interview: serena chalker, choreographer, improviser, performer & co-director
Serena Chalker is a choreographer, improviser, performer, and the co-director of Anything Is Valid Dance Theatre (AIVDT). She’s part of Sydney Fringe Festival’s Life in Miniature. This dance piece is set and performed in a caravan to an intimate audience of 5 people at a time, and looks at the lives of two travellers. Lets jump inside the caravan and chat to Serena about this project and how she got started in the world of contemporary dance.
Hi Serena. Would you say you were you born a performer, or was it something that just happened?
What’s your background?
I did ballet for a long time and went to The McDonald College (both as an ‘after hours’ student, and then as a student at the high school) in Sydney. I did a year of Science/Commerce at Sydney Uni before deciding that I really wanted to make a go of this whole dancing thing, and got accepted into WAAPA where I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Dance. That was where I met Quindell Orton (Quin) and the whole crazy AIVDT idea was born.
What does contemporary dance mean to you?
Contemporary dance can be anything you want it to be – it can be really physical, it can be exciting, it can be tender, it can be intellectual and make you think and question the world around us. There’s really nothing to compare to the joy, excitement and sometimes terror of performing, particularly when you perform outside of a theatre.
How did you get involved with Perth’s Anything Is Valid Dance Theatre (AIVDT)?
AIVDT started out as an experiment in 2006, when a bunch of dance students thought it might be fun to improvise in the city on the weekend. We got a fantastic reception from passers by, and we started to think that there might be something in this. I guess we wanted to expose more people to contemporary dance because we loved it so much. It turned into a semi-regular thing, but when we were close to graduating, Quin and myself decided that we wanted to try and make money somehow off this. We officially became a company in 2008, and we were really lucky that straight out of uni we got a grant to work with our mentor Jo Pollitt to try and refine what we wanted to do.
The focus of our work has changed over the past four years as we have grown as artists. I think we’ve become more streamlined as our interest in creating work for alternative spaces has developed. We’ve also learned a lot about running a business and having to do everything yourself – the planning, the accounting, the marketing, the liaising, not t mention the choreographing or improvising and the dancing.
Tell us a bit about Life in Miniature
Life in Miniature is a contemporary dance show set and performed inside a 1970′s caravan to an intimate audience of 5 people at a time. The show takes you up-close to the lives of two travellers and it’s playful, it’s exciting, it’s a little bit quirky and a little bit surreal… and there’s some dancing cutlery! It premiered in January at the Perth Fringe, and we were lucky enough to be nominated for four awards including the top tier Martin Sims Award for outstanding overall performance. We are also lucky enough now to be able to take the show nationally, although we are driving the caravan ourselves, which is a little bit daunting!
I love the sound of dancing cutlery! What were the challenges in devising a dance piece for a caravan, as both a dancer and co-director?
Well, firstly there are the obvious physical limitations of working in a confined space. But when we first started working on this piece, Quin and I spent a lot of time ‘playing’ in the space, finding ways that our bodies could move in there, places that we could hide, and how we could use those limitations to our advantage.Audience perspective was also a big challenge. When we were looking for a caravan to work in, we had to discount a lot of them because the layout was all wrong for what we were trying to achieve. Even in this caravan, you have a different perspective on the action depending on where you sit… but we created the piece with this in mind, and devised movement and action that will give each person something unique and special.It is also a challenge dancing and directing in your own show. We had to film a lot of rehearsal, because we would do something that we thought felt cool, but would have to refer to the video to see if it actually worked. We were lucky though to have Robyn Torney come in as our dramaturge. She was great at ensuring what we created was cohesive and translated well for the audience. It was also good to have a third person come in because working long hours, 7 days a week in a confined space made us sometimes go a little bit stir crazy!
I can imagine. How does it feel to perform in such close proximity to your audience in such a small space?
It’s actually great to be so close to the audience. It really allows us to include them in the story we are trying to tell. There’s this great bond that develops during the show between us and our audience, and I think you really come out of it feeling transformed. It also allows a lot of play between us and allows us to include them in our little jokes. I really enjoy not having a “fourth wall” that you get with a traditional stage setting. I want the audience to feel like they were really part of something, and I think the intimacy of the space creates that.
Perth Cultural Centre
James St Northbridge
Brisbane – Brisbane Festival Under the Radar
September 8-16 @ 6:00, 7:15 and 8:15
Cultural Forecourt, Southbank
Sydney – Sydney Fringe
September 19-23 @ 6:00, 7:00 and 8:00
The Factory Theatre
105 Victoria Rd, Marrickville
Melbourne – Melbourne Fringe
October 1-6 @ 6:00, 7:00 and 8:00
River Terrace, Federation Square