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Becky Hilton’s thoughts on her new project HELLO

Jul 19, 2013

HELLO  is a long distance dance project and  international collaboration between Australian choreographer Becky Hilton and the Hermosillo (Mexico) based dance company Producciones La lagrima . The dancers utilise YouTube, skype, Facebook, texting and email as well as traditional face time in the studio to create the project, with HELLO investigating what can happen when a shared space is created for audiences and performers to experience together.

In this interview Australian choreographer Becky Hilton takes on the challenge of interviewing herself about the HELLO project.

What is HELLO?

HELLO is a dance and performance work I made collaboratively with four young Mexican dancers, Ale, Emmanuel, Jessica and Marco. The work reflects meeting them, talking with them, dancing with them, getting to know them, it kind of contains a cultural exchange. Which I guess is a fancy way of saying some people from one place or way, getting to know someone from another place or way. But ultimately it’s a dance piece, a contemporary dance piece.

What is contemporary dance?

That’s a hard question but contemporary just means now. So maybe contemporary dance is dance that somehow consciously engages with or reflects upon or ruminates over our particular place in the world right now. It’s social, maybe even relational, at heart. We look at dance but I think the really special thing about it is its felt-ness. Dance provides a perfect opportunity for empathy; it’s a shared experience happening right here and right now. In fact I think any kind of performance is a live exchange about now.

So if every performance is about ‘now’ what is contemporary dance about? Specifically.

In contemporary dance that live exchange is kind of abstracted, it’s seeing and feeling familiar things (people) doing unfamiliar things (dancing). I can see that people find this confusing but I don’t really understand why. I don’t think you need to try to find words to describe dance or look through it or past it for metaphor or meaning. Look right at it. Feel it. That’s what I say. I don’t think dance represents something. I think it is already something.

And the performers are from Mexico?

Yes, from Hermosillo , a city in the state of Sonora, which is in the north. So its white cowboy hat Mexico rather than sombrero Mexico.

Is HELLO about Mexico?

No. The performers are from Mexico and it was made in Mexico but I wouldn’t say it’s about Mexico. It’s simply meeting these particular people from this particular place doing these particular things. HELLO, do you get it? Very deep! Anyway, the performers made it, the content I mean. I framed it, I found a home, a kind of container for the material they produced. A situation for the things they made to happen in.

Mexico is a long way away. How did you make it?

I visited Hermosillo a few times, three times actually, but we really mainly made HELLO using various social/sharing media like vimeo, youTube, facebook, emailing, skyping etc.

How did that work exactly?

We would send ideas and thoughts and propositions and videos to each other. We did surveys and processes a bit like this one, where I am interviewing myself and we did lots of abstract dance task kind of things. Like, take this material and do it only with your eyes, the rest of you can’t move. Or cut this dance up like it’s a movie and you only dance every third frame. But they also read from their favorite book, take photographs or videos of the audience, give out chocolate cake, perform many, many actions that somehow display or reveal a facet of who they are.

So they’re representing themselves as themselves?

Well they’re not representing themselves, they’re not characters or ideas. They are themselves. And you get to be yourself, you’re you watching them. But we are all in a kind of heightened environment, an environment that is about that, about them and about us, about noticing. So we get to know them via the performance.  And they maybe get to know us a bit also.

So the work is kind of a documentation of you getting to know them?

Yeah, and of them getting to know me I suppose. It was gradual, we collected our different ideas and interests together and over almost two years of working very sporadically (we all had other things going on as well) we built a suite of twelve, two and a half minute long solos. Each. So each of the four dancers do twelve two and a half minute long solos simultaneously. It’s like there are four smaller separate spaces all contained in the one large space.

How do you know where to look?

That’s the point, you don’t have to look anywhere but everywhere you do look is somewhere. Its like being outside in the real world, nobody is telling you exactly where to look out there but you do okay, you manage, you see things, feel things, understand things, process things. To tell you the truth I’m a bit over feeling like I’m looking at a screen, or at an object when I’m watching dance. Because for me, the thing that sets dance apart from other art forms is that it’s felt. It’s visual but it’s not only visual. A lot of the time at dance performances I’ve been experiencing that kind of passive observing feeling I get when I watch TV. As if it doesn’t need me at all. As if I’m safe from it affecting me.

So what do you do in HELLO that encourages something besides this ‘passive observing’ you’re talking about?

Well, we are all (performers and audience) very obviously inside the experience of HELLO together. It’s definitely part of a worldwide current practice thing that’s happening, artists exploring the social role of performance. Well actually it’s re-happening because it’s happened many, many times before. It’s as if each generation rediscovers these few, deeply fundamental concerns, and then we recalibrate, refine them especially for our specific time and place. Tino Seghal  springs to mind, Xavier Leroy, Roman Ondak, did you see 13 Rooms  in Sydney earlier this year? So we’re all somehow investigating the social role of art (again) and performance is ideal for that, right?

You seem very taken with this idea that performance is a shared responsibility?

Well I think everything is a shared responsibility! It’s an active response to this passivity I’ve been noticing of late, to this feeling that people seem to think that whatever we do and however we act doesn’t affect or impact this world. I think it does, so I make things that somehow work with this notion of negotiation, so the roles and responsibilities aren’t so clearly delineated. They’re shared, often even irresolute. The performers can see you performing the role of spectator and you can see them seeing you. Usually you’re safe and anonymous in the dark. So surely that affects some kind of shift in you, and in them. Actions and observations are everywhere, large and small, intentional and accidental.

It’s that ‘All the world’s a stage’ Shakespeare thing.

Yeah sort of, but not really, because the world is the world and the stage is the stage. Remember what we were saying about representation before? Actually in the end of HELLO, there’s a respite from all this overt human interaction. There is a familiar kind of resolution, a return to the traditional ‘you sit over there quietly and watch us’ situation. I wanted to see what that did to all of us, what happened in that shift from one paradigm to another. It’s an experiment.

And what are your findings?

Our findings are inextricably linked to your findings. So you’ll have to come and see to find out. We will never know without you.