Forge: Intercultural Contemporary Performance

Front row in the Lennox at Riverside. An unfinished pentagram demarcates the floor. The stage is bare apart from it and the floor mics. I coaxed my thirteen-year-old daughter along, though she’d rather be listening to K-pop on Spotify. We watch Annalouise Paul in her latest complete solo work, Forge, and on the way home unpick the dance, music and narrative elements of the show. We talk about Annalouise’s beautiful and poised presence on stage, we wonder if the work is autobiographical and guess at its meaning…

Dance maker, Annalouise Paul, has enjoyed a long and successful career as an independent artist in Australia and internationally. Her artistic practice is inspired by her own cultural inheritance and by the concept of identity as an ever-evolving construct. Off the stage Annalouise is well-known for her activist work in the arts – advocating for culturally diverse practices and artists. She currently runs the Intercultural Dialogues Facebook group with 700 members globally – a place for discussion about arts/culture and for connection across cultures.

I ask Annalouise if she describes Forge as intercultural work. She replies, “I suppose it is. It examines two distinct dance languages that sit inside my body and very much create a tension, and the potential heresy of merging a tradition like flamenco with contemporary dance”. I ask if Forge fits neatly into one genre. She says it is “dance-music-theatre”, explaining that genres are for others to decide, and for boxes needing to be ticked. For her, music can’t be separated from dance, nor dance from story.

I ask a few more questions. Annalouise is as articulate, dynamic and deep-feeling in words as she is in performance. Read on for the full interview and my endnotes. First published in The Music Trust’s Loudmouth Magazine here.

Me: What is the meaning of Forge?

Annalouise: The title is literal in all its meanings: a place of metal working, fire, moulding, beating and shaping; the idea of forgery or falsity; and forging on, moving forward, the continuation.

The work explores the forging or shaping of my dance languages – flamenco and contemporary dance, and where this is headed now after thirty years of making dance. It is the embodied narrative of that artistic journey.

For audiences who don’t necessarily see, nor care about my dance practice, they connect to the struggle and the idea that the human being or the soul is shaped through tests and challenges in life; the notion of forging oneself and what that means to them.

Forge seems to have its own symbology. Can you speak to this a little?

I chose the pentagram/pentagon to work with, it is a design I love because it is not religious and yet feels sacred. Originally it was going to be invisible but I needed to work with it marked up in rehearsal and it ended up in the work. It is unfinished on the floor. It figuratively represents something new being created, literally outside a wall where ancestral voices are heard. Five is a very human number in sacred geometry, (our five fingers, toes etc.) and the structure of the work has five vignettes.

But the five points also refers to the Seguriyas rhythm, which has five distinct accents across a 12 –beat cycle. Garcia Lorca in one of his early poems says, ‘Where are you going Siguiriya, with such a headless rhythm?’ Seguriyas never really ends, it just keeps cycling. It was important to repeat the five-part structure of the rhythm and song cycle for the structure of the dance, and the endlessness is our lives, right? The challenges never end, yet we keep moving forward, forging on, reinventing ourselves.

Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ was used for motifs on the wall and sculpturally throughout; Dora Mar reaching out with the light bulb in hope, the frightened horse, the fallen soldier, the mother with the dead baby. His cubist shapes inspired the costume designer, Tobhiyah Felller – a brilliant creative who ran with the brief. I had no idea what she would come up with but the dress is a work of art. She decided on blues and deep red/brown, colours of steel and oxidisation, and only much later we discovered these same colours were used by the Sephardi people as symbols of their relationship to sea and earth. Intuitive on her part and yet so grounded in research.

The fan is a metal hair comb I bought in Spain and the manton or shawl we wear in flamenco, Tobhiyah decided needed to be a hide, like a metal worker might wear in a forge, and so I started to play with it, moving the costuming about, which is also a big part of flamenco, the costumes become props not just adornment. In this new iteration you saw, I wanted to take the dress off, and the shoes. Get back to my contemporary language and earth myself before re-launching into the ending. We chose undergarments that could hint at ‘period’ but not distinctly feminine, could be easily danced in and working in complete silence, so the immediacy of human breath comes to the fore.

In developing Forge – original contemporary flamenco “dance-music-theatre” as you put it – what was your starting point and what did the process look like?

In Forge the form is dance, there is a clear narrative thread, and the structure is music based. I usually have a pretty clear idea about what I want but I also think if I am going to bring excellent people on board why would I want to control their process or the outcome by not giving breathing space and openness to their ideas, and to other solutions and sounds that could expand the work?

Forge was developed over several months in the studio. I went to Spain to research and train and was fortunate to meet Juan Carlos Lerida, a respected flamenco artist who offered some sound dramaturgical feedback. Many of my ideas were cemented there but I returned to receive a call from the original composer-pianist who decided to pull the plug a month before presentation. I love, and have pretty much always worked with live music. So the idea of live piano with contemporary-flamenco was exciting. This was a shock and a big dilemma I was faced with to find a replacement. Not every pianist out there can create sounds and rhythms in flamenco modalities and I was working with a Seguriyas rhythm, which is a particularly deep and sacred sound.

Marianthe Loucataris (sound designer and composer) was scheduled to compose for another work of mine, Self Portrait, so I just thought well it’s a no brainer, she is the right composer to work on this too since Forge was a prelude piece. Helen Rivero (vocalist) provided the Sephardi vocals and spoken text in Ladino, which is key to my ancestral journey in flamenco. Very luckily, they were both free. We had, literally, 3 weeks and we’re all in different states – NSW, WA and VIC. Crazy! But we did it.

It was intense and insane. I provided them with a music brief and sent Marianthe short video clips of what I was working on and we sent files back and forth. The intuitive nature of her work and the intensity of her sound was perfect. Helen was free to play with all kinds of voices, which is what she does naturally, and I love that, it helped me to imagine a ‘narrative’ that I could carry as a through-line for the abstract structure of the work.

There were definitely times that in our short process on Forge that Marianthe followed my lead then took it somewhere else. Once I played with it on the floor, I realised what a gift she had given by offering other possibilities. There were also moments where I dug my heels in on what I wanted too though!

This conversation of music and dance has fed all my works to date. I’d like to think that Forge plus maybe my other works are pretty rigorous pieces of music and that, one day, could be published as albums.

What’s next for you? Are there any upcoming shows or new works in development?

I head to Spain soon for some professional development in June, back to do a new course with Juan Carlos Lerida, graciously supported by Ausdance NSW and then some dance technology research at Coventry University.

I am also working on developing my company – a culturally diverse dance company based in NSW. It’s time, as I believe Australia needs a dance-theatre company for diverse works to be seen. Multiculturalism is still a strong political agenda but the potential impact of art is unknown and dismissed in this agenda. This negates our current youth and our future!

The meeting places and conversations between cultures and art forms exist out there at a higher more sophisticated level than we are seeing and we need new platforms more than ever for this message to counter that of a stagnant political agenda.

So, I forge on. Adelante.

Endnote: My daughter did enjoy ‘Forge’. There were moments where she was really quite captivated by Annalouise’s gestures and movements, by the flow of her dress, the rhythmic play between her percussive steps and the score, and by the balance struck between courage and vulnerability on stage. I could see her taking it all in – the dance-music-story-whole of it – and I feel content in the knowing that she is making her own meaning of it all.


Watch the Forge Trailer

Visit Annalouise Paul’s website

Visit Marianthe Loucataris’ website

Image credit: Shane Rozario

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