeah
Andrew: …and they just don't have that anymore. [29:19]
Melanie Lane: Yeah.
Andrew: I mean I can go out but…
Melanie Lane: It’s denying -
Andrew:…Yeah it’s denial.
Melanie Lane: Denial of, like, that freedom of well I think they could they these kind of ideas of having being able to bring out different personal identities in the night is a real sense of freedom in a way not that freedom exists but it is like you know a way for people to well you know, break it breaks away so many kind of social rules I guess that you have in the daytime and everything changes in the night so you have all these different possibilities of what you can do and what possibilities can happen and yeah it's a very interesting space but it's also interesting because sometimes it can be a sense of freedom but at other times it can be some club environments are very much, they have their own rules as well like certain groups stick together or there's certain social conduct that you have to abide by to be accepted in certain ways and it's quite complex as well.
Andrew: And very gendered as well.
Melanie Lane: Yeah, very gendered.
Andrew: A friend of mine did a whole heap of research on kind of sexual assault or sexual abuse in those spaces yeah against women and how unsafe particular night settings could be could even just feel, even if they weren't. [30:37]
Melanie Lane: We did some excursions out into the night and definitely experienced that, we tried to really cross as many spaces as we could so we went to like a really kind of up market chic club/bar which was, you know, the clientele is this certain type, snow falling from the ceiling stuff like that, and then we went to a really great kind of dark fetish gay club and then we went to a gentleman's, huge gentleman’s club which was really heavy actually really dark and heavy for us to enter and experience that space, so yeah, there's so many different kind of universes that exist that are all in these buildings that you don't know about until you enter and pay 10 bucks to get in to, such an interesting space.
Andrew: Cool way to spend a performance budget.
Melanie Lane: Yeah, that’s true.
Andrew: Whats after this work? What's next?
Melanie Lane: What's next? I'm straight after this I go to Indonesia and I'm teaching well mentoring at a dance camp actually for a week which invites a whole lot of young choreographers from Southeast Asia to come to work for a week and do different kind of research labs and workshops so that's next. And then, lots of, I choreographed a live show with electronic producer Clark and they're still touring around the world. So I often go and travel with them sometimes to make sure it's still running well, and yeah, a couple of little research projects here and there before I start back in Sydney.
Andrew: Yeah, cool. Do you get a holiday?
Melanie Lane: I do yeah, in September, October, I have a month off.
Andrew: Oh, very nice.
Melanie Lane: I'm not sure what I'm doing yet
Andrew: Somewhere warm hopefully and relaxed
Melanie Lane: LA. Maybe somewhere crazy. Yeah,
Andrew: A bit of night dancing
Melanie Lane: Yeah exactly.