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Dancing for Collective Joy

Observations from Nicholson St

by Kimberley Twiner

On Sunday 6th September my housemates and I, a crew of physical performers, decided that cutting laps of the block, pacing the backyard, and whining around the house wasn’t enough. The proposal was obvious: ‘Let’s put the 80’s lycra on and go out the front and do something’. With the pool noodle of boredom whacking us daily the answer was a resounding ‘YES!’.

We knew we wouldn’t be breaking any Covid restrictions as we are a housemate bubble, on our own property and exercising. Some people gloriously say that ‘Artists thrive with limitations’. I would change that to - ‘Artists will always respond to a strong provocation.’

In my household are four performing artists and we’ve all trained under the same theatre teachers. Those being Fusetti, Gaulier and Bolton. We have shared language. We have common expectations. We are always talking about theatre. And we continually investigate the nature of collaboration.

I am addicted to collaborative work. I love working it out. I love facilitating ensemble work. I love trusting the process as cliche as that sounds. I love it when I meet people who choose to work in groups. For me it’s inspiring, exciting and totally political. It is both a vulnerable and potent call to action, to gather people and say - let’s work together. Let’s forego the shackles of individualism and surrender to the collective.

So we decided to take the risk of being seen in movement by our neighbourhood. Bringing our performing bodies back after what seems like a long, restless hibernation. We hit the front lawn in bright pink lycra pumping Locomotion, Get into the Groove and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. (Will those songs ever not just bring instant cheer?!) Our playlist lasted one and half hours and that’s how long we danced for. We use a flocking/school of fish style improvised performance score which allows us to move cohesively as an ensemble.

My endorphins have been flying high. I have delivered my body back to its physical creative practice, my mood bounces not off the computer screen but bounces off the reactions of passers by! It is clear there is a co-creation of endorphins happening, because these strangers, actually neighbours, seem happier.

The response from Brunswick East has been amazing. People genuinely thank us. Cars honk their horns. People have given us gifts. Champagne, chocolates, strawberry milk! Even a ten dollar note! We are getting hand written letters in our mailbox saying that we have lifted a person’s spirits. People applaud. People join in - they mirror the dancing they see us doing. People are following the rules and not watching for too long, they enjoy and then leave.

Even if our moment is brief we are provoking a collective joy attack (as my teacher Giovanni would describe it).

Wow, the power of communal emotion.

What can be achieved in shared place and shared time is so... efficient. Yes efficient. Five minutes of human to human interaction can completely alter us. It’s quicker than reading a book, it’s more exciting than watching a youtube tutorial, it’s more satisfying than a hundred facebook likes. How can us jumping around in lycra make someone feel joy? No words are exchanged, we haven’t counselled them out of a gloom. This is an alchemy of physical theatre.

Human to human contact is what makes theatre, well, theatre. It is warm, nourishing soup for the collective soul.

The Muses have once again visited me and reminded me what live performing can achieve. It can lift the mood of a neighbourhood. It creates breath. It changes the way people engage with a public space. They become present. Friends are created in a heartbeat. It invites play. It can possess someone’s senses. It leaves a footprint of memory. Though it’s invisible it somehow makes the fabric of our environment richer. It elevates us all from the banality of our individual existence, it births instant community.

It is to be remembered that the most satisfying performance happens physically as a co-creation between myself and my community. And there has been a community that I think I have ashamedly been ignoring. I am reminded that by boxing myself into ‘the fringe community’, ‘the theatre community’, ‘the queer community’ that I have forgotten about my neighbours. ‘Normal People’ as us artists might snobbishly call them (or is that just me?).

I reflect on my practice and think of the niggling feeling that hiding my work inside a theatre sometimes feels exclusive. I am sick of the confines of a festival where my audience seems to be mostly other artists. I want ‘Normal People’ to see my work. I am happy to feel not so alone on this street where I live anymore. I am happy that my neighbours like the work I do. I am glad I can give them something. I am happy I can see them for the first time.

I think - damn - if that tradie who beeped their horn then dropped off a bottle of vino genuinely likes this work I have a hunch they will like my other stuff! How do I ever get these people to my shows? How do we give our work to ‘Normal People’? I’ve applied for regional touring for yonks and never ‘been given’ the opportunity.

I want ‘Normal People’ to see my work. I want ‘Normal People’ to see so much of the incredible work my artist friends make. I just KNOW they would like it, they would be stunned, electrified, ignited, inspired!

Observations from Nicholson St are telling me we have to go out. We have to go to the people. We need to be brave. We have to meet our neighbours.

Oh - and The Muses are telling me that when we do go out - we need to be more radical than ever.

Written by Kimberley Twiner

The project referenced here is the Brunswick East Entertainment Festival aka ‘happenings on the front lawn’ performed by The Wholesome Hour.