Crossing Cultures at Gati Dance

Another great week was had in India in May delivering cross cultural dance workshops at Gati Dance Studios in New Delhi. The contemporary dance facilities offer drop in classes for dancers and my workshops were designed as an ongoing look at movement practice and how to develop ideas for working with traditional rhythms and contemporary dance...however what I discovered was new area of my inquiry coming back to numbers through movement. Big thanks to Gati Studios for allowing such a great opportunity to explore and work with young dancers and for their great facilities.

Asian Age interviewed me about the work, here is the article in print and in full below!

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One of the foremost contemporary and flamenco dancers of Australia, Annalouise Paul, didn’t really know why she was drawn to her cross cultural dance practice till her late 30s. For someone who began her dance career at 19 — quite late by dance standards — Paul has come remarkably a long way. Pioneering several cross-cultural projects in Australia this dancer born to Sephardi (Spanish Jewish) father and Ashkenazi mother (born in Leeds) realised that this duality in her roots is what she needed to address. She put life in perspective and started to realise why she chose to dance both flamenco and contemporary forms.  She is an independent choreographer who has been creating intercultural dance-theatre since 1988, crossing cultures and art forms from a rigorous research into new movement language. Based in Sydney, she trained at the Laban Centre in London in contemporary dance and flamenco from key maestros in Spain and later in Los Angeles developing further techniques working in feature films and commercial media. Currently in India as a part of her research and tour, Annalouise will be holding workshops with dancers and musicians. One of them also includes a cross-cultural laboratory at Gati, a school of contemporary dance and innovation. In an interview to this newspaper, Paul tells us why cultural diversity matters to her, why her ongoing  research on the essence of rhythm is important for dance and why she dislikes the word “fusion”.

Excerpts from the interview:

On the need for cross-cultural exploration in dance: I have always been interested in bringing the inter-cultural side alive working with  diverse dance styles and rhythms in my processes. Coming from Australia, with its huge multi-cultural society, our daily interaction is vast and rich and I want to explore that in my works, in the rigour of the dance and music and conceptually.

India has so much of pluralism, be it in its religions, class, dances, there is simply so much in hand to explore on this trip that I feel I can learn so much from just being here and meeting some great artists across the country.  In the workshops at Gati I will be working with contemporary dance only, but using primordial and traditional rhythms from flamenco and north Indian forms in this studio context. It is about an exchange for me when I run a Creative Lab. What I can offer the dancers is new ways of approaching contemporary dance, an exposure to rhythms in other ways and what they give back is gold for me, it becomes a continuation of my research practice to watch and learn from them. I walk in saying I don't have answers only questions, so lets find solutions together!

On the need for live music: Live music allows for a integral conversation with dance that becomes quite a theatrical experience for the audience and is way more accessible for non-dance audiences.  In flamenco, the musicians follow the dancer, it is integral to the form just like live tabla and Kathak.  When you have live music, there is a need for action. It might be ok for a lot of people, but I simply can’t connect to music coming from a CD. The conversation just doesn’t sit authentically.  Last September in Delhi, I presented Game On a duet between a contemporary dancer and tabla. The effect was simply astounding and different. It took 6 years to develop and research to get it right. Audiences in Sydney and India (also Kolkata and Bangalore) were equally impressed but for different reasons, coming from their own perspectives and sensibilities.

On her research in cross-cultural practices: It takes a long time to do research. Many artists shy because the need to produce a work and present is foremost. I love to research new processes that takes me back to very elemental dieas so that when it comes time to make the work I can make well informed choices on the movement vocabulary and music, as well as other elements. That's why Game On took so long!  In a research residency that I conducted in 2007, I wanted to explore how the contemporary movement is influenced by rhythm. For example, what happens to the movement say to an Ektal or Teental. So we experimented with different rhythms. In flamenco, we have a particular rhythm called Solea. It gives one a very regal feeling and is the mother of many rhythms. The two contemporary dancers improvised for a while, one felt as if she was being pulled across the room and the other felt like walking like a queen. The response had the same base.

When I create a new work I prefer to work with dancers who have a cross cultural practice themselves or at the least a very grounded understanding of why they want to do this kind if work. By that, I mean having an understanding of cultural and social issues and what it means in the society we live in. Intercultural dance is not new but the word 'fusion' has a negative connotation for me because so many artists just slap cultural forms together with the idea 'well we haven't tried this before'. But is there any rationale or dramaturgy behind this? Often not and the result is generally poor and superficial. Similarly when contemporary dance artists work with choreographer they should know why - at least to look at their work and decide if they are saying something's you agree with, something worth saying.

On the essence of rhythm: Every rhythm has a character of its own. Numbers have a particular quality about them. Every rhythm is a cycle of numbers. As a dancer I want to know what a 3 gives or what a 5 feels like coming from my body. It is the basic framework for musicians so why not dancers too. Most contemporary dancers say that they are free from rhythmic structure. But what is one is really free from? If the framework of your dance is your breath, then you have identified a 'natural' rhythm there. Even 'nothing' exists. So when we know what we are 'free' from then we move toward greater discovery. It is the basic foundation of dance.

On why dance teaches you about your lineage: I didn’t know that my connection with flamenco was so deep-rooted until a few years ago. It was quite a revelation. My father was born in Calcutta, he was a Baghdadi Jew also known as Sephardi Jews. Flamencos roots are in Gypsy, Arabic and Sephardi cultures. At 19, I was drawn to flamenco as well as contemporary. Dance tells you about your own DNA. It has revealed my lineage and roots to me and since I have such a diverse background in my own I feel the need to address the cross-cultural identity in me.