Exoticism, Lucky Lartey
Jon Tjhia

This month Performance Review is partnering with the Keir Choreographic Award (KCA) to bring you interviews with this year’s finalists: Alan Schacher & WeiZen Ho (NSW); Alice Will Caroline (VIC); Jenni Large (TAS); Joshua Pether (WA); Lucky Lartey (NSW); Raghav Handa (NSW); Rebecca Jensen (VIC) and Tra Mi Dinh (VIC). In this interview Jon Tjhia speaks with Lucky Lartey about his KCA work Exoticism, 2022.

Lucky Lartey and Vishnu Arunasalam, Exoticism, 2022. Photo by Shane Rozario.

JT: What are you working on for your Keir Choreographic Award commission?

LL: I’m collaborating with Vishnu Arunasalam to explore exotification and contemporary masculinity – delving deep into the collective lived experience of people with diverse backgrounds, beyond 1980’s multiculturalism and box ticking. This resistance work reclaims identity in the context of contemporary Australia through deconstructing and reconstructing what diverse contemporary dance should look like in Australia and post-colonial culture.

It has been inspired by my experiences and by interviews with artists and academics from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. It features dance as well as animation and a tape installation that I’m working on with Nathaniel Nelson in Ghana. I use tape to create an environment – space, body relationships.

JT: How has exotification affected your work as a dancer and artist in so-called Australia?

In Ghana, everyone looks like me and people understand what I do, so it’s not something foreign, it’s not something magical. You perform dance in context. So exotification is something I’ve experienced in a mostly white dominant environment.

Usually, I’m not allowed to make the work that I can actually make – I’m making work to explain things. By doing that, I’m actually exotifying myself more. I decided to make work that is not about me trying to explain or educate people, but lets them do the work.

A lot of people don’t think our art or our dance can go beyond, that it can be experimental. So visually, we’re killing the magic – using tape and shadows to give objects different meanings, then revealing what they really are as a way of challenging how people perceive the kinds of things we do.

JT: How are you navigating this unwanted influence alongside tradition, expectations and your own creative needs?

LL: I trained in traditional dance for ten years, I’ve been doing it for the past 25 and I don’t want to explain to anyone why I do it. I like to do it, I really love it. It’s important, it’s who I am. I also don’t like to say ‘I don’t do this’. I am deeply rooted in tradition and when I want to go there, I go there.

It’s about freedom. My colleagues that are not from cultural backgrounds like mine have freedom to do whatever they want. I don’t feel like I have that freedom because when I say I’m making contemporary work, it’s already loaded with meanings. I’ve had numerous conversations with producers and have had to educate them about what contemporary dance is, to really change what they think contemporary dance is, because they associate it with Western style. I have to tell them that for me it’s an approach, it’s a philosophy and then count down from A to Z, where my inspiration and thinking is from.

Sometimes I wonder, if I didn’t have to deal with all of these things, what kind of work would I be making? Most of the time I like to stay away from this conceptual way of approaching ideas and really look at the aesthetics, or the abstract way of doing things.

JT: In this country, we’re often asking what culture can do for us. How do you make sense of this against what you might call cultural tradition or practice – where doing things is culture and vice versa?

LL: In the West, it’s a lot more to do with politics and ticking boxes. In Ghana, culture, cultural dance – these are how we learn about our environment, who we are. We live with it, we breathe it. In Ghana there’s music everywhere. There are artists everywhere. It’s how we do things. You go to church, you dance. Someone passes away, you dance. A new baby is born, you dance. You dance for everything. It’s part of everyday life.

JT: Could you describe how movement begins in or passes through your body: your physical, somatic experience of ideas?

This work is really about the setup, the environment I create. The animation, the imagery, the installation.

But it’s also a shared experience. Vishnu and I have completely different training but the same experience in Australia, so I think a lot of the movement vocabulary is about mirroring. We’re both interested in making very experimental work, guided by traditional knowledge systems.

I’m thinking a lot about how to bring traditional elements into the work as a political statement about what people think traditional dance is. My mentor (Martin Del Amo) said we’re throwing our bodies in the fire, really showing skin. The skin is really in your face.

The last element is to take control of the space. We’re making the decisions because often decisions are made for us, like where we can perform, how we can perform, who we are. We’re really in charge of the performance so there’s gonna be a lot of conducting and setting up space and cueing things.

Jon Tjhia is a radio maker, musician, artist and writer from Naarm (Melbourne). His recent work has been published by un Magazine, LIMINAL, Going Down Swinging and Institute of Modern Art and shown at the Barbican Centre, Ian Potter Museum of Art, City Gallery and Avantwhatever. He’s a member of the Manus Recording Project Collective.

Lucky Lartey is a Sydney-based dancer and choreographer, originally from Ghana, West Africa. Lartey’s most recent achievements include: a solo exhibition In Transit, 2022 at Edenandthewillow Gallery, a Sydney Opera House season of his collaborative work with Jamestown Collective: INFUSION: No Movement, No Sound, 2021 and the debut of his solo work Full Circle as part of FORM Dance Dance Bites Program, 2019 at Riverside Theatres. Lartey was invited as part of Critical Path’s Facilitated Program to participate in the 2015 FACETS program at Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts in Bangalore, culminating in a performance of the work at the Attakkalari India Biennial, 2015. Lartey has also been part of Australia Council Delegations to Portugal, 2018 and Singapore. Lartey’s current investigations include the exotification of non-Western bodies and subjectivities, the relationship between hip hop culture and African oral traditions and environmental issues such as plastic consumption and waste.

Lucky Lartey will perform Exoticism at Carriageworks on 23—25 June and at Dancehouse on 30 June—2 July.

An innovative commissioning partnership between Dancehouse, The Keir Foundation and the Australia Council for the Arts, with presenting partner Carriageworks, the KCA is Australia’s largest contemporary dance award showcasing new, choreographic short works by eight Australian artists.

Held over two weeks, this year all eight commissioned works will be presented at both Dancehouse, Melbourne and Carriageworks, Sydney in a rotating program of two bills (four works each).

The KCA is an extraordinary, fully paid opportunity for independent Australian artists to develop and share works with audiences and an esteemed jury of dance luminaries. The jury of international dance leaders tasked with selecting the recipient of the 2022 Keir Choreographic Award and awarding the $50,000 jury prize on Sunday 3 July at Carriageworks includes Daniel Riley (Wiradjuri/Australia); Eko Supriyanto (Indonesia); Laurie Uprichard (Ireland); Lemi Ponifasio (Aotearoa/New Zealand) and Nanako Nakajima (Japan).

Melbourne season at Dancehouse
23 June – 2 July
Book tickets for Melbourne

Sydney season at Carriageworks
23 June – 2 July
Book tickets for Sydney

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