What’s Actually Happening, Alice Will Caroline
Claire Summers

This month Performance Review is partnering with 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 Claire Summers speaks with Alice Will Caroline about their KCA work What's Actually Happening, 2022

Alice Will Caroline, What's Actually Happening, 2022. Photo by Amelia Dowd.

The AI that transcribes the audio recording of my interview with Alice Will Caroline spat out the following summary keywords: dance, body, people, performance, language, interested, read, written, move, thinking, person, guess, question, transmission, world, super, bit, translating, choreographer, communicating. I like to think that I could offer nothing but those keywords and the reader could understand it (‘it’ being everything: our conversation, their performance, my angle) in full. Nothing more would need to be added. But, for the sake of convention, I will continue.

Alice Dixon, William McBride and Caroline Meaden form the collective Alice Will Caroline. For the sake of the collective (this time, forsaking convention) from here on in, I abandon their names. I want to tie them together, to bind them as one, to speak one-on-one, so I will simply refer to them as you.

Before our interview, I watch the last half hour of your rehearsal. It strikes me that I couldn’t write about you moving without seeing you move. I see your performance (and everything) as language, a concept that I struggle to move away from. I ask you about this idea of dance as language, if you need it because other languages fail us?

And you tell me that you use dance to undermine language or to highlight its gaps. You say that dance is dance, language is language. You tell me that, rather than translate one into the other, you place them next to each other, to show how they are different and in that way destabilise the reliability of spoken language.

I step backwards. I clarify. I tell you that what I mean is that everything is language. For example: what is said in a touch?

We agree that communication is a better word.

You tell me that what you like about dance (communication) is the non-exactness of intended meaning, the elusiveness. You tell me that sometimes a performance is extremely pointed, but that just as quickly it can evaporate, become foggy. You tell me that you like the idea of communication being very two-way, that in dance there is care in the amount of ambiguity, the amount of space, the amount of multiplicity. It allows people to come to it on their own terms, allows for a back and forth that doesn’t dictate. You speak also of communicating with the work. You tell me that you have to listen to the work, that the work tells you what it wants to be as much as you do.

In my research for this interview, I read a short story by Anne Carson in which she describes swimming. She says “...every water has its own rules and offerings [...] Every water has a right place to be, but that place is in motion. You have to keep finding it, keep having it find you. Your movement sinks into and out of it with each stroke. You can fail it with each stroke. What does that mean, fail it?”. When I read this, I know she is also describing dancing. And what of Anne Carson’s question: “what does that mean, fail it?”. When swimming, when dancing, the body is a performance site. The action moves through and is gone, it is no longer here, it has moved on. The body is the totality of the action. Is this what is meant by to fail it? I ask you if this idea of the body as performance site, of dance disappearing, resonates? Or is the world outside the body as relevant as the body itself?

And you tell me that you think of the world outside the body as framing the body. You tell me that you are drawn to these devices - to lighting, to costume, to the design of a set. You tell me that, by placing the body within a space that doesn’t shift and change (as the body does), you create context for those shifts, for that motion. But you also tell me that you disagree, that you struggle with the idea that dance disappears. Where does it go? Where is the site? You feel this idea comes up a lot in dance, the idea of traces, of things that were there. You stress that in dance, there’s still always a person, a personal connection, which remains even after the body has moved on. It’s never just a body.

The distinction is striking.

I read an essay that kept referring to the dancing body. Over and over again this phrase: the dancing body, the dancing body, the dancing body. I start to think of the dancing body as something distinct, something other than the non-dancing body. The dancing body is not the body walking, the body sleeping, the body fucking. Each of these bodies must mean something different, so what does the dancing body mean? I ask you if you feel it, the two bodies, the one dancing and the one that doesn’t dance. How does this idea of the dancing body percolate for you?

You try to articulate a response but instead you make expressive gestures with your hands. I remark that, even now, when you’ve stopped dancing, you feel the urge to express what is meant by the dancing body through movement. It somehow still says what it needs to say.

But, nonetheless, you try again with words.

You tell me that there’s more room. You can’t transcend your body but you can abstract it. You can try on different ways of being a performer, of being a character or a persona. You tell me that, sometimes, you forget. Forget that you’re a dancer, forget that that other body is yours to inhabit. You forget until you’re boiling an egg in your kitchen and you find yourself dancing to fill the time, moving through space in your soft, transient way. You go on to define the dancing body as a kind of permission to move in a non-normative way, an exploratory way. That this is what you mean by there being more room.

I go home and upload the audio recording to my computer and run it through that AI, the one that spits out summary keywords. I am aware that the perceived gaps that separate one thing from another (language from dance, the body from the person) are all collapsing. AI is the furthest thing from the dancing body and yet it understood everything with perfect accuracy. But of course it did.

Claire Summers is a writer, editor and photographer. Her work is preoccupied with finding the phenomenal in the ordinary and quietly considering small details to which we assign greater meaning. She currently works at Anna Schwartz Gallery. Previous to now, she worked with the Melbourne Art Foundation to deliver the 2022 Melbourne Art Fair.

Alice Dixon, Will McBride and Caroline Meaden have been working together in Naarm (Melbourne) since 2013. They have made and performed seven original works of dance and theatre, carving out a distinctive aesthetic and formal contribution to the local dance ecology. Blending forms and references to create highly local and specific “Gesamtkunstwerks”, they wilfully embrace and subvert “genre” and slyly “perform performance”, allowing intuitive and subconscious logics to impose their desires on the process. Alice Will Caroline have presented work in festivals and venues including Dance Massive, Next Wave, FOLA, the Substation, Temperance Hall, Arts House, Abbotsford Convent and NGV.

Alice Will Caroline will perform What's Actually Happening 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.