Emma Strapps has been an independent choreographer, performer and teacher for twenty years and shiatsu practitioner for fourteen years. Since 2002 Emma has focused on her movement practice integrating dance, shiatsu and Traditional Chinese Medicine theory and developed solo performances, films and installations. In 2017, Emma was movement director for productions at The Street including Constellations, Under Sedation and Boys Will Be Boys. Emma graduated with an Associate Degree in Dance from Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane and a Master of Arts (Choreography) from Victorian College of the Arts. She has performed, choreographed and taught in Australia and internationally, in Japan, Europe and the UK. Emma is a founding member of Movement Research Forum, Melbourne and has held the position of course coordinator, facilitator and supervisor for the Solo Residency Performance Program at Victoria University from 2005 – 2011.
Adam Broinowski is an academic, writer and theatre maker (of many forms). Adam has worked as a performer, writer and director primarily with leading Australian and Japanese independent theatre companies since 1994, including with Tokyo-based Gekidan Kaitaisha while a researcher at the University of Tokyo in the 2000s. He teaches in Interdisciplinary Humanities with a focus on Japanese and Asian Studies, Performance and Historical Studies, and critical International Relations. He has a PhD in modern Japanese history and cultural studies (performance, film) from the University of Melbourne. He published a monograph Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan: The Performing Body during and after the Cold War (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016) and recently completed an Australian Research Council DECRA fellow ship entitled ‘Contaminated Life: ‘Hibakusha’ in Japan in the Nuclear Age’.
THE STREET TALKED TO EMMA AND ADAM SOON AFTER THE FIRST PUBLIC SHOWING OF TOO SOON TO TELL, A NEW WORK PRODUCED BY SOCIAL REPAIR SERVICE.
TELL US ABOUT SOCIAL REPAIR SERVICE.
Social Repair Service aims to facilitate ethical projects that develop knowledge, skills and strategies to repair and regenerate society. Working at the intersection of creativity, critical thinking, holistic health, social justice and ecological awareness, we aim to cultivate more meaningful and ethical ways of being in the world today. Social Repair Service is to bring together and share our accumulated knowledge, skills, passions and practices to engage on projects with community individuals, groups and organisations.
TOO SOON TO TELL IS A CONTEMPORARY DANCE-THEATRE PERFORMANCE THAT EXPLORES THE SIGNIFICANT PROBLEM OF CLIMATE DISRUPTION. TALK US THROUGH THE GENESIS OF THE CONCEPT.
Emma and Adam:
In 2017 Emma made a dance piece with two other performers for the Belconnen Arts Centre’s Dance on the Edge program with Adam as outside eye. This piece was made in response to the notion of instability, nets, flags and the human resilience reaching limit-point under various pressures – environmental, human-made, systemic. It also included lots and lots of clothes.
The morning we began this creative development, North Canberra was flooded. The familiar dry landscape had been transformed into a flowing river. Just to get to the studio, we went through huge puddles, broken banks and many detours. The storm water drains were over flowing; the wetlands consuming bridges, bike paths, roads and vegetation. The damage was surprising. We felt disbelief, sadness, curiosity, uncertainty… And that was only a bit of water – nothing compared with what is going on elsewhere.
Alongside a background in theatre making, Adam has researched large-scale man-made disasters, for 5-6 years, since the beginning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011. Adam was awarded an Australian Research Council research grant at the ANU which brought Adam and Emma and their young son from Melbourne back to Canberra (both Adam and Emma spent their childhoods in Canberra). While at ANU he published a book based on his PhD research on Japanese dance and theatre in the context of significant historical ‘disasters’ such as the Asia-Pacific War and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as several articles on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. He is further researching causal factors, human understandings and responses to climate disruption disasters.
TOO SOON TO TELL RECENTLY WENT INTO CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT AT THE STREET AND HAD ITS FIRST PUBLIC SHOWING IN MARCH. WHAT DID YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE DURING DEVELOPMENT?
Adam and Emma:
Too Soon To Tell is a continuation of the development of the piece, to work more formally with the director Adam Broinowski and explore the potential for a set design with designer Imogen Keen. We worked to develop the materials Shiara Astle and Marlene Gonzalez Monroy brought to the collaboration, who have performance experience but who are not professional performers. As a first iteration of the project it was also highly beneficial to work with set designer Imogen Keen to explore the possibilities for interactions with a set.
As we anticipated, this process provided for rich synergies and contrasts in relation to our various experience and backgrounds, not otherwise possible without the support of the Creative Development. As the first funded performance collaboration between Adam and Emma, this permitted us to deepen a shared performance language.
THE WORK DEALS WITH THE TRAUMA OF DISASTER AND HUMAN SURVIVAL. HOW DID DIRECTOR ADAM BROINOWSKI WORK WITH THE ENSEMBLE TO DEVELOP A DRAMATIC STRUCTURE FOR THE WORK?
The trauma from significant disruption brought about by a large-scale disaster of some sort is an ongoing condition and not something that one can really reach any conclusive state. It is often said that in order to get a sense of that trauma, it is necessary to take an oblique or indirect approach. What we can do is to feel and imagine its presence through our bodies. Rather than telling a literal post-disaster story, we explored a more abstracted scenario of three people in their distinctive styles and backgrounds remembering where they came from and finding themselves in an altered and destabilised post-disaster reality. In the world of the piece we explored how, despite their lack of shared language, the characters could find and communicate their particular qualities, identities, meanings and memories through their bodies, as enabled through dance and movement. The relational connections between their bodies are what enable the coping strategies necessary to continue.
WHAT IS THE CONCEPTUAL UNDERPINNING TO THE USE OF DANCE FOR THE WORK?
We used different dance and movement traditions – contemporary dance, Tongan-inspired ritual, mime theatre, text – to reflect the discrete backgrounds and stories of the performers. Shiara has roots in Tongan culture and performed a ritualised dance to some music her father composed for her. Marlene comes from Chile and we adapted a mime theatre piece she had performed for a Chilean theatre company when she was younger. Emma contributed her improvisational form based in contemporary dance. Performed separately and with one another through movement allowed for a unique dialogue and play between these diverse backgrounds to emerge.
HOW HAS THE STREET SUPPORTED THE CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT?
Emma and Adam:
The Street has been incredible in their support of our process, exemplary! The Street provided us with the opportunity to realise a piece of theatre that included the theatre and lighting rig, assistance the wonderful lighting designer Linda Buck and FOH administrator Ketura Budd who really helped facilitate at crucial moments.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR DANCERS WHO WANT TO MOVE INTO CHOREOGRAPHY?
Learn from your life experiences, follow your passions, research, cultivate your reflective abilities as much as developing your technique and movement style. As a dancer, it is important to make work that is meaningful as much as the cultivation of an individual style of movement.
WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON FOR YOU?
Adam and Emma:
We plan to further engage with interested individuals and groups in the community through Social Repair Service. This includes projects in education; art, performance and film; and publications.
Considering the warm reception we received from our invited audience for the Creative Development, we are very excited to further develop Too Soon To Tell into a more extended and refined piece for a wider audience.
WHAT IS INSPIRING YOU IN DANCE AT THE MOMENT?
Emma: To persevere in a changing world, to evolve within a changing body, the older I get the more I am inspired by older dancers including Anna Halprin, Meg Stuart, Ros Crisp, Deborah Hay…
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?
Emma: Nothing romantic!
Reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk about how the body holds onto trauma and somatic/creative ways of coping with it.
Watching “The Red Turtle” a film by Michael Dudok de Wit. Stunning animation without words produced by Studio Ghibli.
Adam: A script by Jim McGrath called Monkey Madness, for a Creative Development of which I’m directing at The Street in a couple of weeks; and articles on human responses to climate disruption and Anthropocene, and the Korean War and nuclear energy for my lecture in the ‘Reconciliation Seminar Series’ at the ANU and for a forthcoming article in Storia Urbana, an Italian journal.