This transcript is from an interview that was first published on 18th of January 2019. This transcript has been edited slightly to help with clarity, the audio of this episode and more information can be found here.
This interview explores Thomas’ journey into dance and his broad set of interests, including fashion, costume design and butoh.
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The interview started by asking, where did that start?
Thomas Bradley: I started studying music really early, actually. And then I think that had a kind of natural progression into dance for me, because I grew up in the country. So the main thing that anyone did was sport, you joined a team or you joined a club or something like that, and by then I was eight. But somehow or another, I was heavily involved in music since I was five or so. And then my brother and I were also super sporty and then at one point in primary school, and I don't know how it came about, but I choreographed a jazz routine to Jennifer Lopez for my friends and I and we were in Hawaiian shirts and board shorts. And it was just totally fabulous. And then my teacher at the time suggested that I go to a dance class and I just went and I mean, I suppose in retrospect, it seems like the perfect kind of symbiosis of my long time kind of musical training since nine years or something that and then combined with all of the sporting activities that I was doing, you know, it just made sense with the musicality joined with the physicality and then yeah, and then that kind of took off and that was that so not really anything poetic I don't think just kind of came together.
Andrew: Were there many boys dancing in like, way you were dancing? Because it was like rural New South Wales…
Thomas Bradley: Yeah, rural New South Wales, Cootamundra. There were two of us at that time when I started. And the other guy had been dancing for most of his life. So I took a lot of inspiration from him. Even though he was younger, he was much more capable than I was, and much more interesting and, and much more committed, actually, because I wasn't so committed to it. I was really into my, into my music. And I was going to make a thing of that. But yeah, there were only two of us at that time. And then I think after about three years, I don't know what happened. But there came this people around me who were older and had been dancing for a while, like the older women, they said, Yeah, comes in cycles, these boys getting into dance. And so after about, I think it was after two years or three years, when I first started, there were just two of us in about three years, there was a, there was a class every two days for a group of young boys. And I mean, there were like, 15 of us in a class on our own in this small country town, you know, and then it stayed like that for about two or three years. And then it dropped off again. And there were, you know, we were down to three or four of us. So, yeah, it's really interesting to, to, to consider in, in retrospect, but there were two of us when I started, and then it took off for a while. And I ended up actually teaching that boys class after two or three years that I was training because I started getting into it. And so then I started teaching the younger classes, and then teaching the guys because no one really had an idea of how to control young boys and a dance class. And so then I came in with these kind of bombastic ideas about running around and sliding and jumping and all of that kind of pullover and that same time too I think, first of all, it seemed to tired them out, which was a great saint, great thing. So I've got rid of their like, extra energy and then maybe they're kind of cognitive abilities would kick in and, you know, consider more coordination or rhythm or something as enjoyable once they got through that.
Andrew: So when was that turning point where you decided, okay, instead of music, I want to do dance?
Thomas Bradley: I think it was, in year seven or eight because I wanted to go to the Conservatorium in Sydney to go for music but then there came this opportunity, I think it was when I was in the year eight or nine, this opportunity through public education, there was this organization set up called the Arts Unit, and my mom randomly found an opportunity to audition for them in the country, because they were looking for country kids for this big performance in Sydney. And my mom took me and I made the audition and they offered me a spot in a couple of their places. And then that was it basically, was just really by chance. And I guess I was also very lucky that my parents one wanted to support it and to be able to financially do that. So yeah, it was when I was about 14, 13 - 14, I think. And that was when I first kind of laid eyes on whatever the hell contemporary dance is, too. And yeah, and that was that was it really.
Andrew: It’s so weird, we have people explain that feeling for that that notion of finding dance because I think so many other careers don't talk about that kind of like light bulb moment, all those things of like, what it felt like or that door opening…
Thomas Bradley: I think there were a few things opening for me because it was tied in a lot with - it was hiding a lot with my sexuality, and also with my environment, too because before I'd gotten into this, this dance ensemble that had its rehearsals in Sydney, I'd never really been to the big city so these first trips that I made to Sydney it was the whole kit caboodle, hey, it wasn't just me. I mean, a large part of it was me discovering this contemporary movement vocabulary, all these genres, but also it was me seeing two guys together in, you know, in a dancing environment. And no, not even the fact that no one was batting an eyelid. But just the fact that it even existed, you know, my whole brain just- when I don't understand this, and we're all just going to dance all day. And then we're all going to go out into the city for lunch. And, you know, so for me, there were like, three or four closet doors opening at the same time, you know, like it was very, very, very overwhelming. But absolutely one of these light bulb moments, but certainly about dance and wanting to get involved in that. But there was a life that's probably more the stronger point; there was a lifestyle thing in there that I totally fell in love with this strong sense of community and support. And for things that we weren't sure about, you know, these ideas running around, and what are we doing creating this thing? And who the hell is going to come and sit and watch this stuff? And why would they even bother coming to watch this stuff? -
Andrew: yeah, I think looking back that you wish you knew about dance that you didn't know at the time?
Thomas Bradley: No, I'm very happy that I discovered it with such a naivety, I have absolutely no, because I have such potent images burned into my skull, you know, even the colour of the guy's hair who was wrapped around another guy, this bright pink and purple hair with mixed in with his natural black hair. No, absolutely the naivety that I had going in there, I wouldn’t, I wouldn't wish for a different way. I wouldn't wish to go in there, knowing what was going on was like Alice in Wonderland, something like that. That's totally what it was. And I - and that whole, that whole first period of these rehearsals and I was so emotionally turbulent. And I'm sure it was because of all of those things. And these discoveries that that I didn't even realize at the time what was happening, you know, psychologically these small explosions or revelations or understandings. But I mean, that was I was like, yeah, New Years.
Andrew: Dance is kind of taking you all over the place. Because I mean, you mentioned going to Sydney but you also went to Melbourne when you're quite young and then New Zealand then to Sydney and now in Europe, do you want to talk a little bit about I guess where it's taking you?
Thomas Bradley: It's funny, I when I jumped onto Facebook, it came up with a memory from one of my first days in Melbourne, actually, when I moved. So I think it might have been around this time that I moved, but yeah, I went to Melbourne first to VCA secondary school, and that was only for a year. But again, this thrown into the deep end of arts school. I mean, what was that after living in Cootamundra for 17 years. And I remember, yeah, it was a really intense period. But I had an amazing time at that at that school, and then actually have a very good story. But yeah, and I had a really intense period at VCA, I don't know if I've told you this before but I had this, you know, the ideal for a dancer or the conventional ideal that I understood coming from Cootamundra was that, Okay, I'm going to be a ballet dancer, I'm going to get a full time job, and I'm going to be set up with, like with superannuation and support for the rest of my life. And my parents are going to think it's great, and I'm going to be all-good. And maybe I'm going to marry a woman and have a kid, and it's just all going to be super anyway, so I've been to Melbourne VCA, and I was like, okay, everything is a spectrum here. Okay, what the fuck is a spectrum?
Anyway, so I got there, and I had all my, you know, my goals and my ambitions kind of tied up in my head really tightly. And I remember one of the first meetings I had with one of our teachers was about how I had all the character and, and all the drive to and even something like the face or the focus to become a ballet dancer, but you just don't have the links or the feet or the back and I remember cursing my parents under my breath that's neither here nor there. Anyway, another story was that I was totally infatuated with Sydney Dancers, I think every other dancer was as well and I remember having a meeting with our head of dance at that point and he said, ‘all right Tom, so it's your last year of us at school training and we're going to send you off on the secondment somewhere, do you want to go?’ I said ‘well, I'm going to dance for Sydney Dance Company one day so it would be really great if maybe I could go there for you know a week of classes or something.’ and he said to me, ‘I don't think we should waste people's time
and that was - so I didn't go there. Now I auditioned for New Zealand School of Dance and I went for three years and then every time I came home from New Zealand, in the summer holidays, I went to Sydney Dance and I took company classes there the beginning of every year for just two or three days and in my third year, Rafa (Rafael Bonachela) wrote to the school and offered that I would come for some work experience, and I went for some work experience in my third year and it was it was a week that turned into a month that turned into a kind of understudy position which was, you can imagine, totally unbelievable, then I ended up moving back to Sydney just as soon as I finished NZ and then I was there for three years.
Andrew: So interesting, like you had your mindset so strongly on dancing, the dance company kind of made it happen…
Thomas Bradley: Yeah, and I've thought about that numerous times actually, and how my time at VCA in Melbourne and in New Zealand I was seriously cultivating my body and my mind to get into that company. It was really at the forefront of my mind like crafting and molding my body, my aesthetic, my dynamics, into a dancer that he would want, that I knew that he would want. And you know maybe that sounds, what’s the right word, not arrogant, but for tutors I mean that's ambition and I had - I really had that at the beginning of my training and I wanted that position so bad. So you know I think you can really mold yourself into whatever you envision - so cliché an awful to say. But that's what I did. And that's just true.
Andrew: And Sydney Dance Company’s model is such an ensemble so when you left Sydney Dance, you kind of took a bit of a leap of faith into the unknown freelance, what's going to happen next?
Thomas Bradley: Yeah, but I left Sydney Dance with a really - with a really strong feeling in my body. What do I mean by that? I mean, I knew that I was missing something. I knew that I had gained an incredible amount of I'm experience and knowledge from Sydney Dance. But I also knew very clearly that there was a next stage that needed to happen. And I think, maybe again, it's a stroke of naivety coming from the country and perhaps not realizing what a fortunate position I was in the company. But whatever it was, I tapped out as soon as I realized that I was missing something. But I took all that I'd experienced from Sydney Dance and kind of ran towards nothing to be honest. And it was totally -
Andrew: Yet you full time job, you had the superannuation, you didn't have the girlfriend -
Thomas Bradley: I didn't have the girlfriend. I didn't have a, what's it called, those little children. It was - I mean, it was a really intense period for me because I didn't I do so much really; I spent a lot of time just researching and looking at different things. And I mean, in my mind, I wanted to go as far away as I could from, from what I've known the last basically six years three years of school and three years of Sydney Dance where you know, the motivations were really specific - take your body to its absolute limits of virtuosity, and get yourself into a position that is valued by everyone around you, and consequently, assist you in valuing yourself in the most poignant and profound way. And, and I really felt like, I'd achieved that. And I felt like I had been pushing myself in that trajectory for for a long time. So then it was like, Okay, well, now, what do I do then?
And I feel very, very lucky to have even had the opportunity or reached the point where, you know, I could honestly say that to myself, because I don't think a lot of people do in any aspect of their lives or indeed in in any other industries, not just in dance. So yeah, I was happy to say goodbye to that intensity, and then head towards a different kind of place, which ended up being the middle of Japan at the foot of the mountains and rice fields, not eating for a week and crossing the room in an hour or something like that.
Andrew: So this is your discovery of Butoh?
Thomas Bradley: Yeah. That was the discovery of the thing that people call Butoh.
Andrew: Yeah. Don't talk about that.
Thomas Bradley: I Don't really know what to say to be honest.
Andrew: there's something about that that grabbed you - I mean, you've been back to Japan again, and you know, it's kind of become some sort of obsession, perhaps the wrong word, but it's become a part of your practice, I guess in some ways.
Thomas Bradley: For sure. It's become a kind of cornerstone of it really. Actually, maybe not cornerstone, but a new foundation because I really have this schizo frantic feeling about my dancing and I have more or less always, but yeah, it grabbed me from the word go. And I mean, it was really - it was a video on YouTube that I first saw, and I remember just watching it on repeat for days and days and days, and just trying to work out what it was that was interesting about it, because they weren't doing anything at that point. I didn't understand what was going on. Maybe that was the fascination because it seemed like nothing but what's happening, but there was such a complexity to it, that I couldn't wrap my head around. And there was an engagement with - and my master would probably stab me with the kebab sticks for saying it but my intellect was, was really engaged with it, because I was trying to work out what the motivations were for it. And it was clear that there was such a heightened focus in this video, and all of the other ones that I ended up consequently, finding and obsessing over. There was a focus that I don't think I'd felt in my own body for, for a while, or in my mind, to be to be honest, and yet, so I ended up discovering that there was a week long workshop and I bought my tickets to Japan, straight away, I think, and registered, registered with them. And then that was it. Now, as you said, I've been back to Japan once every year since then. So the last three years for a month, just training all day and all night and not doing anything else.
Andrew: And how is that? It's such a different body practice compared to what might be called contemporary or classical or whatever, in the West. It's such a different practice. So coming with, I guess, all your body baggage, all the stuff that you've learned previously, is that stuff that you had to unlearn or rethink?
Thomas Bradley: Yeah, I mean, the word integration, I find really difficult to, that's what I want to say. But I think it's, I think that in the integration of Butoh into my kind of body baggage, as you say, which is a really nice term, actually, I don't feel like I've necessarily succeeded in that, like I said, before, I feel much more schizophrenia in the way that I'm kind of understanding my, my dancing my approach to executing movement, my approach to process and, and these kind of things, I think for a long time since I've started this intense practice in Japan. And then obviously, I continue with them when I'm alone, I spent, you know, two years since first jumping on the Butoh wagon, still running away from the body that I was before, from the dancing that I was before. And that was really important for me was to feel like I had gained some temporal distance, of course, you know, two years in Sydney Dance, but also some kind of somatic distance as well, which meant not, which first meant identifying the body that I had learned from Sydney Dance, and then identifying the ways in the methods and the ways in which I employed that body. And then trying to, to let all of those things, the identification and the employment of that body to rest, leave it to rest, and to just focus on this new bag of information from Butoh. And so maybe I can say actually the moment the integration of processes really is only just starting to happen. Now, at risk of - Oh, I can't really say this, but I'm going to say it at the you know, as I feel like I’m start to understand how Butoh manifests itself in my body, because I would never call myself a burrito dancer. And I would regret saying that I understand what Butoh is. But I'm think that I'm beginning to understand how Japanese Butoh manifests itself in my body, which means the beginning of a kind of integration, because there is one body here. And you know, I do understand and realize that I can't separate, it's not possible to separate the body that I had with Sydney Dance from the body that I had now. I mean, the information is in there, whether it's embodied or not. And it will affect every decision that I make with my body from this point on, you know, that strong base that I had with Sydney Dance, but I'm also coming to understand that is what makes any of my decisions in regard to dancing or being unique. It's just a composition -
Andrew: and in terms of obviously relocating and moving to Europe, that was three years ago, two years ago?
Thomas Bradley: Yeah, geez, I came to Europe before I moved over. And I took a workshop with Emanuel, which was another really intense kind of process. And then when I moved over to Europe, just on a whim, basically to be with to be with my partner and Emanuel wrote to me kind of the week before I moved over and said, ‘Hey, do you want to start the day after you land?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that would be great.’ And that was really it. So basically been working with him since I came over for about two years. And we have kind of six different bits of rep in action on tour at the moment. And, yeah, it's enough work that I can live kind of comfortably. So I've been working with him as a dancer for about two years. And then, last year, I started doing some re-staging work for him. So taking some existing bits of rep, to different younger companies, but also ballet companies and re-staging these works and setting them up for different performances, which has been amazing to work in a in a kind of pedagogy, pedagogical sense, which brings a whole new perspective and level of understanding of his philosophy and, and the way that he works and how, how the pieces come together. And, you know, so I feel really fortunate actually, to have that kind of opportunity to get in on his ethos and philosophy. Philosophy, from another perspective, is totally invaluable, especially because, I mean, I really feel like with him, there's in this workshop that I, where I first met him, he never, he never spoke and since then, actually, maybe once or twice, he's spoken specifically about movement. But every, almost every time he speaks to us, the company or even when we're one on one, his comments are so applicable to so many other things other than dance, it was really something that grabbed my attention, because I could apply them to different areas of living as well. And that was something that I hadn't encountered before was this open philosophy that wasn't just limited to, to a dance or, or dancing. In fact, so yes, I'm still working with him as a kind of pedagogue. And then last year, I did my, my first design commission for him. So we had a new creation last year with the, on some modern -and I just, I'm the costumes for that piece, which again, was a whole new a whole new field of exploration and revelations again, about process and composition and practice. And I had so many - there was so many parallels that came into being with how I'm thinking about my own dancing and creation and what's right for me right now.
Andrew: Yeah, so you're designing more stuff?
Thomas Bradley: Yeah, so the costumes for Story Water, for Emanuel is still on tour and we're going to probably make another set of those this year, but also Emanuel’s making a new work for The Scottish Dance Theatre, for tendering the costume design also. And then, at the end of this year where we're re-staging another work of Emanuel’s called Sunny on the Berlin State Theatre. And so I'm going to do the costumes for that as well, which is great. And when I come back to us in about two weeks, I'm doing costume design for Rachel Arianne Ogle for her new work for dance. So that's nice.
Andrew: What is it about costume that has interested you?
Thomas Bradley: I mean, I think it's, it starts with the material, the fabric itself, like the tactile, the tactile thing, to have a fabric in my hands. And I've always been, I've always been interested in clothes, and clothing and fabric. That's I mean, I think that was even before a dance situation, or even before music situation came into my life. So because there's something quiet I mean, in in regards to my lifestyle primordial like, from my younger, from my childhood that I associate with you know, the thing that - one of the things that I've discovered in this first costume design process was how uninhibited I was and how easily I could go with my instincts in terms of choosing a fabric, looking at form, structure and it all felt so easy and simple. And I haven't felt that in my dancing for a long time. And especially, I haven't felt that in a creation process for dance work for a long time. So all of a sudden I rediscovered my instincts in terms of creativity. And that was really kind of mind blowing for me. Because, like I said, I have felt quite stale in my, in my dancing and dance creation. So there's something really basic in terms of instinct and imagination that has come out in these design processes that I’m, that I'm trying to take across, into my dancing. Which I think is starting to work, which is very odd, you know, because I have, well, maybe it's odd, but maybe it's not, you know, you would think that having so much - no, I mean, I know, I'm still young. But you know, having had so much experience as a dancer with a big company in Australia and different choreographers and training for so long, you would think that you'd have your shit together, and you'd be able to just chill and trust yourself with the knowledge and experience that you have to make good decisions, whatever that is, right decisions, valuable decisions, in terms of your practice, in terms of what you want to put out in the world, in terms of how you want to follow your philosophy, or how you want to generate a reputation or whatever. But I have, I have the sense that I have zero of that in my dancing and zero that means zero, is very dramatic. But you know, to make a point, I have the sense that I have zero that in my dancing. And that's crazy. That's not it. And it's silly. But because of that, my ambitions are taking me into other mediums where there is such a liberation, because I don't know the rules, because I don't understand the parameters because I don't understand techniques, because I don't understand tools, or how to do this or what I should be doing. You know, and there's, there's such liberation in that. And I think the most valuable thing that I have at the moment is this costume design situation. And consequently, a lot of writing about those, those revelations because I can transpose all of my ambitions in regards to dance, dancing, choreography, and movement, creation and performance, I can transpose all of those ambitions into another medium, I can transpose all of the experiences that I've had the confidence that I've felt in myself in my body, you know, to do all of these intense performance seasons, and things like that, I can transpose that into my, into a different medium somehow, and, and, you know, they go, suddenly, my instincts appear, suddenly a trust in my aesthetics, a trust in my I mean, even in my body to, you know, make building these sculptural designs around mannequins with these textures, and these fabrics that move and have laugh at themselves. You know, those disgustingly cliché, but there's movement in that, and there's dance in that. And I think, I think that's how I'm rebuilding my, that's how I'm rebuilding trust in my dancing body through a different medium. And that's, thank God for that.
Andrew: Yeah, that sounds incredibly valuable. And just even like the look on your face, so obviously excited about that, which is not going to translate into the podcast.
Thomas Bradley: But you know, again that's the first period that I had in the artily when we started building these costumes. And we had this incredible, incredible material, the Calico tie back, which is like an industrial grade paper that's been treated with some oil that acts like paper. So it has a strength and a will of its of its own if treated nicely. And when I first started working with that, with my hands, I had this tingle, this sensation from the back of my head all the way down my spine, you know, spreading out across my kidneys and my lower back and that I've only ever had that sensation when I when I have been dancing. I've only ever had that kind of bliss or ecstatic physiological reaction when I'm dancing. And when I'm actually using my body and in this situation, I had this material in my hand and I just, you know, twisted it, squeezed it a little bit, pushed it, slid it around my fingers, let it fall out of my hands. And I think it fell onto the floor of the table or something. And it fell into this form that that struck me straight through the back of the bottom of my head. And it went all the way down my spine. I just thought all right. That’s, that's something.
Andrew: That's so powerful as an image.
Thomas Bradley: So dramatic. It's all just so dramatic. It's just unbelievable.
Andrew: Beautiful. And one final question, what does the 2019 have in store for you?
Thomas Bradley: My trips to Japan haven't just been for, you know, kind of literally Butoh strolls. Not that there's such a thing. But I've also been developing an intimate spectacle with a now colleague and friend of mine who's a Butoh dancer from Japan. So we've been working together just kind of once a year for a week or two weeks, every time I go over to develop this performance, do a project and this year we have a residency in Greece which is a longer period and there's we've got some great support there for showing
and furthering development. So that's one of my focuses, is to get that project or to a point where we can start to share with people and understand what kind of life it could lead and that's one of my main focuses. My other main focus is actually to do more with writing and text and with this piece, I suppose you could call it an essay that I've been really slowly - that's the word, exorcising from my body, exorcising - also exercising but exorcising from my body. So I'm kind of possessed with this hideous idea that my homosexual life is void of telos, meaning and purpose.
So I'm towards the end of that, and I would really like this year to share that with people once I feel like it's at a stage that's reflective of the kind of exorcism and vision so those are the two main focuses this year. Also I have a beautiful new apartment in Brussels, which is the total shit dive at the moment, but it's got great exposed brick and there's lots of room and there's going to be a booth upstairs that any sexual dancers can come and stay in.
Andrew: See you there.
Thomas Bradley: Fabulous, I'll pat the pillow for you.