Victoria Chiu certainly brings a diversity of influences, international and local. She has toured extensively with European companies Companie Nomades, Cie Gilles Jobin, Micha Purucker and Jane Turner. In Australia she has worked with Fiona Malone, Bernadette Walong and with Australian Dance Theatre. And earlier this year, with her partner, Roland Cox, she toured the fringe festival comedy hit The Ballad of Herbie Cox through North America.
In late August, she will present her new work Floored at Dancehouse, performing with Amelia McQueen, a reaction against comfort, consumption and routine.
Hi Victoria, take us back to the beginning. What was the original inspiration for this piece?
I started this project when I was living in Lausanne, Switzerland. As I remember it. I was questioning how you can change your social conditioning. It was the first time I lived in another country and I travelled to many others close by and I saw so many different ways to do things and behaviours related to them. I thought some of these differences would be good for me, but could never maintain the change. I had also just come out of an emotionally traumatic relationship where, naively, I thought I could help this man with his substance addiction. It got me comparing substance dependency to lifestyle dependency on micro and macro levels. That started the ball rolling.
Many things have happened since your time in Switzerland ‑ not least of all motherhood. Has your motivation in this work developed or evolved since the initial development? Or have you been able to pick up pretty much where you left off?
My motivation has definitely evolved, but I could continue thinking about this forever. I think it's because we are surrounded by endless examples. They change for circumstance, age and differ for each person. This work wants to find the possibility of change when a problem has been acknowledged. But change is difficult, so there's always conflict. Two examples in the last few days, both from the radio: an ex-AFL player was addicted to amphetamines and was talking about his behaviour whist in addiction and how families can really help recovery; the health system was complaining about the expense of people who have already had a heart attack not changing their habits because of their complacency.
In revisiting the project I also wanted to acknowledge that though a 'change' may be essential for survival, it's not always going to leave you in a better place. There's always hard work in balancing life, change could bring banality or a new circle of problems.
How does your interest in ideas about "comfort" and "indulgence" lead into choreography? How do they connect with your practice as an artist?
I am treating comfort and indulgence, though innocently acquired, as potential pathways to routine and obsession and for me, both of these things are fascinating to use choreographically. Though it may not be evident to the audience I like to think of the two bodies in space as representing parts of the mind, not people. This creates a surreal narrative for me, which when combined with the repetition of craving and dependency places the human body in unusual moving images.
In confronting the audience with the problem of routine indulgence, have you simultaneously been challenging your own creative practice? Pushing your own comfort zones?
Definitely, one of the biggest breakthroughs during this process was being able to divorce myself from the first Swiss development. It was very comfortable to sit inside that old development, but the project needed to change and I had to follow a new pathway to really find what those changes were.
Where do you see indulgence or comfort or decadence lurking in dance?
Indulgence in dance?! It's certainly not with the dancers ‑ dancers are usually givers and live on nothing, won't complain, are obliging, don't stand up for their OHS. Dancers are so much fun, to party with a group of open minded dancers, if someone has a bit of money at hand, will turn into the best nights you could have. So in dance the indulgence could be in the partying but it's definitely not in the salary!
Haha. I guess I meant in terms of choreography. Are you attracted to an ascetic way of life? An ascetic or minimalist dance practice?
I am attracted to both ascetic and minimalist lifestyles but appreciate more and more the minimalist, though I find it very hard to attain. I love the ascetic and minimalist dance practices in different contexts.
Speaking of comfort zones, you're working again with your partner Roland Cox, who is designing the sound. Is that a comfortable working relationship? Or is it more difficult or exhausting to work with someone who knows you so well?
It's not always a comfortable working relationship working with your partner. There is always moments when you dump things into the process that you wouldn't get away with if you were working for someone else. You can throw more tantrums if you want, be a bit lazy some afternoons… actually often your partner can be the hardest critic and the hardest one to get away with anything in front of. It is also great, when you're exhausted, or having one of those days they know how to get you through.
In several pieces you've worked on recently there has been a strong theatrical or dramatic element ‑ I'm thinking of the Dance Bites show and The Ballad of Herbie Cox ‑ is Floored a purer or at least more abstract treatment of dance? Or are there textual or character elements in there too?
Floored is infinitely more abstract compared to the last shows I've done. I am attracted to people's stories and I love being influenced by people's experiences. This can lead to the type of show like The Ballad of Herbie Cox, which had storytelling as part of its concept. It was an intimate work that followed the birth of our son. We stayed true to keeping this work honest and telling family stories, the stories of all the people whose lives somehow influenced the birth of Herbie.
Floored couldn't be more different. I am not relating to the subject material on a purely personal level, the concept is to treat the body as a way to depict a social thought process. The concepts of Floored place it in an abstract context, so I want to stay true to the abstract context. I still reach for what I call a surreal narrative, which are just hooks to follow something of what I am thinking about. They won't be obvious to most people, but the images aim to give people enough to think about, or not, when they watch.
Do you have a strong feeling of being connected in the local dance community? What are some of the strongest connections for you?
Being connected to one community has never worked out well for me… I have moved too often. I get to know the most amazing people and then I don't see them for a long time, or ever again. I mentioned dancers before, I love dancers as people, I love artists and people who like going to shows and talking about them, I love people who let people be or become what they are and accept them as they are. These people constantly inspire me. I have been living in Melbourne for three years now and am finding these people everywhere here. I am in a different period in life where I am chasing around a two-year-old but I feel the longer I'm here, in the precious little social time I have, the more awesome people I meet. These amazing people come in and out of Dancehouse. Like anywhere you go, you need time to just be there, when you don't force connections they seem to be made.
Dance connections create other connections too, for example I am currently blown away by the choir we are getting together. It was a hard task as the choir we had had to pull out quite late, that meant we were forced to go into the community and make a Dancehouse choir. It seems like it's happening and they are great people. Though it's a fresh and new connection it's already at the top of the list.