WET HARD, Jenni Large
Chelsea Hopper

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 Chelsea Hopper speaks with Jenni Large about her KCA work WET HARD, 2022.

Jenni Large, WET HARD, 2022. Photo by Erin O’Rourke.

CH: WET HARD is about erotic dancing and contains some signifiers of strip clubs, like the heels. Where does this interest come from and what’s the comment you're seeking to make?

JL: I love working with objects and costumes early on in the process because I'm interested in how the body can be in relation to the ‘other’. Objects, not dissimilar from bodies, carry their own history and narrative; my interest is in amplifying and subverting what we think we know about an object and the body using movement and interaction.

For WET HARD I've decided to work with 8-inch high, pole dancing heels. I’ve always felt passionately about female empowerment and began learning/training to pole dance last year. As well as enjoying this practice for myself, I’m interested in the recent mainstream visibility of erotic dance forms/I think as they become more widely practiced and visible in society, ideas about women also evolve. Exploring these themes in a contemporary performance context is exciting because there is opportunity to shift the common narrative. I see the heels like a personal pedestal and the work seeks to comment on the duality of power and instability that they offer the body.

CH: I totally agree with you about the aesthetics of eroticism falling into mainstream forms. It reminds me of this photo of Julia Fox on Instagram. She looks so effortless but there is a tension too, in both being physically empowered (taller) but also presumably becoming more precarious in your stature. Could you talk about this tension? Does it find its way into the work?

JL: Julia Fox is rocking those boots! Wearing 8-inch heels requires heightened focus, awareness and control. I was interested in amplifying this tension, which we explore by holding difficult positions and moving at a slow and controlled pace. The work increases this tension by using the heels in some unexpected ways.

When looked at objectively, heels are abstract and sculptural, their impact on the body is too. Our relationship to heels has changed over time. Once worn to appease classist, patriarchal aesthetic standards, women have worked to reclaim their bodies which I think includes what we choose to wear. In working with an object that humans have a long, evolving relationship with, it felt important to try and highlight the body’s capacity for strength and endurance with the hope to reflect the time and effort it takes to disrupt conditioned belief systems.

CH: I'm intrigued to know about the unexpected ways you're going to use them as they look so solid and uncompromising! Are you collaborating with anyone in this project? If so, how do you negotiate these objects with your performance/the other performers?

JL: They are definitely uncompromising! Yes, the work is a duet, performed by myself and Amber McCartney and we’re collaborating with sound designer Anna Whitaker. Amber and I spent time exploring the limitations that the shoes place on the body; we share an interest in floor bound physicality and working with a lower centre of gravity definitely helped us to negotiate the instability of the shoes as well as subvert expectations of how they’re commonly used.

When working with a set and objects I enjoy getting to know the material and how the body can animate, compliment and contrast as well as investigating objects’ dramaturgical relationship to each other. Sound design creates a strong context for the work, Anna would improvise live alongside us and we would refine and repeat. We enjoyed exploring sound’s capacity to support and oppose our themes and movement.

CH: Could you talk about the context in which this piece was made and where the movements themselves came from? Did they have specific references, or did they emanate from the process of improvisation?

JL: The physicality of the work references erotic dance forms, aerobics and is largely based around navigating the heels. Ultimately the context provides a framework that alters and renews the content.

Specifically, we spent time watching aerobics competitions from the 80’s, looking into more modern ‘erotaerobics’ and recalling our own experiences of these physicality's (as well as pole dancing). These references provided a clear palette or anchor for our improvisations and from there, unexpected tangents and new ways of moving emerged.

CH: What does the title WET HARD mean or signify?

JL: There is a sexual innuendo connected to both words. ‘Wet’ has obvious feminine connotations and ‘hard’ is typically more masculine, both of which are explored in the work physically and materially. The shoes are made of hard plastic and ‘hard’ also references the effort required to disrupt the limits and expectations placed upon female bodies. We’re exploring using water or wetness in the work. Water has been used to sexualise women’s bodies (think wet t-shirt contests, mud wrestling, the flash dance water drop scene) and I feel all these references floating in the exploration of the work.

Chelsea Hopper is a curator, editor and writer who runs 99%, a contemporary art gallery housed in the Nicholas Building. She is a PhD candidate and teacher at Monash University in art history and curatorial practice. She is also an editor of Memo Review, a weekly online art criticism publication and Index Journal, a peer-reviewed art history journal.

Jenni Large is a contemporary dance artist, performer, choreographer, teacher and rehearsal director working across Australia, based on the lands of the palawa people in lutruwita/Tasmania. Large has performed extensively both nationally and internationally across independent and company environments, including as a formative member of Dancenorth with Kyle Page and Amber Haines, Leigh Warren and Dancers, Legs on the Wall and GUTS Dance. Currently a creative associate at Tasdance, Large’s practice is grounded in her passion for working in regional settings. She is driven by the personal and political potency of embodiment, locating the body as a site for play and transformation.

Jenni Large will perform WET HARD at Dancehouse on 23—25 June and at Carriageworks 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

Performance Review acknowledges the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we operate. We pay our respects to their Elders; past, present and emerging and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.