Dance Umbrella 2010
5 January 2011
Twenty Questions with Lee Serle, Dance Protégé of Trisha Brown
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Trisha Brown Dance Company, Dance Umbrella in association with Tate Modern presented a selection of Brown’s works created between 1968 and 1975. Originally created to be performed outside of a conventional dance context, it was the first time the company had performed this selection of pieces inside an art gallery in the UK. From the starting point on the bridge of the Turbine Hall, the audience was invited to explore other areas of the gallery to discover the works as they unfolded among the Collection displays.
The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Initiative was founded in 2002. Through expert advisory panels, convened every two years, talented young artists around the world are sought to work alongside major artists in the fields of dance, music, theatre, visual arts, film and literature, for a year of intense collaboration. Each of the six Protégés has a fully funded, individually tailored programme providing time across the year for unique personal access to and creative dialogue with his or her Mentor. Each receives a grant of $25,000 with a further $25,000 available to provide the opportunity of creating a project following the mentoring year. Artists in the dance industry who have been Mentors on the programme in previous years include Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Saburo Teshigawara and William Forsythe.
Lee Serle, 28 year old Australian dance artist, has been paired with world-renowned choreographer Trisha Brown as part of the Rolex Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative 2010 – 2011. Lucinda Hennessy caught up with Lee at the Tate Modern where he was performing Early Works with the Trisha Brown Dance Company in October as part of Dance Umbrella 2010.
Describe your experience at the Southbank Centre recently.
I’m just involved in Early Works at the Tate Modern this time round, a season of repertory works also being performed at the Southbank Centre. I took part in a public conversation with Trisha Brown at the Southbank on 16th October, where I questioned the Company dancers before holding a Q&A session with the audience which went well.
How long are you in London for and have you managed to see any dance productions during your stay?
I’m only here 10 days in total. I haven’t had much time to go to many dance shows over here, although I did go to the Ballet at the Royal Opera House which was a nice experience as I hadn’t been to the Ballet in years.
In a nutshell, describe your dance training and career so far.
I first started dancing when I was 11. I went along to a Jazz-Ballet class with friends as part of a bring-a-friend day. Every year I took on more and more classes mostly in Jazz, Tap and more theatrical styles, until the age of 16 when I started doing more Contemporary and Ballet. After high school I went to the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne to study for three years where it was mostly a Contemporary focus but we also took Ballet. After graduating I started to work with two companies in Melbourne, Chunky Move and Lucy Guerin Inc, and have been working with them ever since. I’ve been a freelance dancer on their various projects as well as with independent artists. I did a lot of international touring with the shows I did with those companies.
Which examinations did you take and with whom did you train?
As a teenager I took a few ISTD exams in Modern and Tap then later on when I got a bit older I started doing the Cecchetti Ballet syllabus and did exams for that as well. I went to the local Ballet school which was much more about open classes, but I did a bit of syllabus work here too. Louise Outram was one the ISTD teachers I remember training with.
When and how were you introduced to Contemporary dance?
When I began taking Contemporary class, I started seeing some Contemporary performance. I enjoyed the artistic creativity that’s involved in this style of dance, so rather than doing certain moves on certain counts, I was much more into being creative. You’ve described your work as ‘minimalist’, ‘focussed’ and often ‘character-driven’.
Who or what has influenced and informed your choreographic style?
I would say the various choreographers I’ve worked for. I’m still in the early stages of making my own work so I’m still trying to figure it out as I go along. I’m not experienced enough so far to discover exactly what my choreographic style is.
How do audiences react to your work?
The pieces I’ve performed in the events I’ve been involved in are often not critiqued; they’ve been more emerging artist festivals or specifically created dance events. There weren’t a lot of reviews in the paper or the media, but general feedback was good from the people who I got to come and see it; I guess they found it interesting and enjoyed it. It’s always subjective though, people have a mixed response and everyone enjoys different aspects of our work, but generally it was positive which is good.
What or who inspires you, as an artist or personally?
I’ve been influenced a lot by the choreographers I’ve worked with, Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek, the Artistic Directors of the two companies I’ve mostly worked for.
What made you decide to apply for the mentorship?
Well it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up! The opportunity to be involved in any aspect of Trisha Brown’s work is amazing so it was really a no-brainer for me. I would have regretted it if I didn’t apply.
How is the mentorship going so far – what have you been doing, what have you gained from it and have your expectations changed since you started the programme?
It’s been going great! Mentorship for me has involved various different aspects of being with the Company, participating in rehearsal or just observing rehearsals. I’ve also been on tour with the Company, performing both in France and in London, and I went to New York at the end of July. I didn’t really know what to expect from the initiative so I didn’t have a whole load of expectations; you can’t really complain about going on tour or performing a variety of works.
How have you found relocating to New York and is the dance scene very different from that in Melbourne?
It’s been easy for me, although it’s always hard leaving your family and friends and my partner. I’ve been there five or six times before and always really enjoyed my time there. I think having been there and stayed in different neighbourhoods I knew the city relatively well, so the transition wasn’t too bad. And I’ve had streams of people from Melbourne visiting who have been on tour or on their holidays. The dance scene in New York is much bigger than in Melbourne, not only is there a greater number of larger established companies, but there’s also quite a large independent scene as well. The style of work has its differences and similarities, but mainly the biggest difference is the size of it.
How does it feel to work with an artist as prolific and legendary as Trisha Brown and how much contact do you get with her?
I’ve been having informal meetings with Trisha over lunch or coffee and just having a chat. We get along well, she’s got a great sense of humour and a nice energy about her, it’s nice spending time with her. The time spent with Trisha varies; she’s not always in rehearsal as a Rehearsal Director and a Choreographic Assistant generally work with us but Trisha’s always at performances and around at meetings.
Have you had any thoughts about what you could do with the proposed $25,000 funding following the mentorship?
It’s tailored towards us creating a piece of work or a dance, so I’m hoping that I’ll choreograph a piece, I don’t know what that will be, so yes I’ve been thinking about it. It will be a dance piece of some description, but whether it’s another solo work or involves more dancers I’m not too sure. It’s a little too early to tell if I will want to take it on tour or start my own company. I quite enjoy being freelance and being able to perform, as well as choreographing, so I’m happy having that lifestyle at the moment.
How does performing in a space such as an art gallery differ from a conventional dance space such as a theatre?
It feels more of an informal showing, it’s much more casual. The audience can move around and you can interact with the audience. As you’re not just in one space of the gallery it’s very different to being on stage; there isn’t that barrier between you and the audience, it’s much more interactive.
How do British audiences compare to Australian and American audiences?
Every audience you get wherever you are is always different – sometimes you get a raging applause, sometimes you get a more subdued applause. But I don’t think culturally they are any different in their responses.
Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years time and what impression do you want to leave on the dance world?
Who knows! I’m just taking it as it comes. Hopefully I will create interesting work and be thought of as a good performer.
What other dance artists do you think are the ones to watch for the future?
From Melbourne there are a few people I’ve been working with recently that have inspired me and who make interesting work, such as Antony Hamilton and Byron Perry. There are lots of independent artists in Melbourne, like Jo Lloyd for example. In New York last year I saw a piece by Miguel Gutierrez which was quite interesting. I tend to see more independent dance rather than larger dance company works, I’m quite interested in supporting people in the independent scene.
What advice would you give to other aspiring dance artists and what’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Just keep plugging away! Sometimes it takes a little while to get the ball rolling and it can be disheartening at times, but when I think back to the first few years out of college, even though I was lucky to get some work there were still large periods of time in between where I wasn’t dancing, so yes you’ve just got to keep at it. Trisha Brown once asked me if I was working on producing a piece and I said it was quite hard to find the time to create as I was freelance and involved in so many projects, to which she said you’ve just got to find time, just do it; that was good advice.
If you weren’t a dancer/choreographer, what would you be doing?
Probably something outdoors, being a dancer you spend so much time in dark theatres and rehearsal rooms so I think if I was to have a change of career or if I had done something differently I think it would be doing something outdoors.
So what’s next for you after this?
Once the mentoring year is up, Rolex hosts an arts weekend which will be in New York so I’m thinking about what I’ll be doing for that. There’ll also be the additional funding which I’ll be applying to Rolex for and just thinking about what I’m going to do with that. There are a few projects lined up for me after the mentorship. It’s been a bit of a big move so everything has been opened up. There are so many possibilities and I’m just taking it all as it comes.
For more information:
Rolex Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative – www.rolexmentorprotege.com
Dance Umbrella – www.danceumbrella.co.uk
Trisha Brown Dance Company – www.trishabrowncompany.org